Monday, December 14, 2015

Illiterate Detectorists among the Great Unwashed

A characteristically sneering blog utterance, by the inimitably arrogant and offensive prince of archaeology-centrism, predicts wailing and gnashing of teeth among collectors and detectorists ignorant of historiography:

"There’s going to be a wailing and gnashing of teeth in certain [...] quarters following a detector-found mixed hoard. Note the words ‘metal detectorist’ and not amateur archaeologist, or even, professional archaeologist. Detectorist James Mather’s hoard find in Watlington, Oxfordshire, is set to rewrite the medieval history books with his spectacular find of 186 Anglo-Saxon coin, seven pieces of jewellery, and fifteen ingots. Why? Experts are saying that the find shows that Alfred the Great – one of England’s most revered historical figures – ‘airbrushed’ a rival king from history. The little known Mercian king, Ceolwulf II, mostly forgotten by history and known only as the “Unwise,” helped Alfred to historical prominence not to mention a battle victory or two, but who Alfred later dropped faster than one of his hot, burnt cakes (US readers check put the Burnt Cakes story)."

The fountain of snark goes on to observe:

"Yes, do read some books metal detecting blog readers.  I think if you did you might find some that discuss the redaction of the various versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (in fact going back to something like the 1860s) which discuss precisely this aspect - it is called Quellenforschung and historians are actually quite good at it and really don't need guffawing metal detectorists to provide a coin with "a picture on it" to tell us what they already know. But to find out what they (we) know, metal detectorists (allegedly "passinitly intrestid in th' 'istry") would have to read about it in more than a comic book in Simple English "How Alfred Burnt the Cakes"."


When the subject of reading of books is brought up, the former archaeologist who is the author of the above remarks is himself vulnerable. He makes resounding pronouncements upon subjects in which he has no apparent qualifications, without himself reading and mastering the fundamental literature, upon ancient numismatics for one very important example.

This observer, who has acquired a reasonable working knowledge of ancient history from his formal education in the classics and long time specialization in classical numismatics, also has very good reason to suspect whether this particular archaeology-centric blogger has a similar working knowledge of classical literature relating to history, or ancient history as a general subject.

Perhaps he does have competent knowledge regarding Anglo-Saxon history, in which this observer claims no particular expertise, and also regarding early Slavic archaeology. But that narrow expertise by no means establishes him as an expert upon the general subjects of ancient and early medieval history.

Fairness requires observing that this blogger does not explicitly claim such expertise in this post. However, readers should be acutely aware that the subject of historiography goes very far beyond the scope of this particular observation, and that in the broad scope of this subject, this blogger has yet to demonstrate expertise clearly distinguishing himself from those at whom he sneers in the above condescending remarks.

This observer knows a number of respected collectors of ancient coins whose knowledge of ancient history, as well as numismatics, is quite impressive. It would be reasonable to suppose that some collectors of other ancient artifacts have similar expertise.