May 25, 2012, 03:46 PM
Archaeologist here - let's chat!
I'm a professional archaeologist. With all the controversy over the two awful shows on Spike/NatGeo, more discussions of treasure hunting have been happening. It seems that both avocational metal detectorists and professional archaeologists are united in their distaste for those shows. But it's also clear from reading this forums and from talking to colleagues that there's a whole lot of mistrust between our two groups.
So here I am. What do you want from us? What can be done to repair the relationship? Anything you want to talk about? Ask? I promise I'll be honest!
May 25, 2012, 04:00 PM
what state are you from ?
May 25, 2012, 04:04 PM
I'd rather keep my anonymity, but I've worked all over the southeastern United States, for several government agencies.
May 25, 2012, 04:12 PM
Ok. I'll bite. Too many detectorists have heard (either first hand or through the grapevine) of someone who after doing their own research found a unique coin or old relic buried a few inches deep and the area ended up being marked off limits so that archaeologists could "properly" excavate and catalog every piece. Most times they never got around to doing it because of lack of time, funding, etc. Does the occasional coin or relic found within the first few inches of topsoil by someone with a metal detector really have that much impact on the archaeology world. We're not taking excavators out to fields and plundering the earth like what is being shown on tv. Most digging is very shallow and on private property. Even the finds that are made on public land, at the very least, have saved that item from further corrosion and at best are occasionally donated to a local museum or historical society so that all can see and enjoy the past. Seldom would any of these places have been dug by archaeologists anyway, and if so at what cost? Is it better to rape an entire landscape of its grass, shrubs, topsoil, etc. by taking layer after minute layer over time so that every little piece can be cataloged and displayed somewhere, or for a hobbyist to dig the occasional 4" plug, share the find and excitement with others and leave the landscape looking the same as before.
May 25, 2012, 04:13 PM
Sorry, but unless you are ready to reveal your credentials, to me you are just another guy sitting in front of his computer in your underwear trying to make yourself feel good.
Originally Posted by easttrail
Let's try this again.. I'm Terry Soloman, in White Plains, New York. I have been metal detecting since the 1970s. Who are you, and what university do you work for?
May 25, 2012, 04:26 PM
Thanks for the reply!
I think what drives a lot of people on both sides is a shared reverence for the past, and a lot of fear.
We (speaking for the archaeological community) hear about cases like the guy who just went to jail for selling stuff from one of the battlefields in VA, see that he recovered and sold thousands of artifacts. I'm guessing (hoping?) that most people here wouldn't be ok with a detectorist plundering a site. But it sticks in our heads and colors our impression of all detectorists, just like an archaeologist acting unreasonably colors y'all's impression of all archaeologists.
If we're being honest, a couple artifacts lost here and there from the plowzone likely make a huge difference, especially if they were photographed and their location was taken. But realistically, how do you draw the line? How do you codify "a couple artifacts from the plowzone"?
I hear the "saving it from further corrosion" argument quite a bit. While that's true for a dynamic site (say, if the soil condition is changing for some reason), most sites reach an equilibrium with their surroundings after a short time. Essentially, after an initial period of fast corrosion, things have pretty much corroded as much as they're going to. It's why we have things from 2,000 years ago at all!
The three biggest concerns with avocational detecting that archaeologists have are: recording, dissemination of information, and sale. Other concerns might present themselves, but those are the big ones. Do some archaeologists fail at those? Absolutely. Should they be shamed? Every time.
Nearly every archaeologist I know (except for some of the older ones) will tell you that it's not about the artifact, it's about the information. The value is not in displaying it, not in having it. It's in knowing the artifact's context, as well as having it "available" (wherever that may be) for further analysis.
May 25, 2012, 04:49 PM
If you can't reveal what university you are with then I cannot take you as being serious. I have personally worked along side of archaeologists just outside Medicine Bow Wyoming. My late uncle Bill Nash owned the Dinosaur Museum as it was called. So I have been around several different university archaeologists who have no trouble whatsoever with revealing who they are. Sorry just my 2 Wheaties.
May 25, 2012, 04:52 PM
I don't work with a university, I work for a state government. I don't particularly want to pass this through the PR people. If I were a university or NGO employee, I'd have no problem with it either!
May 25, 2012, 04:56 PM
I'd be curious to know your credentials and affiliations and where this discussion may go. Where would our concerns go once we voice them to you? What influence in the archeology field do you carry?
My concerns are primarily the double standard set for recreational detectorists and states. As an example, here in Pennsylvania are areas that "may" contain historical sites and are off limits to detectorists. But with the push for natural gas drilling, the drillers are free to exploit the very same areas we are denied. They are permitted to cut roads through state forests and gamelands unimpeaded while we cannot dig a few small hole for relics in areas we spend months or even years researching.
I'm sure you will hear too about the Archeological Act where anything 50 years old or older is considered an historic artifact. There is a lot of complaint of greed of the archeologists saying things must be preserved for future generations while we know in reality, the longer something sits in the ground, the further it is going to deteriorate and be worthless to anyone. It's as if the Act was deliberately aimed at detectorists and that is what has caused the biggest rift in my opinion.
States have written their own rules based on that Act and have closed off areas that a lot of us know will never be excavated for archeological purposes.
We are not beyond understanding that certain eras in this country's history do need preserved. Of particular would be ancient Indian sites where recorded history is almost nonexistant. But there has to be a cut off to what is actually needed to be preserved and what is simply a duplicate of what we already have mountains of information on.
