Thursday 13 August 2020

Protecting archaeological contexts ... or not?

Tim Loughton, the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, has tabled a question (15 July 2020):
To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what requirements are placed on organisers of commercial rallies to (a) report Treasure, (b) follow best practice, (c) ensure that in-situ archaeology is protected and (d) ensure that archaeological finds made on their events are lawfully exported.
Note that there are themes here: reporting, best practice, preservation of archaeological context, and restrictions on the movement of cultural property of national significance.

There is a parallel question on the same date:
To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what in-situ (a) hoards and (b) other archaeological finds found on metal-detecting rallies and club events have been excavated without archaeological support in 2020; what assessment his Department has made of the level of loss to knowledge of those excavations.
Note this is a question specifically about hoards and other archaeological finds, as well the monitoring of the intellectual consequences of such activity.

The response from Caroline Dinenage, MP for Gosport, is telling:
Guidance for both individual metal detectorists and organisers of events operating during the covid-19 lockdown was published on the page Guidance on searching for archaeological finds in England during COVID-19 on 9 July 2020. The guidance points organisers to directions on operating inside and outside events and also advises organisers and finders what to do if they discover a new archaeological site. The page also directs finders and organisers to the National Council for Metal Detecting guidance on best practice when detecting. 
Rallies and club events are legally permitted and take place on private property with the landowner’s consent, The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport does not currently monitor or record activities at these events. 
Responsibility for reporting possible treasure finds and arranging for an export licence lies with the finder and owner of the cultural object. Guidance on reporting treasure and applying for an export licence during the present situation is included on the pages Guidance on searching for archaeological finds in England during COVID-19 and Export art, antiques and cultural goods: special rules. Anyone not reporting a potential treasure find or not obtaining an export licence where necessary can be subject to legal sanctions.

Dinenage, no doubt informed by someone within DCMS, ignores the issue about hoards and archaeological contexts and instead talks about 'a new archaeological site'. 

But essentially her answer appears to be: 'DCMS has not made any attempt to assess the level of loss to knowledge of those unscientific diggings to remove hoards and other material from archaeological contexts'.

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