Sunday, February 8, 2015

Monopoly vs. Better, Faster, Cheaper

turf battle in France between public and private sector archaeologists has led to the Louvre being occupied by angry public sector archaeologists.  Meanwhile, in the nearby United Kingdom as interested amateurs publish thousands of finds, materials excavated by professionals languish in warehouses.

Of course, the situation is far worse in the favorite countries of the archaeological lobby-- Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Egypt,   There, amateur archaeologists are treated the same as looters for profit  while underfunded and corrupt archaeological establishments are poor stewards of even the most  important artifacts.

Perhaps, the answer is more competition.  Unleash the passion of private individuals and groups in community archaeology efforts.  And, of course, let them share redundant artifacts with the state and landowers.  As long as items are properly recorded, preserved and published, why not?


Anonymous said...

And why not? One man's "guess work" is as good as any other.
Let the competition begin!

John H said...

Ben Sutton, HYPERALLERGIC's reporter, writes:-

"... they [the public archaeologists] have been forced to compete for job sites with private enterprises, a situation they say has greatly affected the quality of the archaeological work being done."

Am I/we to believe that henceforth, some archaeologists have seen the light, rejected Socialism to become Capitalists overnight and now make huge profits from the heritage by scraping around in trenches? Shock!...Horror!

I guess that one man's archaeologist is now another's treasure hunter? I feel a warm glow coming on!

Best wishes

John Howland

Dave Welsh said...

"Public sector" archaeologists apparently believe that there should be sufficient governmental funding for archaeology so that they can investigate everything that is unearthed.

They have obviously failed to understand that there will never be enough public funding for archaeology to even begin to meet the demand for such services.

The obvious solution is to recognize archaeology as a professional occupation and to regulate it, in a manner similar to that in which other professionals such as doctors and lawyers are regulated.

John H said...

Hi Dave:

Sorry mate, but God forbid these nitwits are ever elevated to the professional 'aristocracy'....unless of course, you want speculation and guesswork made 'professional'.

Better that numismatists are elevated and recognized. Imagine the likes of the gentleman from Warsaw jack-booting and swaggering their way round the heritage arena backed by a professional qualification. Do you really want that?

Better him and those of his ilk, are clapped in irons, or kept safe in a strait-jacket.

Best regards

John Howland

Dave Welsh said...


You wrote: "... God forbid these nitwits are ever elevated to the professional 'aristocracy' ..."

Professionals are not "aristocrats." We don't have aristocrats in the USA, but we have professionals who are regulated by the government to ensure that the essential services they provide are carried out in a manner that is safe, satisfactory and reliable.

If you consult Wikipedia you will find that accountants, nurses and teachers are all regarded as professionals and regulated by law both in the UK and the USA. Certainly a licensed vocational nurse or credentialed teacher could hardly be considered "aristocrats."

There are what you might be inclined to describe as "nitwits" in just about every field of endeavor, however I think you are misusing the term here.

Neither Barford nor those even more extreme in their condemnation of "collection-driven exploitation" are "nitwits," instead they are what I view as misguided intellectuals who have let their passion for a cause lead them into a false opinion that the end justifies the means.

You write, " Imagine the likes of the gentleman from Warsaw jack-booting and swaggering their way round the heritage arena backed by a professional qualification. Do you really want that?"

When Mr. Barford assails metal detecting and coin collecting in his blog he is presenting a personal opinion, not anything that can be presented as truth backed by a professional qualification.

If professional qualifications for archaeologists existed in the UK, Barford would probably not qualify inasmuch as he has not practiced in the UK in more than thirty years.

You overlook constraints professional regulation places upon behavior and freedom of expression of professionals. A very clear distinction would be drawn between "speculation and guesswork" and regulated professional services rendered by archaeologists, who would carry out excavations in an approved and timely manner and ensure that anything discovered is properly recorded and safely deposited in secure storage.