How many more duplicates do we need in museums? And how many archeologists have private collections that they need to "study"? How important is it to know every little tool a blacksmith shop used in their trade during the early 1800's, or an old lumbercamp in the mountains that no archeologist would think of going to, to find some lone, rusty, hunk of junk saw?
By telling us we cannot explore sites we come across because of it's historic significance is just a load of BS. History going back to the early 1800's is well documented and even back into the 1700's or earlier. We get so tired of hearing that line of "Preserving it for future generations".
If you really want to mend the rift between detectorists and archeologists, amend the Archeological Act and further that by sending new guidelines to the states for modification. The archeology community could benefit by detectorists if we felt we could tell others of our historic finds as opposed to hiding them for fear of persecution.
There are already many detectorists that donate to local historic societies and museums and I'm certain that if something of true importace were found, they would be more than glad to let the archeologists know in exchange for some recognition. Archeologists could benifit from us by utilizing our skills at sites to help locate artifacts. We do love group gatherings to find neat stuff. And we could benefit from archeologist by having information flowing of possible historic sites they want to explore, knowing archeologist's resources are limited.
We have the Archeological Act thrown in our faces time and again. As I said, have it amended and maybe we can start talking.
Maybe future generations of archeologists so they have a job! Come on, really. You guys do not need every single relic in this country or need to explore every nook and cranny of our mountains and plains that may have had a town at one time. That's just arrogance.
I think...therefore I am.
May 25, 2012, 05:19 PM
I used to search Como Bluff until the government shut it down to the public because of the pushing of archaeologists. I finally got into a program with the university of Wyoming where they used the help of citizens to map, grid, dig, and catalogue finds. So yes it left a bad taste in my mouth since any major find that is made public becomes inaccessible to the person that made the initial find.
May 25, 2012, 05:45 PM
Last edited by TheOldMan; Jun 19, 2012 at 12:08 PM.
May 25, 2012, 05:54 PM
I'll have to inform the people I work with that they're my cronies now!
Originally Posted by TheOldMan
How would you feel about stewardship programs or public archaeology weekends, where supervised metal detecting at a state park would be encouraged? That way we can learn from each other, we all get to see what's there, and no one can do something irresponsible. To me, that sounds like a good compromise between "Hands off forever" and "Dig up whatever, whenever". What do you think?
May 25, 2012, 06:54 PM
I think, this whole thread is moot. We have no idea WHO you are or what your actual angle is. You are probably a reporter fishing for quotes to paint metal detectors as pirates.
Originally Posted by easttrail
"Hello, I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help you."
Last edited by Terry Soloman; May 25, 2012 at 06:57 PM.
May 25, 2012, 07:09 PM
Well Easttrail I am not as skeptical as some but I have never had a personal run-in with an archeoligist either. My biggest question is why don't we (in the USA) have treasure trove laws like Europe? I know the perameters would have to be different then theirs but one set of rules for everyone to follow would be nice instead of different rules depending on the location.
The weekend idea sounds great but some of us live in rural areas where it might only happen once a year and be within our traveling distance.
May 25, 2012, 07:11 PM
Easttrail: Thanks for opening the dialog. I live in Oregon, more than half of which is public land administered by federal agencies. I have Forest Service and BLM land within a half-mile of my home.
I cannot, for the life of me, understand why I should not be allowed to search for and keep common U.S. coins minted prior to 1962 on such lands. If some government employee or contractor wants to know what "cultural resources and uses" that land was being put to in 1962 or even a lot earlier,THERE ARE PEOPLE ALIVE WHO WERE THERE AND CAN TELL YOU! What in the hell is gained by the U.S. government making it illegal for me to extract from a local Forest Service campground a penny I MIGHT PERSONALLY HAVE DROPPED IN THAT CAMPGROUND WHEN I WAS NINE YEARS OLD? (Yeah, I'm 59.)
I have a wee bit more sympathy for leaving artifacts a century or more old in the ground on public lands, but I believe common U.S. coins and "relics" in the top 12 inches should be fair game from sea to shining sea. I understand about Indian artifacts, and leave arrowheads where they lie on public land. I may take a photo or make a sketch, as I am also a habitue of the Paleoplanet Web site and do some knapping, so I appreciate the technology that lithics represent.
I think you can tell from the tenor of my remarks that it is the greedy, broad-brush, save-it-for-the-gummint-archaeologists policies that drive detectorists and others interested in the past nuts. If it were up to your profession, every last outhouse hole in the United States would be preserved for study. And who is going to pay for this? And what do we learn? Well, we can tell from this English teacup fragment extracted from the privy hole that the farmers who lived here drank unknown beverages from English china imported prior to 1886, and by this beer bottle with applied top that they enjoyed a cold one from this local brewery, which closed in 1890. OK, I spent a LOT of tax money for someone to note this in a report I will never see?
I'm sorry. I was trying to civil, and even thoughtful, but my blood pressure is already dangerously high and I must desist ...
The irony is that if I had it to do over again, I'd probably want to be an archaeologist. In my years as a newspaper reporter and editor, I dealt with BLM, USFS and Corps of Engineers archaeologists and kept their confidentialities. I have even volunteered on a couple of university-sponsored digs. But these were excavations at prehistoric sites, and anyone who thinks about it realizes that such sites have only their artifacts, spatial context and stratigraphy to tell us anything about this distant past.
Protecting ALL 19th- and 20th-century sites is far more controversial. I mean EVERY SINGLE mining or logging site or homestead since the 1950s on public land in Oregon? My fervent prayer as an archaeologist would be that I would be assigned to sites much more than 300 years old, or I might just go into real estate sales or far worse, consider the law or politics.
Last edited by Billinoregon; May 25, 2012 at 07:28 PM.
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