Friday, January 3, 2014

Heritage and Cultural Property Crime

The Tower © David Gill
The UK Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) launched a report on Heritage and Cultural Property Crime today at the Tower of London [details].
National HCPC Policing Lead, Chief Constable Andy Bliss, said: “Our historic environment and cultural property are among our most prized possessions as a nation and play a huge part in our tourism economy. However, crime against our heritage and cultural assets is a significant threat to this legacy. This report allows for a much clearer understanding of the breadth and complexity of the problem.”
The report itself is not without interest. The chosen motif for the report is Stonehenge, placing the context on (prehistoric) archaeological monuments in their wider landscape settings. The reports notes:
A considerable amount of heritage assets targeted by criminals take the form of places, buildings, structures, and archaeological and maritime sites which this assessment refers to as the historic environment.
Readers of LM will know that I was invited to write a forum piece ("The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?") for the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology (London). My understanding is that officers of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) were invited to respond but declined. There was a single PAS contribution by Sally Worrell on the so-called the Crosby Garrett helmet.

Yet PAS (represented by Dr Michael Lewis) — an organisation that appears to have turned a blind eye to the issue of heritage crime and indeed has contributed to media programmes that have encouraged the search for Britain's buried "treasures" — is now contributing to the formulation of English / Welsh policy on heritage crime.

One of the strengths noted by the report includes:
The Portable Antiquities Scheme is a DCMS funded project to encourage the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. Every year many thousands of objects are discovered, many of these by metal-detector users, but also by people whilst out walking, gardening or going about their daily work. Such discoveries offer an important source for understanding our past.
How many finds go unrecorded? (This was an issue raised in the PIA forum piece.) How will the removal of finds from scheduled archaeological sites be addressed?

On a wider scale, will the working party look at the way that cultural property from other nations, including Europe, continues to be sold on the London market?

I know that fellow archaeological writers monitor heritage crime in the UK, but LM will endeavour to keep its readers informed.

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Cultural Property Observer said...

Are you suggesting that failure to report under a voluntary scheme is somehow criminal? And what of mishandling of archaeological resources by archaeologists, including but not limited to the failure to promptly publish archaeological finds. Perhaps, that should be a crime too.

David Gill said...

Thank you for your comment. May I wish you a Happy New Year?
Best wishes

Cultural Property Observer said...

Thank you. To you too. To more accuracy and less spin in blogging in 2014. Peter Tompa


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