Podcasters on the Berlin World Skeptics Conference

Here are three podcasts reporting from the Berlin World Skeptics Conference that took place 18-20 May, all featuring yours truly among others.

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Tech: The Feed URLs For This Blog Have Changed

An unfortunate side effect of the upgrade to WordPress has been that the feed URLs for this blog have changed, costing me 2/3 of my traffic. This will hopefully be rectified soon, but right now the URLs are:

http://scienceblogs.com/aardvarchaeology/feed/

or

http://scienceblogs.com/aardvarchaeology/feed/atom/

If you don’t know what this means, Dear Reader, then you are probably reading the blog by visiting it in your web browser. And if so, you have no problem with this.

Sadly, people who read this blog with feed reading software are unlikely to get this message unless they suddenly one day begin to wonder why my feed’s gone quiet.

Proposed New Swedish Metal Detecting Law Misses Mark

As I’ve written before in a number of venues (e.g. Fornvännen and Antiquity), the current Swedish metal detector legislation needs to be changed. It is too restrictive in relation to honest amateur detectorists. It is keeping them from a) making valuable contributions to archaeological research, b) saving finds for scholarship that are slowly turning to a green verdigris powder in the country’s ploughsoil, c) engaging constructively with their cultural heritage. We are decades behind the Danes on this. Metal detectors should be dealt with like hunting rifles: if a citizen passes a knowledge test on how to report finds etc., give him a licence to use the detector on ploughsoil provided the land owner and tenant give their permission, and then revoke the licence if he misbehaves.

Everybody despises nighthawk looters. Heritage management should encourage a strict division between honest daylight detectorists who report their finds on the one hand, and nighthawks on the other hand. Honest amateur detectorist associations like the detectorist section within the Gothenburg Historical Society and Rygene Detektorklubb should receive encouragement from all sectors of professional archaeology. They cultivate social norms among detectorists and teach newcomers to the hobby how to behave. Colleagues, invite them on your fieldwork projects! I could not have written my 2011 book Mead-halls of the Eastern Geats without them.

Now, the Eriksson heritage commission (spoken of before) has made a number of suggestions on how Swedish metal detector legislation should change. This is because frustrated amateurs have complained to the EU about the Swedish rules being a trade obstacle, and the EU has reprimanded Sweden. (Just like when Al Capone was sent to jail for tax fraud instead of organised crime.) And, as I’ve said, change is needed. Sadly, not the kind of change the commission advocates. Here’s what they’re suggesting.

The Eriksson commission wants to make it easier to get a permit for a piece of land if you intend to use the metal detector to search for anything but objects older than 1750. No permits will be issued in cases where there is reason to believe that the detector will be used to locate objects older than 1750, such as when the area in question has known archaeological sites or there is reason to believe that such may be found.

This supports the rare detectorist who haunts beaches and parks searching for modern coins and wrist watches. It still treats the majority of detectorists, who are explicitly interested in archaeology, the ones who are of any use to society, as crooks. All detectorists are in it for the fun. But the guy who trawls beaches doesn’t perform any kind of public service or engage meaningfully with the cultural heritage. The people who discover, characterise and report archaeological sites do. In Denmark, that is.

If I understand the proposed legislation correctly, it would mean a drastic or complete curtailment of the slight opportunities the current rules give serious amateur archaeologists to use metal detectors on interesting land in Sweden. It would open beaches and parks to semi-casual metal detector use and thus remove the pesky EU trade obstacle. And it would in no way change the legal environment in which nighthawk looters currently operate.

New Legal Definition of Protected Archaeological Sites in Sweden

In March of 2011, the Swedish government launched a state commission under County Governor Eva Eriksson to evaluate our legislation and national goals regarding the cultural environment. Yesterday the commission delivered its report, in which a number of interesting suggestions are made for changes to the body of law that governs Swedish archaeology.

The current law contains a definition of the protected archaeological site that has never been enforced to the letter. First it says that any remains that bear witness to how people lived in the past and are permanently abandoned enjoy protection. Then it redundantly lists a bunch of categories of such remains. According to the letter of this law, if I abandon my car it immediately becomes a protected archaeological site. Of course, this is not how the law has been used. There has been a wide temporal grey zone between abandoned cars, which everybody agrees should not enjoy this protection (though there is that one famous 60s junk yard in the Småland woods…) and Medieval ruins, which everybody agrees should be protected. Whether for instance a given 19th century crofter’s holding site has been bulldozed or painstakingly excavated at the expense of the land developer has been a matter of local negotiation. Shipwrecks though have been protected from the day they turned 100 years old, which has led to a flurry of salvage diving every time one got to about age 97. Stray small finds have also been under a 100 year limit after which finders are obliged to hand them in.

The Eriksson commission now suggests a simpler wording: everything up to AD 1750 will enjoy protection. After that date, only cemeteries will be protected. Likewise with stray small finds: protected if made before 1750. And ships sunk before 1900 will be protected. Absolute dates, not relative offsets: of course, this law will no longer be appropriate 100 or even 50 years from now. But in the past the law has changed much more frequently than that. The proposed legislation is not designed for any long use life. And anyway, the wording submitted by the commission provides an ability for the County Administration to give selected post-1750 sites and post-1900 shipwrecks legal protection, instead of the current non-enforced blanket protection.

I think these suggestions are good. We shouldn’t have laws we aren’t willing to uphold, making it difficult for citizens, companies and government agencies to determine the legal situation around land development. The 1750 limit for sites and stray finds will codify the way Swedish heritage management has operated de facto for decades. And I know of no archaeologist whose research will be impaired. On urban digs, the top strata are often bulldozed away to levels far below 1750. If I want to know about 19th century buildings, I will look at the innumerable standing ones, not at grassed-over sites where only the foundations remain.

But the commission also makes some suggestions regarding metal detectors that I am much less happy with. More on them another day.

European Skeptics Conference, 23-25 August 2013, Stockholm

This has me excited! The Board of the Swedish Skeptics just decided on a date and a city for the 14th European Skeptics Conference: 23-25 August 2013, Stockholm, Sweden. Check it out!

The Swedish Skeptics Association (Föreningen Vetenskap och Folkbildning) invites skeptics worldwide, and particularly in Europe, to the 14th European Skeptics Conference, 23-25 August 2013, in Stockholm, Sweden. (No, not 2012, when it would interfere with the Mayan apocalypse.) The conference is one in the series supported by the European Council of Skeptical Organisations.

The organisers wish to hear ASAP from prospective speakers and people who wish to suggest speakers. Note that we aim for an even gender representation and for a mix of backgrounds: activists, academics, medical professionals, journalists and more. We also welcome offers of partnership and support from likeminded organisations.