Michael Müller-Karpe, for example would most likely have confronted review and perhaps revocation of credentials after being publicly rebuked by a German judge for his extreme and unwarranted actions. In the absence of a regulatory process he is still free to carry on his vendetta against collecting and the antiquities trade, and to be praised for his "courage" by the likes of Mr. Barford.

Publication of papers (where the "speculation and guesswork" appears) would, as it is now, be regulated by peer review. Having gone through this process, I can attest that it is quite demanding in authoritative journals and that academic status of those who publish is influenced by the journals willing to accept their papers.

John H said...


Unlike accountants, nurses and teachers for example, all are rightly regarded as professionals and properly regulated. To my mind they are the aristos of the professional world.

Archaeology on the other hand is guesswork, or conjecture, unless of the investigation is very recent history when it becomes an adjunct to modern records.

In the the three decades that I've come into contact with archaeologists, only a handful have been down-to-earth types. Some remain friends. The rest were arrogant; dismissive of amateurs; dismissive of each other; but above all, expected those they considered lesser mortals to kiss their arses. 'Nitwits,' describes them well.

If archaeologists were doctors, you'd probably get ten different diagnoses for a given set of symptoms.

We'll agree to disagree on this one.

Dave Welsh said...


I am specifically focusing on the process of excavation, where there is a definite professional methodology that is neither guesswork nor conjecture. That is what is at issue here, not subsequent theorizing.

There would of course have to be a sensible threshold set defining what sort of situation requires professional archaeology as distinguished from what the discoverer and a FLO can cope with.

Dave Welsh

David Knell said...


"Archaeology on the other hand is guesswork, or conjecture ..."

If you weren't so blinded by your rabid hatred of archaeology, you would see how ridiculous that blanket statement is.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Based on what I've observed, I don't think archaeology is a hard science, but rather more of a social science like economics. There is too much room for interpretation. But there is nothing wrong with that.

I would disagree that all archaeologists hate collectors and collecting, but I believe that too many in positions of influence take too much of an ideological approach to the issues.

I do think professional archaeologists should support community archaeology as its practiced in the UK (PAS) or elsewhere. There will never be enough public funding to adequately support archaeology, and perhaps just as importantly the preservation and publication of what is found.

Finally, I suspect aligning archaeology so closely with the state, particularly under directorships, has only associated ancient artifacts with unpopular governments to their peril.

Dave Welsh said...

David Knell wrote:
[regarding John H's remarks]
>> "Archaeology on the other hand is guesswork, or conjecture ..."

> If you weren't so blinded by your rabid hatred of archaeology, you would see how ridiculous that blanket statement is.

Certainly it is wrong to suggest that all of archaeology is guesswork, or conjecture. Field work properly done involves a definite scientific approach toward accurate and responsible collection of data, and my views regarding archaeology as a professional occupation primarily address that aspect of the discipline.

There is however another aspect of archaeology which I would (not myself being an archaeologist, but instead trained as a physical scientist) describe as the theoretical part of the discipline. In this respect I am troubled by the issue of verification.

The classical definition of a science is "the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment."

What these words mean is that a science involves systematic study of observable aspects of reality, combined with the formulation of a theoretical system explaining these observations, which can be proven or experimentally verified.

I do not see how theoretical aspects of archaeology can be definitively and incontestably proven in a manner comparable to what prevails in the physical sciences.

While I certainly don't agree that "One man's 'guess work' is as good as any other," nevertheless I regard much of archaeology's theoretical framework as unproven conjecture. That does not mean it is wrong, but it has not yet been conclusively proven to be right.

I agree with Peter Tompa's comment:
> Based on what I've observed, I don't think archaeology is a hard science, but rather more of a social science like economics.

There is no universally agreed upon general theory of economics, and there likewise appears to be no universally agreed upon theory of archaeology.

In the physical sciences, on the other hand, we do have a universally agreed upon, experimentally proven theoretical framework. It is not complete, but it is extensive.

John H said...

