Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Martin Carver on sums paid to treasure hunters

Professor Martin Carver, editor of Antiquity, discusses recent metal-detecting finds in his December 2010 editorial.
... why should we pay a treasure hunter 1000 times more than an archaeologist to dig up an object? Even to my politician, it seems pretty obvious that new finds like this year’s Crosby Garrett Roman helmet need to be in a museum where people can see them; and equally obvious that the sums of money paid to treasure hunters are as absurd as their public adulation. Two million pounds for the helmet and three for the Staffordshire hoard – these are sums that could keep a small museum going for several years.

There is a huge debate in the United Kingdom about the value of Arts and Humanities. Craver concludes his editorial with this:
Archaeology is in the business of understanding the climate, the soil, society, religion, conflict, commerce, living together: no minor matters. It is as important as every other science, from medicine to space travel, and its findings have a permanent value. Whatever the future brings, let’s hang on to this principle: the true currency of archaeology is knowledge; that’s our gold standard, valid everywhere.

I am grateful to Paul Barford for drawing my attention to this editorial.

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2 comments:

Roger Pearse said...

If Martin Carver is correctly reported as saying "why should we pay a treasure hunter 1000 times more than an archaeologist to dig up an object?" then he should find another job.

We don't pay people to treasure hunt. They do it themselves, and they find treasure. What we do is ensure they sell that treasure to us. If we tried to steal it from them, funnily enough they'd do what Egyptian peasants do and just smuggle it abroad.

Paul Barford said...

"If Martin Carver is correctly reported as saying "why should we pay a treasure hunter 1000 times more than an archaeologist to dig up an object?" then he should find another job." Oh yes, he is correctly reported, you can read it yourself, if you do not get Antiquity, the link to the online version of the editorial is in my post to which David referts. Whether or not a Professor should consider "finding a new job" because of expressing his views on the importance of discussing the issues surrounding treasure hunting and archaeological value is a moot point. I think we need such discussion, you seem to think we do not.

As you probably know, the obligation to report potential Treasure finds to the Coroner is a legal one. As is the obligation to report finds of human remains, it is exactly the same procedure. Do you think Britain should introduce a reward system to encourage people not to behave like peasants when they find a dead body in the woods?

I think if you read carefully what Carver says there is a second layer of meaning, about paying them to DIG UP things like the Crosby Garrett helmet, hoiked out of the ground with consequent loss of contextual information, a loss of knowledge(which is what Carver and Gill were talking about) far greater than whether this reconstructed geegaw is subsequently displayed in this or that museum, in this or that country.

To that end, the Treasure Act has a Code of Practice which lays down quite clearly what should happen the moment any member of the public comes across potential Treasure, and adherence to which should determine the amount of discretionary (for it is not laid down in any law) reward paid. Funnily enough, "dig it all out before considering reporting it" is not in it. You would think Treasure hunters would make themselves familiar with its contents before they go out to "do it themselves".

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