Sunday, 7 December 2014

Metal detector men, Nazi barracks and other ethical issues in community from Turku

November truly and utterly flattened me and I ate more conference food and hang around at the air ports, train and coach stations and ferry ports longer than I want to recognize. It was inspiring, fascinating, mesmerising and delightful – and meeting new interesting people and seeing old friends after a long while is always lovely. Not that it has ended: late January sees me juggernauting again, the list of the work to be done is just longer and longer and the standard 24 hours per day seem laughably inadequate. Nevertheless, let’s go back to November and the marvellous Archaeologist Days of the Archaeological Society of Finland at the University of Turku on the last Thursday and Friday of November. No better topic to write about on the Finnish Independence Day on December 6!

University buildings in Turku

These Days used to be in April and the fieldwork presentations in November, but the fieldworkers who were increasingly working into October and later wanted to have a break and a chance of actually preparing the presentations. Thus, the conferences were swapped and November date is much more suitable for me. Around Easter I am more likely to be in the CAA or home for the holidays than anything else. The First Advent is also a good time to visit family and buy Christmas presents, so the benefits are not only intellectual but also practical and emotional.

The Days have always two themes and this year these were Archaeological Ethics and Community Archaeology. Especially the first did not appeal to me very much beforehand, since some of the discussions are predictable and there is a huge chance of politically correct mild polite time filling in between lunch and coffee. I must admit I was totally wrong and the discussions were not only thought-provoking but also heated. It became very apparent which person will not be the contact worker for the metal detectors, for example! The advice might be stern and compassion lacking with astute directives given, peppered with more figurative speech than people are used to from public service.

Many papers given were involved with historical archaeology or the 20th century, so it was not only the themes that were very 'now' but also the problems and potential threats to war graves, especially in Lapland, and such matters. This type of discussions continued to the second day as well. Part of the discussion on the first day was devoted to the suggested Finnish ethical code for archaeology and which organisation should give advice, guidance and notify, if some research activities are unethical. The Archaeological Society of Finland is not the Institute for Archaeologists, but more a learnt, although professional, society. One could take an example from the Council for Mass Media in Finland that is a joint independent organ of media practitioners with lay members, as was suggested by Petri Halinen who was presenting the code. However, no matter which model one selects, the small pool of members in any panel will become a problem.

Maria Lahtinen’s presentation underlined the interesting situations, which arise when the Finnish and British practices collide and people who are considered in Britain archaeologists through their experience are not such a thing in Finland were the degree in archaeology has traditionally been a mark of a professional archaeologist who customarily can get research permits. Not to mention the ethical questions in sampling human bones that will be destroyed to a degree in the process and the feeling among the scientific archaeologists, shared in many different countries, that other archaeologists are happy to have their results but do not integrate them in the process, especially in the sampling stage in the field. However the main ‘beef’ of the day was the relations with the metal detectorists.

Metal detecting is governed by the Finnish law according to which the known archaeological sites cannot be touched without a research permit. The metal detectorists have to keep away from the inside of the defined preservation areas. The whole hobby has expanded exponentionally in the 2010s and many detectorists either are unaware of the law or some more serious cases are ignorant of it or do not follow it. However, most archaeologists recognize that in some areas the emptying of the fields from any metal objects is happening with an increased speed, and the professionals have to understand where the finds are made. Thus, the Museum in Espoo, as Anna Wessman told us, has tried to involve them in local history projects and has managed to get new Iron Age finds from the areas they were earlier unknown. Päivi Maaranen from the National Board of Antiquities presented their e-mail service where the finds are discussed and information collected. Both had made some surveys of the detector hobbyists and they could confirm that these were mostly men, who liked to walk in the countryside either alone or in pairs. They want online information sheets, get their metal items identified, even if only modern, and, if a treasure find, most often get their monies – even if they do not do it for financial gain. They are less interested in courses, but most of them work, so the events during the working hours of the professionals were unsuccessful.

Päivi Maaranen presents

Riku Kauhanen’s excellent presentation on conflict archaeology and the dangerous balancing acts in the modern conflict areas. He also touched upon the problems of getting information of historic 18th-century structures and finds that traditionally have not been of interest to archaeologist or historians. These discussions could be seen as relevant for the metal detector discussion or later during the Community Archaeology day. Here I use it as a vehicle to move from the first to the second day.

The second day started with Suzie Thomas’ overview of the field in Britain with an early reference to her activities at the University of Helsinki. Finland is lucky to have a professional with all the right English Heritage and Council of British Archaeology contacts. The day continued with specific projects. Kreetta Lesell presented the late Aino Nissinaho’s successful Adopt an Monument initiative for organisations and communities, Janne Ikäheimo presented the site of the last hanging in Finland and Eeva Raike discussed the fact that the rock hackings that are alive tradition with new designs and names added annually are not a suitable site for preservation under the Ancient Monument law: they could not be touched or added to any more.

Leena Koivisto’s talk raised the Finnish question of why the people like to attend the community archaeology excavations away from their own village – the situation almost the opposite to that in Britain. The talk touched upon the question of social media being even too quick, when the excavation directors at the site were not aware of the happenings some metres away that had been beamed to Facebook with the help of mobile phones. There were moments when the boss from the museum had seen all online when the directors still had to check what had been found at site. She also wondered aloud, if it begins to be too easy to ‘Like’ a dig online – and people do not bother joining the activities.

Now we get to the Nazis. The 1940s are now a big thing in Finnish archaeology with a large grant being devoted to the mapping of the archaeological remains from the Lapland war, the German barracks and other visible defence and attack structures being the easiest target. Elsewhere, as Jan Fast told in his presention, his new project in Hanko where he has started to map the derelict German barracks with a community project before they will disappear with a new development being planned. He also discussed the first public large excavations organised by the Heureka science centre in the 1990s and some other community archaeology work, but one has to admit that the Hanko project took the limelight from the Jokiniemi or Kemiö projects.

The Days also reminded us about the passage of time. The young generation does not apparently sit until early hours in the bar and look for a disco bar after the first bar closed and the Bar in Hamburger Börs (people in Finland know the fame) was all dark. No, they seem to be teetotallers and/or take their dogs out for a walk after the conference dinner. We seniors are becoming definitely wiser, though: we were quite grey in the first row the morning after, but we were there for the first presentation – and we were only tired, not emotional!

Sadly, I cannot promise to be there next year, but the discussions are likely to be as fervent, since one of the topics is likely to be ‘what is an archaeological remain and which of them are worth be preserved by law’. Mikko Härö touched upon this topic when talking about the future hand book of Finnish archaeological monuments and remains that will be compiled on a wiki platform. He hinted at the future changes in the law protecting the ancient monuments, so the topic will again be very ‘NOW’.

The sparse attendance of the younger generation in the evening do may have something to do with the 50th anniversary celebrations of the student archaeology society magazine Varelia the previous evening. Apparently, 'important' phone calls were made at 3.50am in a happy atmosphere to a dismayed archaeologist with a job...

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