My name is Amy Broussard and I’m honored to be interning with Tad Britt, chief of archaeology and collections here at the NCPTT. This is the first in a series of blog posts that will describe the work completed during this 2017 internship.
First, a little about my background: I studied anthropology at Louisiana State University (LSU) from 2010-2013 and completed my archaeology field school as part of that curriculum. In 2015, I returned to my hometown to study at University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL) and soon received my graduate certificate in historic preservation. As a student worker, I was lucky to find positions either as an archaeological lab tech or field tech through the universities. In 2016, I started my cultural resource management job at Coastal Environments, Inc., working on small teams to conduct surveys and excavate sites in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. This NCPTT internship – a combination of archival research and archaeological fieldwork – seemed like a perfect fit. While drawing on knowledge from my past experiences, I will also be learning some new skills – primarily, metal detecting. Our research project will incorporate metal detecting in the archaeological investigation of a French colonial site in northwest Louisiana. Before going any further, I feel that it is necessary to provide a little background information about the relationship between metal detecting and archaeology.
Professional archaeologists have traditionally looked down upon the metal detector as a tool used by hobbyists and/or looters (Scott et. al 2012). Unfortunately, it’s not hard to find evidence that would support this stigma. While doing research for this project, I stumbled across numerous websites where people sell Civil War era bullets and artifacts, presumably found while metal detecting. This practice is especially problematic when objects are collected from park lands, at known sites where detecting is prohibited, and on private property where the landowner has not given consent. (Disclaimer: The views expressed above are simply a description of commonplace notions – I’ve used metal detectors’ websites for reference when identifying artifacts before, and most of the collectors’ knowledge far exceeds my own. I personally hold nothing against them, and I hope to see more communication and cooperation between archaeologists and ‘detectorists’ in the future – see Reeves 2015).
Off the top of my head, I can think of three main factors that set archaeology apart from unethical looting: 1. the systematic methods employed, 2. documentation of the process; and 3. proper curation of the artifacts.
In any proper survey or excavation – whether or not metal detecting is involved – many steps must be taken to ensure that sites are recorded thoroughly and systematically. While there are laws and regulations that define proper archaeological surveys and excavations, there are no universal sanctions that concern metal detecting. However, this may change in the near future. Advanced Metal Detecting for the Archaeologist (AMDA) is a group of professional archaeologists that offers instruction on best practices in metal detecting. AMDA has published a series of well-defined guidelines that we use as a basis for planning our investigation.
When documenting fieldwork procedures and artifact provenience, archaeologists use field notes, paperwork, sketch maps, scale drawings, photographs, GPS points, and measurements gathered via theodolite. There is an entire science (pedology) dedicated to the study of soils, and archaeologists must carefully record stratigraphic sequences. All of the above elements contribute to the interpretation of a site as a whole. When an artifact is hastily removed without proper documentation, the opportunity for greater understanding is lost.
Chris Espenshade, co-founder of AMDA, also points out that archaeologists are required to document negative findings, while most “relic hunters” are exclusively interested in areas where artifacts can be found. If someone is metal detecting as a hobby, presumably it’s an activity that they find enjoyable. Constantly stopping to take notes, photos, measurements etc. every time an item is found… is probably a task that would hinder their enjoyment.
True, in comparison to “treasure hunting,” a description of “real archaeology” may sound rather tedious, but I think it’s important to have a realistic mindframe. My main objective here is to assure readers that our project is being conducted in a legal and ethical manner, under the supervision of an experienced professional. Tad Britt has organized and completed metal detecting certification courses at NCPTT, taught by some of the same instructors from the AMDA.
An informant recently told us that the area of our site has already been targeted by metal-detecting locals. It’s frustrating to imagine what sort of artifacts have already been removed and what information has already been lost, but we will work with whatever material remains. For the sake of protecting the site from further disturbance, its exact location will not be disclosed.
In my next post I will describe our fieldwork and discuss our metal detecting methods and results. What do you think we’ll find? Stay tuned for updates! In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about metal detecting and archaeology, I’ve included a few useful resources below.
This BBC article primarily concerns the UK, but the information is also relevant to circumstances within the US: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/archaeology/metal_detect_01.shtml
Reeves, Matthew. 2015 Metal Detecting as a Preservation and Community Building Tool: Montpelier’s Metal Detecting Programs. The SAA Archaeological Record 15:2 (35-37).
Scott, Douglas D., Chris Espenshade, Patrick Severts, Sheldon Skaggs, Terry G. Powis, Chris Adams, and Charles Haeker – 2012 – Advances in Metal Detector Technology and Applications in Archaeology. Part of the Proceedings of the Advanced Metal Detecting for the Archaeologist Conference in Helen, Georgia. Edited by Terry G. Powis, 33-48.
Esplenshade, Chris T., Robert L. Jolley, and James B. Legg – 2002 – The Value and Treatment of Civil War Military Sites. North American Archaeologist 23: 39-68.
Special thanks to Elizabeth McNabb for providing the first photo.