Sunday, October 9, 2011

The State and Responsible Use of the Archaeological Record

The European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (Revised)(Valetta, 16.I.1992) talks (Article 1) of the need to protect the archaeological heritage as a source of the European collective memory and as an instrument for historical and scientific study. States parties are enjoined (Article 2) to create a legal system for the protection of the archaeological heritage, not only making provision for the designation of protected monuments and areas, but also "the creation of archaeological reserves, even where there are no visible remains on the ground or under water, for the preservation of material evidence to be studied by later generations".

In particular the Convention (Art 2, iii) requires the institution of:
mandatory reporting to the competent authorities by a finder of the chance discovery of elements of the archaeological heritage and making them available for examination.
Britain has ratified this Convention, but does not have such a clause in its legislation. "Metal detectorists" are free to go out and di up whatever they want with no legal requirement for them to report anything that is not a hoard or gold or silver artefacts.

Article 3

To preserve the archaeological heritage and guarantee the scientific significance of archaeological research work, each Party undertakes:

i. to apply procedures for the authorisation and supervision of excavation and other archaeological activities in such a way as:

a. to prevent any illicit excavation or removal of elements of the archaeological heritage;

b. to ensure that archaeological excavations and prospecting are undertaken in a scientific manner and provided that:

– non-destructive methods of investigation are applied wherever possible;

– the elements of the archaeological heritage are not uncovered or left exposed during or after excavation without provision being made for their proper preservation, conservation and management;

ii. to ensure that excavations and other potentially destructive techniques are carried out only by qualified, specially authorised persons;

iii. to subject to specific prior authorisation, whenever foreseen by the domestic law of the State, the use of metal detectors and any other detection equipment or process for archaeological investigation.

Again, Britain falls short of these requirements. A "metal detectorist" requires no prior archaeological or heritage management authorisation to go onto almost any archaeological site he fancies which is not protected by law, and dig up and take away whatever he wants. Britain's archaeological heritage is not being "managed" just exposed to an artefact hunting free-for-all.

Article 10

Each Party undertakes [...]

vi. to restrict, as far as possible, by education, information, vigilance and co-operation, the transfer of elements of the archaeological heritage obtained from uncontrolled finds or illicit excavations or unlawfully from official excavations.

Again, Britain is ignoring this - with metal detected finds changing hands on eBay at an enormous speed and on a disturbing scale.

It should be obvious that the whole aim of the measures set out in the Convention is to protect archaeological sites and monuments from destruction, including by artefact hunters. its primary aim is not the preservation of individual artefacts or ensure the "recording" of information about individual artefacts. England totally ignored that by rejecting the mandatory reporting clause in favour of voluntary recording and not instituting any other measures to curb the destruction of archaeological evidence by artefact hunting. The Portable Antiquities Scheme does not preserve sites in any way from looting and treasure-hunting, even if that is not what the British public have been taught to call artefact hunting with metal detectors. The Portable Antiquities Scheme is a failure when measured in terms of its ability to stop damage to sites by artefact hunters.

Most other countries in the world have long had legislation making the random exploitive digging up of archaeological finds from archaeological sites punishable by the same types of laws that protect the nests of rare wild birds from being looted by collectors, or the destruction of other elements of the endangered natural heritage. Basically Britain and Antarctica are among the few countries that do not yet have such legislation.

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