Saturday, January 3, 2015

Protecting the archaeology of England and Wales

In late 2010 I was invited to write a forum article on 'The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?' for the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology (online). There were responses by Trevor Austin, Paul Barford, Gabriel Moschenska, Lord Renfrew and Sally Worrell (also online) and with a rejoinder by me. The text was written against the background of the 2009 Nighthawks and Nighthawking report (see some discussion from that time).

A number of issues were raised including suggestions about how the Treasure Act could be revised and strengthened. There was a tension that I highlighted:
Archaeologists would argue for the stewardship of the archaeological record and the importance of context, whereas (some) metal-detectorists are perhaps only interested in retrieving objects that can be owned either by themselves or sold on to others.
(Please note the deliberate use of some and perhaps.) Perhaps one of the disappointing issues to emerge from the forum paper was that senior staff from the Portable Antiquities Scheme failed to engage with the debate. (Sally Worrell's piece was a short discussion of the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet.)

The Lenborough hoard has been causing a storm on twitter. If this hoard was found on an undisturbed archaeological site at a depth of two feet (60 cms) then it is appropriate for the find to be discussed (see my initial reporting of the find).

Last month I hosted a research seminar given by a senior colleague from the Institute of Archaeology. He made a strong defence of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and I felt that there were many points of agreement between us. It was interesting to hear his views on metal-detecting articulated in such a clear way. We also discussed how senior members of PAS had lost an opportunity to make their case by declining the invitation to respond to the forum piece in PIA. 

This is the sort of dialogue that should be taking place. What are the appropriate responses? How can the rich archaeological heritage of England and Wales be protected, preserved and interpreted?

Is this the our common ground in more ways than one?

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