Monday 26 March 2012

"A gaping hole in the legal protection for finds"

Britain's ITV is making a programme, "Britain's Secret Treasures", about the way that the archaeological heritage of England and Wales is being eroded by the unchecked use of the metal-detectors. Or to put it another way, the programme will discuss objects recorded in the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database.

The programme will be fronted by journalist Michael Buerk, the incisive host of BBC radio's "Moral Maze", and Bettany Hughes.

I wonder if the programme researchers will read the Forum Piece about PAS published in Papers of the Institute of Archaeology (just round the corner from the British Museum). In case anybody has not read part of my conclusion:
The Portable Antiquities Scheme has attempted to bridge the gap between the archaeological community and those involved with metal-detecting. In one sense there has been a huge success in encouraging the reporting of finds and interesting people in their local history. ‘Outreach’ events have involved metal-detecting clubs as well as local archaeological societies ... Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) from PAS have made great efforts to follow up reports of finds. However, there is also concern that there are some detectorists whose main aim is to make money from this activity. Whole sites are being robbed out and valuable information has been lost. Is a ‘softly, softly’ approach failing to protect many archaeological sites in England and Wales from deliberate destruction? Do more sophisticated metal-detectors locate finds at greater depths? Would responsible detectorists object to a tightening of the Treasure Act?
At least the Guardian commentator has realised that not all is straightforward:
Many of the most historically exciting or precious objects have been acquired by museums, but the programmes will also consider the one that got away, the Crosby Garrett ceremonial parade helmet, which exposed a gaping hole in the legal protection for finds. Although one of the most beautiful Roman objects ever found, and exceptionally rare across the entire Roman empire, it was not legally treasure because it was made of gilded copper alloy, and the finder exercised his right to send it directly to a Christie's auction. It was estimated at £300,000 but sold for £2m, with the anonymous private buyer massively outbidding Tullie House museum in Carlisle.
The Crosby Garrett helmet is discussed in the PIA forum piece.

Perhaps Buerk will apply his considerable talent when he is given the opportunity to interview key personalities in the debate. And perhaps senior members of PAS will be asked to describe where they can see any "gaping holes" in the present legal protection for archaeological finds.

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1 comment:

David Gill said...

Paul Barford, who is mentioned in the Guardian report, has several responses to the programme.

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