The Tired Torchbearer
by Paul Barford
It is one of the staples of modern heritage conservation policy that the whole thing should be based on wide public debate and consensus. This is at least what policy documents such as English Heritage's 'Conservation Principles, Policies and Guidance' say. In the case of the use of the archaeological record for commercial purposes and as a source of collectables for entertainment, the public debate is a little lost, both in Great Britain and the other big anglophone market, the USA. In both areas the public is being kept somewhat in the dark about the issues, in both cases through archaeological indolence. The only body over there with a voice in the matter, the AIA is a bit diffident in getting its public information programme out among the masses, leaving it up to voluntary bodies such as SAFE.
Dugup Dealer Dave Welsh says it is essential for collectors to continue the war of attrition with critics of the no-questions-asked trade but announces:
I am getting very tired of carrying this particular torch, and would appreciate some assistance from others in refuting Barford, and holding his disconnection from reality up as an object of public ridicule.
There cannot be many disciplines like US "professional numismatics" which see the way forward as merely ridiculing the views of people who have divergent opinions. Welsh argues that in the recent discussions provoked by his posts about me on Tim Haines' Yahoo Ancient Artifacts Collectors' discussion list (from which I am banned by the moderator from answering such calumnies disseminated on his list), the "public persona" of anyone who presents criticism publicly on a blog, "is fair game for criticism [...] therefore when we answer him back, I believe we are free to say what we like about his views without being guilty of ad hominem attacks". Indeed, Mr Welsh makes very free use of his liberty to say what he feels appropriate to counteract the issues I raise. He has certainly given up trying to provide arguments of substance and reason. He has recently admitted that both Codes of Ethics in dealings in dug-up coins are desiderata only for the denizens of Cloud Cuckoo Land (he said it in German) that both are "unreasonable demands" on the coin trade and accuses me of delusions when I venture to suggest otherwise. So what kind of trade is Mr Welsh and his fellow ACCG Coineys trying to protect? One look at the way they face any attempt to address the problem from the fundamental issues will serve to show that even those engaged in it see no way to defend it by reasoned argument using verifiable facts instead of weasel wording and sleight-of-hand arguments.
Welsh naively postulates ("Detectorists vs., Barford") that in what he calls "the struggle to blunt and defeat the relentless drumbeat of anticollecting and antidetecting propaganda emanating from Mr. Barford":
detectorists have just as much at stake as do collectors. It’s time they were heard from regarding how they view Mr. Barford and his pretensions. [...] The standards that man seeks to hold detectorists to impress me as being just as ridiculously impractical and unreasonable as those he seeks to hold collectors to.
Mr Welsh should update his knowledge of the collecting scene by spending some time on a detecting forum or two, preferably ones that have archives going back a decade or so. I think he will find an abundance of evidence that "metal detectorists" have quite a few "views" and express them amongst themselves using quite basic Anglo-Saxon. The "standards" I allegedly "hold them to" are no more and no less than those that are embodied in the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales and the PAS' assurance that they are doing valid archaeological outreach amongt them and introducing "best practice". What is inherently "ridiculously impractical and unreasonable" in that? (Unless we take the other view, that in fact this is impossible because the whole policy is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what artefact hunting is all about - which I do).
Mr Welsh apparently is so wrapped up in his own business that he does not see the wider picture of why he and his fellows are on this blog at all. Perhaps I should explain. A long time ago I got involved in the public debate on artefact hunting in the UK. It's not just me, there are many out there who disagree, both privately and publicly about what is happening. The tekkies do everything they can to avoid this type of criticism surfacing. They have the PAS on their side, and hundreds of jobsworth archaeologists who do not want to see the boat being rocked - wimps. Because of this, they have the entire British media on their side. So the rose-tinted fluffy bunny bla-bla about benign artefact hunting gets spread and believed.
I noticed however some years ago - through John Hooker's attempts to offset the criticism UK detectorists were receiving in fact - that some of the archaeological "partner an artefact hunter and be happy" bla-bla was in effect the same set of arguments offered by the "buy smuggled coins and save the world" bla-bla from the other side of the Atlantic. The more I looked, the more the attitudes converged. How embarrassing then for the UK metal detectorist to put what they do in the wider context and demonstrate that they are comparable to another group which they have no problems in identifying as morally challenged. And more to the point they are Americans, from our old colony - whom deep down in the national psyche the Brits have no problems at all about looking down their noses at. That is why the ACCG is mentioned here, to show that "metal detectorists" are artefact hunters and collectors, and there are serious problems in artefact hunting and collecting, so therefore we really need to take a closer look at what the UK silly media insist on calling "metal detectorists' and ignoring that wider context.
