I’ve been a digger for over 30 years and am proud to consider many of you friends I’d be privileged to metal detect with. I’m not “in the pocket” of the Archaeologists, but I have learned a lot about it in the past 5 years or so and find myself in between two sets of beliefs hoping to build some bridges. For me, the knowledge that I’m reliably helping to fill in gaps to a story, even after I’m long gone, makes every hunt and recovery far more rewarding than earlier in my hobby. I take away a real sense of satisfaction far beyond any (unlikely) monetary value and beyond any need to have the object in my own box at home. I know that the items and provenance I donate to public institutions will have a long term opportunity to teach and help weave together understanding only rigorous work can provide, but that process is imperfect and risky in some cases. When I see detectorists talking about “Saving History” these days, my dual experience nags at me. Saving for whom? For what future purposes, say 30-50 years from now? What arrangements are made to be sure that the objects and their provenance are cared for over decades or centuries?
I’ve learned not to fool myself into thinking that a private notebook, private photos and box in my living room is proper documentation of any site. Why? Because a major component of preservation is *ACCESS* (by the public, researchers, teachers, historians, authors, etc.) and this doesn’t happen privately very often. Relic shows displays and living room curio cabinets just don’t count, and tend to remain secretive. They are fun, and there are lots of great knowledge passed back and forth, but it all has a finite lifespan. But useful conclusions, theories, maps, and especially connections with other research to weave together a narrative of the big picture simply do not happen in most private collections. They may get shared with a few friends*, but they fade – and will rarely last a generation.
Recently, at an archaeology conference, one of the presenters was displaying finds in their research from a private collection. Obviously they had nurtured a relationship with someone who then trusted them to do research and return the items once finished. For that one piece of research, that worked fine… but what about the next 50 years? 100 years?
Property owners have to be the ultimate arbiters of access. I have, from the start, always told property owners of their right to refuse any curation or public disclosure (e.g. publishing a research paper at a conference about the project.) Not all owners will be interested in this, and it’s a tough problem because one thing you definitely need for provenance is location! But I’ve recently met at least a dozen property owners who were very interested in having the site on their property documented. As far as I know, no illegitimate trespassing has happened as a result.
*For me, currently my collection/finds are seen as photos on the Internet 99% anyway! The conversation that occurs on social networks makes the hobby that much more fun. But none of that is dependent on me keeping those finds in my personal collection.
Public Institutions – For Public Access
The frustration that a site may never be covered by an Archaeology project (e.g. funding) and the worry that your hard-earned finds will end up in dusty boxes in a basement is a valid concern! It’s very real problem – namely because of limited funding. All of this is true, but it does not but this does not change the fact that public access means public access. The question is how to make things better – and lots of smart people are thinking about this!
Credit Where Credit’s Due – And Earning Your Way to More Opportunities
Team Involvement Enriches The Hobby For Me