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We caused a big stir (7,300 views) with our 2013 headline “Ed Vaizey insults every archaeologist and heritage professional“. Now the British Museum has gone down much the same route as the ex-Culture Secretary by saying, unmistakably, (in its just published 2016 Annual Review) that metal detecting is “citizen archaeology”.

That conveys to the public that any group of people with detectors they see in a field digging (1) randomly, (2) selectively and (3) for their own benefit, are archaeologists. It’s untrue and very damaging since it legitimises in the public eye a whole galaxy of activities that archaeologists would get sanctioned for and it devalues their professional and educational achievements and their dedication to scientific method, knowledge gathering and resource conservation.

How do archaeologists and heritage professionals feel about that? Should they be hopping mad and reflect where we’ve got to in Britain considering no national museum in any other country would do such a thing? Should they tell the British Museum and PAS to desist and to publicly clarify exactly what archaeologists do and, crucially, the behaviour by which they can be recognised? Currently they are giving the impression they haven’t the foggiest. What’s to be done?


Aunt Bella’s School for Nearsighted Young Women and The British Museum. (Missing the bleeding obvious).

Aunt Bella’s School for Nearsighted Young Women and The British Museum. (Missing the bleeding obvious).


Update, next day ….

We were interested to note that the BM’s re-branding of metal detectorists as citizen archaeologists has come almost 5 years since we succeeded in getting the BBC to almost entirely desist from calling them amateur archaeologists. How can it be right that it’s down to us, ordinary people, rather than hundreds of archaeologists, to stand up against landowners being misled?

Still, Paul Barford has now written to the BM making several additional points and suggesting they issue an official statement “defining what the BM means by the noun “archaeology” in the phrase “citizen archaeology”. Assuming he isn’t ignored a precise answer to his precise question will be very welcome indeed. How many farmers have already been told, falsely, “we’re amateur archaeologists” and now “we’re citizen archaeologists”? A lot, it can be assumed.

Update, Tuesday 12 July

Paul Barford received a reply which didn’t answer the central issue so far as we are concerned. Consequently we have just sent the following message to Susan Raikes, Head of the Learning, Audiences and Volunteers Department:

We have a couple of simple but (we think) very important questions.
Does not the BM have a central duty to “inform”?
Is that duty fulfilled by telling landowners that anyone at their gate
carrying a metal detector is a “citizen archaeologist”?
The Heritage Journal




July 2016

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