Dealer Dave (with Old Man Sayles as I recall) came onto a British (and UK/US) discussion list a few years ago to try and punch holes in the arguments of the critics of no-questions-asked collecting and to orchestrate personal attacks and heap ridicule upon certain individuals who were of other views than two conservatively no-questions-asked coin dealers. They got a bloody nose, and it was interesting to see that among those arguing with them (look in the britarch archives) were "metal detectorists" supporting the PAS. The PAS of course is ALL about "where did this come from?" so wholly the opposite of the no-questions-asked trade engaged in across the sea. So I would say that it would only be the densest of metal detecting thickoes that is going to align themselves with Mr Welsh in this. There are a number of metal detectorists in the UK who are saying (to themselves, or openly) that there are issues raised on this blog which need addressing for the good of the hobby. There are the Thugwits among UK metal detectorists who adopt a more "Welshian" approach. Mr Welsh can find their names on metal detecting forums if he looks.
Yes, I am getting tired of being a lone torchbearer. There are plenty of others who could and should be helping out.
Taking a moment here to make it clear that I am only discussing Mr. Barford's public persona as a notorious and extremist archaeoblogger, and have nothing to say about the man himself in his private capacity (remarks about the public persona of a public figure are not considered ad hominem attacks, particularly when in this case almost everyone in the British archaeological establishment would agree that what I say is absolutely true and perhaps understated) , I am also becoming very tired indeed of reading Emperor Barford's incessant outpouring of pompous, foolish and ridiculous edicts from his mystical imaginary throne (of untraceable self-proclaimed imaginary moral authority) in faroff cloud-borne Wolkenkuckucksheim, the land of miracles where everything is always 100% perfect and is always exactly the way one wishes it could be, regardless of the actual practicality of accomplishing that.
To begin with Emperor Barford's prose is so very turgid and boringly prolix. To make my comments on his messages readable, I have to edit about half of his words out. His prose resembles that of nineteenth century orators, who did not think they gave their audience its money's worth if their speech did not last three hours, or possibly the verbose style of nineteenth century authors such as Charles Dickens who (being paid by the word) never used one word where ten would do.
After that disagreeable chore is done, then I have to think about the actual content of his messages, which is usually extremely annoying, for I have yet to read a single constructive, helpful thing in anything he has yet said. Everything in it is very tedious and unpleasant to read and so far as I am concerned, mostly comprised of repetitious and absolutely unjustifiable nasty and unscrupulous sniping. Barford himself is guilty of making far more unfair ad hominem attacks against individuals who are not (because they are not public personalities) fair game, than anyone else I have ever encountered. It is the sort of bosh deluded fanatics of every stripe rant about for hours in public parks standing upon soapboxes. Prepare to meet thy doom, all ye sinners, all ye damned wretches who collect unprovenanced artifacts.
Finally I then have the difficult and vexing task of writing a reply to all this infuriating and unfair ranting, in a manner that is reasonably civil. In a message to another list, another dealer made a telling comment, vividly expressing his views on why Barford should not be allowed to post messages to that list:
" If you invite a guy to your home and when he arrives he calls your wife a fat cow, starts to tell all of your guests that he caught her having sex with a pony then proceeds to defecate in the middle of the living room floor he should be thrown out and never invited to your home again. If he is fortunate, the home owner or one of the other guests does not pummel him, but if it happens would you be surprised? It may not be legal, but would you fault the person that pummels him?
Barford has figuratively done all of the above in practically every discussion venue he has joined."
Mr. Barford's reaction to that was to begin to refer to my list as "Unidroit-Lynch mob." That comment I cited may be a bit of hyperbole, but I have to agree with the essential idea. Reading what Emperor Barford has to say is not pleasant. He is, in my view, constantly searching for ways to make himself as provocative and infuriating as possible. He absolutely loves to be hated. The angrier he can make his readers, the more hate he can stir up, the better he likes it. Maybe they will unguardedly say something he can exploit. Barford wants to provoke nasty unguarded candid rejoinders, which he can then cite as unfair personal attacks. He is the "shock jock," the Howard Stern of archaeoblogging, and he positively revels in his notoriety and unpopularity. The man is the Hyperbolos of the twenty-first century and it is no surprise that many (however not including myself) would like to see him meet the fate of the original.
Emperor Barford's whole approach in his self-proclaimed one-man crusade against private collecting of and trading in unprovenanced artifacts, is just as unethical and unfair as the actions of any rapacious Middle Eastern looter who wantonly desecrates architectural sites. Barford desecrates discussion groups instead. He loots their venues by driving away valued listmembers and monopolizing their agendas.
So there are very good reasons for me to become tired of all this. I have much more pleasant and valuable things to do with my time, which are very important to my business and personal life. It's time for others to get involved in the dreary, unpleasant yet very necessary task of answering Emperor Barford, pointing out how unreasonable and illogical his fanatical rants are, and justifiably exposing him to the public disdain and ridicule his utterances so richly deserve.