David Knell:

I do not have a blind hatred of archaeology per se as you stupidly suggest without any proof; that's all propaganda put about by that thing in Warsaw. I have many close friends in archaeology.

What I detest with a passion as I suspect you know, are those high-handed archaeologists and their gophers, along with that thing in Warsaw, who delights in using the foulest abuse and insults, who yaps incessantly when he or they can't get their way, or can't handle rational criticism of their views.

So that you fully understand me, and bearing in mind your past snide comments about me elsewhere, I include you in my "rabid hatred" of that motley ensemble.

Best regards

John Howland

kyri said...

"i do not have a blind hatred of archaeology per se as you stupidly suggest without any proof;"
john,i have lost count of how many times you have called archaeologists "communists" or "anti- collecting burreaucrats"as well as many other names, "without any proof".nearly all the archaeologists i know are anything but communists,in fact i dont know even one that is and if i had to hazard a guess id probably say that most of them are liberal/ conservatives.

Dave Welsh said...

I don't think invective or name-calling improve anyone's argument.

I hope that discussion of cultural property related issues can be carried on in a civil manner despite the intensity of individual convictions.

I note the following post on Wayne Sayles' blog:

In my opinion the ongoing debate regarding cultural property related issues is impoverished by the loss of Wayne's perspective. I understand his disgust at the unsavory manner in which his remarks have been misrepresented.

John H said...


Like Knell you simply fail to understand for whatever reason. Some archaeologists do espouse communists views along with the nationalization of antiquities and the outlawing of private collections such as yours. The AIA is a great example.

You say you have never heard of a communist sympathizing archaeologist? Look towards Warsaw, for I know you have heard of him.

Oh that archaeologists were liberal/conservatives.

John Howland

Dave Welsh said...

It is in my opinion going far beyond the bounds of propriety and, I believe, accuracy to say that Mr. Barford is a "thing" or a "communist sympathizer."

I do not myself care for Mr. Barford's unpleasant and provocative invective, which I have so often myself been the target of, and which I regret to admit has on more than one occasion provoked me into responding in kind.

Nevertheless I have never gone so far as to think, or imply, that he is a Communist. I do view him as a leftist in respect to his views on archaeology and related subjects, such as metal detecting and antiquities collecting.

So far as other aspects of politics are concerned I do not know his views, nor do I believe that he has any publicly known political affiliation.

Mr. Barford's move to Poland and his subsequent employment by that nation's Communist regime may well have been inspired by his known interest in the origins of the Slavic peoples, their migrations into Europe and their subsequent cultural development.

There is a serious intellectual side to Mr. Barford, and while it may be hard for those who hotly resent the lash of his unbridled invective to understand this, he is not a lightweight thinker deceptively masquerading as an expert on the subject of archaeology.

On the other hand I believe that his blog and his opinions would be more influential and far more effective if he could restrain himself from such extravagant language and provocative verbal abuse directed at those with whom he disagrees.

Mr. Barford is an angry man, according to Dorothy King:[]
and there are those who understandably are unable to see beyond the anger, sarcasm, resentment and perhaps even outright hatred directed toward metal detecting and the antiquities trade.

I assure you that there is something significant there, and that I do take him seriously on the occasions in which I find it expressed in his blog. He was right in observing that the Lenborough hoard was not properly excavated per Treasure Act guidelines, and that the FLO did not properly manage this.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Dave- Thanks, it does seem this post has gone very off topic. Let's cut off comments on this one. For what its worth, I'm not sure if Mr. Barford is a Communist or Communist sympathizer, but from his posts about America and Americans in particular, it does appear that he has hard-Left anti-American views. And let's not forget a lot of the old Communist parties of Eastern Europe have changed their names to drop the term "Communist," though some at least reatain many of those same views as Socialists. Anyway, Mr. Barford is entitled to his opinions which can on occasion be well-informed, but I do agree all too often he goes all too far. Best, Peter