Monday, February 15, 2010

Is the Journal of Field Archaeology Now Just Another Propaganda Tool in the Cultural Property Wars?

As set forth below, the Journal of Field Archaeology has evidently published Nathan Elkins' "Treasure hunting 101 in America's classrooms" (2009, Journal of Field Archaeology 34 (4):482-9), an apparent "expose" about the Ancient Coins for Education ("ACE") program to teach children about ancient Greece and Rome through the use of historical coins.

The Journal of Field Archaeology purports to publish:
  • Field reports whose results in terms of interpretive content or of techniques and methods employed seem clearly to be of more than regional interest.
  • Technical and methodological studies that relate to actual archaeological data, are also of general rather than only regional significance, and would be comprehensible to most readers.
  • Review articles such as updated regional or topical summaries designed to appeal to a fairly wide professional readership.
  • Occasional essays on the history of archaeology in major geographical areas, or with respect to research topics of general archaeological concern.
  • Brief preliminary reports describing the results of recent fieldwork or other research.


I'm not sure where Elkins' attack on a non-profit group that uses ancient coins to teach kids fits exactly under these criteria.

Is Elkins' subject matter really the stuff of scholarship today? Even if one disagrees with ACE's sourcing of the ancient coins it uses to teach kids, should a journal that purports to foster scholarship help denigrate the efforts of members of public to encourage our nation's youth to learn more about ancient Greece and Rome? Isn't Elkins' subject matter more appropriate for blogs than scholarly journals?

Unfortunately, it thus appears that the Journal of Field Archaeology has departed from its original scholarly mission in favor of becoming just another propaganda tool in the culture property wars.


Nathan Elkins said...


The Journal of Field Archaeology has regularly included a quarterly feature on the "antiquities market" since the 1970s. Here is an index of sorts of all relevant contributions to that facet of the journal:

This may also come as a shock to you, but ethical considerations in archaeology have bearing on archaeological method and practice. I think this journal's particular emphasis on method and technique is one of the reasons that JFA has had a long-running section on such issues. You might also note that many peer-reviewed journals regularly contain articles discussing the antiquities trade and ethics. In other fields, such as psychology, biology, environmental sciences, etc., articles on ethics are a regularly part of the scholarly literature.

I understand that you have attempted to argue a special case for ancient coins in legal journals. I suppose in your view there is an exception from your statement that such things are better off in the blogs? The Celator, the collector magazine, has published countless editorials that go on about those wicked "radical archaeologists"; are these also not better off in the blogosphere, according to your own suggestion?

I think you're letting contempt get the better of your observance and reason.

All best,

Cultural Property Observer said...

Nathan- It would seem that the Journal of Field Archaeology should change its official publication criteria on its website then. In any event, it is interesting that the focus on ethics appears to be on those of others and not those within the archaeological discipline. As far as I can tell, based on this listing, the same cast of characters come up time and time again writing these types of articles. I would still say though that your article seems to be the first that trashes a non-profit that helps teach kids. I'm not sure this is something I would be proud of.

The Celator is a great magazine and though some the articles are scholarly it does not purport to be a scholarly journal. As far as I can recall, my legal articles have not attacked specific organizations like SAFE. There is a difference between arguing a legal position and trashing a particular group. I suppose that is where the difference arises. The latter is probably more appropriate, if at all, for blogs and the like.

In closing, the fact that I may have not recognized the Journal of Archaeology has pushed an anti-collector agenda under the a "ethics" banner does not change the fact that in my opinion this scholarly journal is being used for anti-collector propoganda.


Peter Tompa

Nathan Elkins said...


The JFA does state on its website what it publishes (the link was above). You were looking at the new publishers site (new publisher/distributor as of Jan 2010).

You use many colorful adjectives, again not having read the article.


John Muccigrosso said...


It seems from your comments that you haven't read Nathan's article yet. You might try that before criticizing too much. You might also have a look at the articles on the list Nathan links to. Some very clearly deal with the ethics of professional archaeology, and a little due diligence might be in order.

It also seems pretty clear to me that Nathan's article - though I haven't read it yet - tries to serve "the interests of archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, scientists, and others concerned with the recovery and interpretation of archaeological data," to quote from the JFA's page that you cite.

But why exactly are you upset with this journal you don't subscribe to? Is it for publishing an article that you haven't read, but seems to you to be outside their purview? I'd suggest that the editors would know best about that. They might also have a thought or two about whether their journal is being "used" by authors who submit papers to them, and also whether one article makes their decades old and well respected journal into "just another propaganda tool."

Cultural Property Observer said...

Nathan and John- It is interesting that you repeat that I did not read the article, but does it really say anything different than what Barford suggests in his post and the others he links to?

If it is different in any material respects, perhaps Nathan can indicate as such.

I'm sorry, but I still have a problem with what purports to be a serious journal of archaeology publishing from what all reports appears to be a hatchet job on a non-profit that teaches kids about ancient history through coins. That does speak volumes about what passes for scholarship in archaeology today.

Nathan is certainly entitled to his opiniion about ACE, but I continue to have real questions about a scholarly journal being the outlet for those views. All else is a mere diversion from this main point.


Peter Tompa