Sunday, October 9, 2011

Failure to Engender a True Public Discussion

The almost universal approval in the "metal detecting" milieu of the activities of various members of the community to silence critics of current policies on artefact hunting by whatever methods they may choose is telling. It seems many "metal detectorists " in the UK are only too aware of the "Portable Antiquities Scam" currently being perpetrated on British public opinion. That is, the huge holes in the arguments put forward by the supporters of the hobby of so-called "metal detecting" and the degree to which the flimsy façade of "responsibility" and alleged "benefits" for archaeology is based on wholly questionable premises as its foundation. Sadly for the archaeological record of Britain, the number of people actually questioning these premises is still relatively small. This is partly as a result of the sort of aggression and unpleasantness (including threats) that tends to be directed at their authors (even on 'academic' discussion lists such as the JISC-run Britarch discussion list of the Council for British Archaeology, and before this forced its closure, the Portable Antiquities Scheme's own public-access forum).

This has to change and there has to be more transparency about what these people are doing to the archaeological heritage in which not only archaeologists and collectors are the only stakeholders, but - primarily - the whole of society (and internationally). The conservation policies of English Heritage on sustainable management of the historic environment (download here) state clearly that the issues concerning conservation of the cultural heritage should be a matter of open debate and consultation. This is quite patently not happening in the case of portable antiquities issues in England and Wales. This may be very comfortable for the artefact hunter and procurer, it may be comfortable for the dealers and buyers, but all the time this is going on, the evidence we have indicates that the long-term survival and integrity of the archaeological record which we aim to protect is being severely compromised.

It is undeniable that the existence of UK artefact hunting's "partner" organization, the Portable Antiquities Scheme is to a great degree sheltering some extremely disturbing features from deserved public scrutiny. It is suggested here that there are a number of good reasons for the total scrapping of the Welsh PAS in order to bring out into the open the issue of what should be done about the damage caused to the archaeological record by "metal detectorists" out into the open.

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