Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Buying Treasure

An aside to Phil Davis' suggestion of introducing England-clone-antiquities-protection-legislation to other countries from which US collectors buy portable antiquities. I'd like to raise the question about purchasing this 'Treasure' category of finds (I hate the term, but we are stuck with it) from treasure hunters busy digging up things which really need not be dug out of the surrounding archaeological record at all unless there is a real threat. These collectors insist that states - some of them perhaps among the poorest in the region - be forced to compete with the purchasing power of greedy and wealthy foreign collectors in meeting the international market price. If these things are by law national property (and that in effect is what even England's Treasure Act implies), why is the nation being forced by Mr Davis to pay treasure hunters for turning the archaeological heritage into money when in the process archaeological evidence (the actual evidence allowing the fuller history of the region to be written) is trashed in the process?

How would these collectors propose reducing, at least, the costs of this for the poorer nations on which they would impose such a system? It is all very well them saying they are supporting "free enterprise", but they ignore that what they call free enterprise is (whether or not the objects taken from their original context end up in museums) the despoilation for profit of part of the cultural heritage. Dressing it up in fine words does not change this.

As far as I know, the annual costs of the rewards given to finders of Treasure for the different areas of the United Kingdom are not available (and one might ask why that is), it certainly is a substantial amount of money which has to come from somewhere. Probably Britain can afford it. that does not mean that every state in the world should be forced by the current needs of the antiquities market to follow suit.

3 comments:

Ed Snible said...

One possibility: pay finders with national lottery tickets! It costs the state nothing to print them. Finders can sell them to their friends before scratching if they don't feel lucky.

No one is forcing nations to adopt PAS-like systems. Collectors feel that there is a "tragedy of the commons" at work here -- no individual digger has an incentive to dig less. (This is true if you are a collector who feels that X antiquities should be dug each year or an anti-collector who feel that 0 antiquities should be dug.) Property rights are the traditional economist's response to tragedies of commonses.

Stronger enforcement of anti-detecting laws is the other choice, including stings against smugglers. The problem is that crooks always think they will hit it big. For example, in Chicago (where Phil Davis lives) drug dealers earn less than minimum wage and mostly live with their moms. [reference: http://freakonomicsbook.com/thebook/ch3.html ]. Yet they persue a profession that gets 1 in 4 killed. The one looter who hits it big gets everyone out digging.

dandan said...

Paul
"As far as I know, the annual costs of the rewards given to finders of Treasure for the different areas of the United Kingdom are not available (and one might ask why that is), it certainly is a substantial amount of money which has to come from somewhere." - These are published in the appendices of the Treasure Reports. It is not a huge amount of money and has a large deviation every year depending on the value of say one specific object or assemblage. For example Ringlemere.
Dan

Paul Barford said...

Dan, thanks, yes, I am well aware that the Treasure Reports (the ones that are out, because the last one I have heard of is for 2004 - right?) give some of these valuations. Though in the 2004 report a substantial number are listed as "to be decided". Equally as far as I can see there is no overall breakdown of total costs, just lists and lists of individual ones, but maybe I missed a total somewhere? What I actually wrote though was "the annual costs of the rewards given to finders of Treasure for the different areas of the United Kingdom", the Treasure reports only cover part of the UK.

Obviously the terms "substantial amount of monney" is relative, and it does have to come from somewhere. So I think it facile for portable antiquity collectors to suggest that all countries "should" adopt the same system because it would suit them (collectors), or rather it suits them to say that until they do, they regard the source countries' laws as "unfair" and so in the name of free enterprise and as a blow for freedom they "feel justified" in ignoring them.

 
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