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5. Are UMDs the only danger for archaeology?

Although France is concentrating on UMDs as the only danger for archaeology, this position is erroneous and does not take into account new technology, as shown in the the legislation review and reasons that motivated the CNRA's report.

However, before discussing the many risks relating to private interventions, the danger presented by the administration taking the wrong stance will be considered first. In this respect, Marc Drouet, the Deputy Director of Archaeology at the Office of Heritage of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, symbolises the problem. He appeared on station France Inter, on the La tête au carré radio programme of 5 May 2011, on the topic of 'Lascaux, Pompei, Angkor… can we safeguard our archaeological heritage?'. In response to an online question 'will the proposals made by the CNRA about archaeological looting using metal detectors one day be applied?', Marc Drouet replies, 'Yes, [archaeology] is threatened because if, as has been said on different occasions, you take archaeology out of its context, it does not have this intrinsic quality which gives it all its interest, this scientific quality' (at 66:46 mins). Taking an object out of its context certainly compromises archaeological analysis if the object did indeed have a context. When a professional carries out survey, or indeed a voluntary archaeologist, a UMD or even an ordinary citizen, they are going to come across material that most of the time is found in a disturbed area, which is the surface layer. The find can be either directly on the ground or a few dozen centimetres below the surface. In other words, sending out the message that any item above ground is an item that no longer has any value is a scientific error. Indeed, the aforementioned item at least provides an indication of the potential presence of an archaeological site. This is confirmed in the CNRA report where it says: 'The argument that they only reach the superior layers which have minor interest to archaeology is not acceptable, since archaeology studies stratigraphy as well as spatial relations at every level of the site' (CNRA 2011, 3).

Discrediting a find out of context is not helpful as it undermines the meaning of context and only postpones the problem of disturbance, which is present notably when agriculture is involved. Although Marc Drouet's position can be understood as a desire to simplify the situation presented to the wider public, his position is harmful. Not only does it put professionals in an awkward position regarding future explanations to the public, but it prevents the possibility of intervention by ordinary citizens to help form an archaeological map. For example, with this type of explanation, farmers who plough the land with or without a detector could be considered criminals. It is thus dangerous to transmit a simplified dialogue to the wider public, whatever the objective may be. It is far more profitable, and even essential, to popularise the subject to a young audience, as ArkéoTopia passionately recommends.

It is even more serious that Marc Drouet began his answer by stating that 'you are passionate about archaeology so we should be able get along. But also listen to this message that consists in saying that archaeology is a job, archaeology is a professional affair. They are researchers with highly specialised techniques and training. You cannot improvise as an archaeologist as you could in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today it is a scientific process' (Reply at 65:59 mins). As has been seen, even archaeology in 2012 is not only a professional affair, but also one for volunteers. The ability to revitalise research, although it can come from professionals, will also come from volunteers who are not subjected to an educational norm. Since they are freer in their activities, they are also freer in their ability to innovate, as Philippe Bonnenberger and Jean-Pierre Houdin's work has shown. In addition, grouping UMDs and voluntary archaeologists shows an ignorance of today's archaeological community, which clearly demonstrates France's ambiguous position towards private research, which is generally considered as being nonexistent despite the contributions the public sector gains from it and which the CNRA's report brought to light. The association HAPPAH should not be forgotten either, and supplies enthusiasts with a list of tools available to take part in surveys (HAPPAH n.d. c). The position of high-level civil servants and local authorities in France is fundamental to the future of French archaeological research. It effectively presents one of the main dangers not only to the future destruction of human traces in this country, but also of a possible fossilisation of French professional research.

In addition, metal detector use is not a help for all periods. Thus for the prehistoric periods, it is of no use and simple field walking suffices, as seen previously with the Giraud brothers' work. Similarly, improvements in technologies result in a reduction in manufacturing costs every year for detection material, which is steadily becoming more portable. They no longer act only on metallic items but also on clay items, such as by using electrical resistance surveys, for example. Finally, new technologies put tools that professional archaeologists themselves could not have easily used previously at the disposal of individuals today. One tool similar to Google Earth allows high-quality aerial prospecting to be carried out from your living room, with geolocalisation and the option of team organisation (see the discoveries of Dr Sarah Parcak, of the University of Alabama (Vlassenbroek 2011), and experiments at http://www.geoportail.fr). Legislation focusing only on the tools and not on motivations would gain nothing from its ratification. Indeed, for those only interested in plundering, what precedes outlines the extent of what already exists or what could soon exist as a way to get round laws which take only metal detectors into account. There are other means of prospection and treasure hunters who wish to get around the law will do so. The CNRA's report also states: '[...] the impact of looters who specialise in searching for other objects (flint, stone, or ceramic) should not be minimised. They damage sites from all periods, from the Palaeolithic to the present' (CNRA 2011, 2).

On a different note, apart from increasing awareness about archaeology and the distinction between treasure hunter and researcher is the additional complication of treasure hunts as a game. My experience as a scientific mediator has made me aware of the frequent use of treasure hunts for children, which unfortunately do not involve hiding eggs in the hollow of a tree, but burying objects in the earth of various plots of land. In addition to the issue of competition instigated by activity leaders, it is important to question the supervision of such practices. Indeed, many educators have reported to me that they allow children to dig the ground wherever they wish. Since landowners and local authorities are not always aware of the legislation, the consequences of unintentional discoveries are a cause for concern. Although in some instances a prepared plot of land is mentioned, the ethical aspect of such hunts is problematic, since not only is the use of metal detectors presented as relevant to the hunt, but the regulations regarding the use of these devices are generally not made clear during the activity. The association Chass'Or, one among many, unfortunately, is a perfect example. Moreover, what about any buried objects that the children fail to find but which pollute the subsoil for archaeologists? As things stand, an evaluation of the real dangers of the practice of 'play' treasure hunts to archaeology cannot currently be evaluated.

Several other dangers threaten the future of archaeological research, including wars, with the pillage of museums and excavation reserves (Flandrin 2004), products used in farming that increase erosion of items or simply natural erosion, as is the case in Iceland.


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