Wednesday 6 February 2019

Defining Treasure and DCMS Consultation

(c) David Gill
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is holding a consultation on 'Revising the definition of treasure in the Treasure Act 1996 and revising the related codes of practice' (link).
This consultation deals with proposed changes to the Treasure Act 1996 (‘the Act’), its associated Codes of Practice (‘the Codes’) and the process for finds that may be treasure following a review of the treasure process. The aim of the Act is to ensure that important archaeological items are preserved in public collections. 
We propose to improve the treasure process so that it is more efficient, that it is focused on the aim of preserving significant finds for public collections, and that it is more rational and easier to understand. We are also keen to ensure that there is a sustainable future for the treasure process.
The aim of the consultation is to gather views on the proposed changes, and obtain information that will help us to assess the impact of these changes on groups and individuals. We also ask for opinions, suggestions and evidence which will support the development of future policies on the Act, the Codes and the treasure process.
There are 32 questions that are raised.

The so-called Crosby Garrett helmet is cited as an example of why the Treasure Act 1996 needs to be revised.
Since the introduction of the Act, certain important finds such as the Crosby Garret helmet have not been acquired by a public institution but have been sold on the open market because they did not meet the definition of treasure.
The helmet has featured in news stories related to the consultation (e.g. The Guardian). The implications of the Treasure Act for such pieces were discussed in forum piece, 'The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?', in the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology (2010) [link]. There is even a specific section entitled, 'The Treasure Act: Time for Revision?'. The concluding section, 'The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales? Reply to Austin, Barford, Moshenska, Renfrew and Worrell' [link], even comments:
The Crosby Garrett helmet affair has added momentum to enhancing the Treasure Act. Several contributors responding to the forum piece discuss its inadequacy. Renfrew noted the need ‘to expand the definition of Treasure to include groups of two or more objects of base metal of the Roman or Anglo-Saxon periods.’ Austin also accepts that the Act is ‘overdue for review.’ Moshenska acknowledges that a ‘revision’ to the Treasure Act would be an appropriate response to what he terms ‘the frustrating losses and damage to heritage’ that the original forum piece highlights.
It is not clear why it had taken nearly nine years for DCMS to respond to these concerns.

It is disappointing to see a public consultation citing a Wikipedia article as the source for the Crosby Garret helmet. (Would academics find this acceptable from their students?) My own views on the helmet can be found in 'Context matters: The So-called Crosby Garrett Helmet' [link].

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