British

Archaeology

The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 111

Issue 111

Mar / Apr 2010

Contents

news

New centre for Stonehenge – if drivers agree

British archaeologists help record Armenian rock art

Geophysics finds encourage new look at Stanton Drew

Dramatic rock art discovery in Swaledale

in the press

in brief & phase 2

features

The Future of our Past (not online)

In the run-up to the General Election, the parties give their views on heritage

410–2010: Rome and Britain

Introducing the events and issues commemmorating 1600 years since the end of the Romans in Britain

THE BIG DIG: Barcombe Roman Villa

What was it like to live in rural Roman Britain? Report on 11 seasons of fieldwork at the villa and bath house

Polynomial texture mapping for archaeologists (not online)

A new imaging technique is relatively easy and cheap to operate, yet has enormous possibilities in archaeology

Introducing Stonehedge and other curious earthworks

Stonehenge is the focus of unprecedented research. Yet the site was last surveyed in 1919, until now...

Remembering Fromelles

One of the most pointless battles of the First World War, with great loss of life, occurred at Fromelles in northern France. Only now are some of the dead being honoured with individual graves

on the web

Caroline Wickham-Jones looks at e-material

Adrian Green describes the new website for Salisbury Museum

science

Sebastian Payne considers the remarkable potential of hammerscale for understanding the work of iron smiths

requiem

A tribute to some of the archaeologists and lovers of antiquity who died in 2009

letters

your views and responses

CBA Correspondent

Mike Heyworth considers the thorny issues of treasure and responsible detecting

 

ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

CBA Correspondent

Campaigns, comment and communications from the CBA

Mike Heyworth considers the thorny issues of treasure and responsible detecting.

The launch in mid January of the appeal to raise funds for local museums in the West Midlands to purchase the Staffordshire hoard has generated more publicity for the treasure. Valued at over £3.2m by the independent Treasure Valuation Committee (TVC), the hoard has captured the attention of people all over the UK not just because of its financial value, but, more importantly, because of its historical interest and the craftsmanship of the goldwork (feature, Nov/Dec 2009).

It seems highly likely that with all the public interest, and the support of institutions like The Art Fund and the British Museum the money will be raised and the hoard will be purchased for the public. But this is not a foregone conclusion, so please support the appeal with a donation if you can. This can be done online at artfund.org/staffordshire_hoard.

Daily Mail: Bling Fit for a King

The Sun: There's gold in them thar fields

Interim reports on the Staffordshire hoard from the Daily Mail (top) and the Sun

Changes to treasure law

As researchers were first assessing the Staffordshire Hoard, changes to the current treasure legislation in England and Wales were being debated and approved in the UK parliament. Members of the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group (APPAG) laid down amendments to the coroners and criminal justice bill, and, after behind the scenes negotiations with ministers and officials, a number of these were accepted by the government and voted into law.

When the legislation comes into effect, there will be a legal duty on those who acquire objects which they believe to be "treasure" to report them to the coroner, if there is no evidence that such a report has already been made. This tackles the loophole whereby there is currently no obligation to report an object to a coroner if the finder passed it on by one means or another. Most importantly, the law will include a presumption that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, an object will have been found after September 24 1997 (when the Treasure Act 1996 came into effect) and in England and Wales. So unless someone can prove otherwise, something that could legally be treasure, is.

The legislation also creates a new specialist post of coroner for treasure. The holder will deal with treasure inquests across England and Wales. The secretary of state will be able to designate an additional officer to whom the object may be reported, likely to be a Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) from the Portable Antiquities Scheme. This reflects the common practice of persons reporting finds or acquisitions of objects to the FLO attached to a local museum, instead of to the local coroner.

During 2010 the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is likely to review the Treasure Act and the accompanying code of practice to reflect the impact of this new legislation. There are further minor changes which the CBA will be promoting, including a broadening of the definition of treasure to include Roman base metal hoards and single finds of Roman and Anglo-Saxon coins.

Rewards to finders

The Treasure Act review will also allow the government to consider issues relating to the current financial reward system whereby finders and landowners share the value of the treasure, as determined by the TVC.

The CBA has been highly sceptical of this approach, which encourages sensational media headlines; every story of the valuation of a major new treasure find apparently leads to increases in metal detector sales. Legal advice suggests that it would be difficult to scrap the reward system due to current human rights legislation, but some small scale amendments are an option for consideration.

Firstly, it is already possible for the state to "abate" (reduce) the reward paid to finders and landowners if the procedures laid down in the treasure code of practice have not been followed. The CBA believes that the abatements should be extended to any cases where finds are uncovered by detectorists who can be shown to have breached the Code Of Practice For Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales. This code, adopted by both archaeological and detecting organisations, now defines good practice for metal detecting, and should be linked in to the reward system to encourage all detectorists to follow the advice of their representative bodies.

Secondly, there is a case for deducting from the reward the costs of any archaeological work undertaken to extract maximum contextual information for the finds, and to cover the conservation and archiving of the finds and associated material.

The aim of these changes is to ensure that a more responsible approach is encouraged and that the public benefit fully from the discovery of new treasure finds, taking the focus of attention away from financial value to historical value and the contribution to knowledge.

Online auction houses

The focus on financial value is inevitably exacerbated by readilyaccessible online auction houses, such as eBay, where many portable antiquities are offered for sale. In most cases this is entirely legitimate, but there are a minority of objects put up for sale which appear to be treasure (as currently defined in legislation), yet have never been declared to a coroner.

Officers from the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group (APPAG) have attempted to engage with senior officials from eBay (not an easy task, as it is difficult to identify individuals associated with the company in the UK). Recently eBay has introduced a popup window so that viewers of portable antiquities offered for sale are given legal advice. A stronger position has been taken by eBay in Europe, but this is based on stricter laws. In the UK there is only a "take down" procedure in place, whereby the Metropolitan Police Art and Antiques Unit can request eBay to remove sales of objects which appear to be stolen or unreported treasure.

Concern about rallies

Whereas many users of metal detectors are well informed and do act responsibly, there are still too many instances where the historical value of key finds is significantly diminished due to the loss of associated archaeological context. Staff from the Portable Antiquities Scheme are working diligently across England and Wales with responsible detectorists to record new finds and extract maximum archaeological value from their activities. The most difficult context in which they have to operate are detecting rallies where many detectorists (sometimes hundreds) work a small area intensively, usually over a day or two. The PAS staff rarely have the resources to record all the significant finds, and the locations of the rallies can be linked to sensitive archaeological sites or undisturbed pasture. It is at least encouraging that Natural England is now working to ensure that rallies taking place on land held under the environmental stewardship schemes operate under the code for responsible metal detecting, with guidance on rallies available as put together by the key national archaeological organisations, including the CBA.

Join the debate

Many of these ethical issues were debated at a weekend conference jointly organised by the CBA and the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. This was held at the new Great North Museum in Newcastle upon Tyne on March 13–14 2010, with the theme of Portable antiquities: archaeology, collecting, metal detecting. Full details can be found on the CBA website.

Mike Heyworth is the Director of the CBA.

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