New Thematic Issue of Historical Archaeology: Current Research into the Archaeology of American Landscapes
Landscapes surround and interact with us; they constrain and inspire our actions. Delving into the…
Our goal here today is to introduce two training programs in best practices in metal detecting. Many battlefield studies rely heavily on metal detecting as an investigative method, and metal detecting can be labor intensive. The study of a battlefield can require many persondays of detecting; where will this expertise be found? The authors have been involved in the creation of two classes designed to provide metal detecting personnel who can apply best practices in metal detecting to professional research.
Advanced Metal Detecting for the Archaeologist (AMDA) is a continuing education class aimed at professional archaeologists. The class is certified by the Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA). We are clear in our belief that improving best practices in metal detecting will improve the quality of battlefield studies.
The second course, Archaeological Partnership Program (APP), is designed for avocational detectorists who would like to work in tandem with professional archaeologists. Avocational detectorists have great skills, local knowledge, a keen interest, a commitment to history, and a desire to help preserve battlefields and similar military sites. Through the training of a corps of avocational detectorists, APP is developing a resource that will help in the study and preservation of battlefields.
Taken together, AMDA and APP increase the skills of professional archaeologists and avocational detectorists, and reinforce the bridge between these two groups. These training efforts will have positive results on quality of battlefield studies, the level of public engagement, and the development of local advocacy for battlefield preservation.
The AMDA class was born in 2011, when several archaeologists recognized the need to teach best practices in metal detecting to professional archaeologists. We saw that professional archaeologists were finally accepting that metal detecting was a valuable tool, but there was no good source for instruction in metal detecting. AMDA began as a conference/class hybrid in October 2011 in Helen, Georgia.
Based on the response to the Helen event, and in conjunction with the new RPA program for certifying continuing professional education classes, the founders of AMDA chose to focus solely on instruction. The founders included Sheldon Skaggs, Garrett Silliman, Patrick Severts, Doug Scott, Terry Powis, and Chris Espenshade. After formalization of the instructor corps and course offerings, AMDA was certified by the Register of Professional Archaeologists. We were proud to be the first continuing education course to receive this important certification.
The AMDA class recognizes that the three main factors affecting the efficacy of a metal detector investigation are: 1) competency of the operators; 2) appropriateness of the device to the task at hand; and 3) suitability of the research design. The class includes eight hours of classroom instruction, where we present best practices. The class notebooks also include a case study CD with examples of successful research efforts.
We also recognize that professional archaeologists need an opportunity for instructor-monitored, hands-on, practical field experience with a variety of currently available devices. AMDA has created a partnership with several manufacturers and retailers who provide trial models at various price points. Our fieldwork sessions are designed to contribute to the research needs of our local hosts, and we work on real problems on real sites.
We have presented the class five times: August 2012 in Charleston, SC; April 2013 in Lagrange, Georgia; November 2013 in Winchester, VA; August 2014 in Stone Mountain, Georgia; and February 2015 in Brownsville, Texas. We currently have a few spaces left for our upcoming class in Harrisburg, PA, April 4-26. To date, 105 archaeologists have completed our training. The course has seen a broad mix of graduate students, CRM consultants, and state and federal agency personnel.
Avocational detectorists have long been a potential source of labor and expertise in battlefield studies. Unfortunately, many professional archaeologists avoid engaging avocational detectorists. These reasons for this avoidance include: certain professional archaeologists are suspicious of the ethics of avocational detectorists; professional archaeologists do not want to be seen as condoning relic hunting; and certain professional archaeologists do not feel that avocational detectorists understand how and why professional archaeologists do what we do. We found ourselves sort of stuck with a paradox. On the one hand, we (and the profession in general) long for avocational detectorists to embrace a preservation ethos and begin working closely with archaeologists, but on the other hand we have not provided them any guidance or training toward that goal (again, with the exception of Matthew Reeves’ Montpelier program). The profession sacrifices our right to complain about relic hunters if we continue to ignore the training of avocational detectorists. In the context of the current professional angst over the reality TV of metal detecting, we could not condone complaining about behaviors without trying to change said behaviors. We knew from a number of projects and other contacts with avocational detectorists that this community held many with a strong interest in history and a willingness or desire to work with professional archaeologists.
In autumn of 2013, Chris Espenshade, Patrick Severts, Doug Scott, and Matthew Reeves began working with Minelab, a major manufacturer of detectors, to develop the APP course.
From the onset, we were aware of the risk, mentioned above, that we might be perceived as offering a class to improve the skills of looters (again, not all professional archaeologists appreciate the difference between relic hunters and avocational detectorists). Instead of focusing on actual metal-detecting skills, we designed the course to emphasize how and why professional archaeologists do what they do. We hope to make avocational detectorists understand and buy into the professional approach to metal detector research.
The class is offered only to avocational detectorists willing to sign and abide by this ethics pledge:
I will neither purchase nor sell artifacts. I will not detect on any property without written permission of the land owner. I will record all discovered sites within 30 days with the state site files. I will keep records on the location of all materials I recover. I will not excavate any targets below the topsoil/plowzone. I will not disturb any human remains. I will report sites threatened by development or other actions to the state archaeologist or state historic preservation office. I will share data and knowledge with professional archaeologists. I will partner, when feasible, with professional archaeologists to assist in the preservation and study of archaeological resources. I will strive to be a responsible avocational detectorist. I understand that violation of this pledge may result in my name and contact information being removed from the APP database of responsible avocational detectorists.
The class teaches avocational detectorists how professional archaeology differs from hobby collecting, and why professional archaeologists do things as they do. We let students know how they might find opportunities to work with professionals. We stress that there is an over-riding concern among both the professional archaeology community and the avocational detectorist community to stem the flow of site loss. We emphasize that avocational detectorists and professional archaeologists can work together to study sites that would otherwise be lost (i.e., that fall outside Section 106 or similar protection).
We also recognized the risk that the APP class might be seen by certain skeptics as a pay-to-dig opportunity. When a real archaeological site is used in training detectorists, the situation can be viewed as the participants paying for the opportunity to detect on a neat site. To avoid this, APP classes are held only on test gardens (site proxies created only for the class, using modern replicas of key artifact classes). None of the APP class work occurs on actual archaeological sites.
We also wrestled with the question of policing the behavior of our graduates. These are not professional archaeologists and cannot be held to RPA/SHA/SAA ethical standards. There is no threat that they will lose their registration or membership for ethical lapses. We instead created an ethical standard for avocational detectorists who wish to undergo APP training and become part of the APP program. Those graduates who take the pledge and abide by it will be placed on an internet data base of responsible avocational detectorists willing to work with professional archaeologists. Many avocational detectorists are willing to spend a week or two of their vacation assisting on the study of an interesting battlefield. If we learn that a graduate has broken their pledge, they will be removed from the database.
In creating the pledge, we recognized the need for a compromise between our strict professional ethics and the desire of avocational detectorists to be able to pursue their hobby in the absence of a professional archaeologist. We felt that this is a reasonable compromise.
Our goals with APP are: 1) to create a legion of responsible avocational detectorists with an understanding of how and why professional archaeological projects are undertaken; 2) to provide a resource to professional archaeologists who might need assistance on their projects; and 3) to create partnerships between professional archaeologists and avocational detectorists to help preserve archaeological data. With the backing of Minelab, the first class was presented in Chicago in September of 2014. Registration filled quickly and the student feedback from the course was overwhelmingly very positive. APP will be working closely with Minelab to present the class many times a year in different parts of the country.