Monday, 22 June 2009

UK Treasure Award System Promotes Best Practice?

Several times here I have raised the question to what degree the UK's Treasure Act and its reward system actually promotes best practice among metal detector using artefact hunters, and to what degree it just gives a carte blanche to dig up buried treasure anywhere and anyhow.

It seems I am not the only person asking such questions, and I find that Trevor Austin, of the National Council of Metal Deetectorists has been doing some dirt-digging on this topic and produced a helpful table of reductions due to bad practice in the period 1999-2004 to Treasure Awards [in England and Wales , I presume]. Now let us remember that in this period several hundred "Treasures" were dug up (in 2003 it was 427, in 2004, it was 506 in England wales and Northern Ireland).

The table shows however that only in a very few of these cases were there any reductions in the amount paid out. I expect we will be asked to believe that this was due to every single Treasure recovery being in full accord with the utmost in best practice. What is more interesting is the small percentages that the finder forfeits for even infringements of the law, let alone not fully complying with the Treasure Act Code of Practice.

So for taking the stuff out of the ground instead of leaving it in situ and calling an archaeologist, as the Code of Practice asks, nobody lost any Treasure dosh whatsoever. We and the public lose any chance of observing the archaeological context of the find, but the Treasure hunter gets full cash. Several people gave information about findspots which was judged to be dubious, so once again, no reliable archaeologically useful information there, how much did the Treasure hunter lose for that? Look at the table.

Failure to report gold coins within the statutory period, 25% reduction. There are even two cases of so-called "nighthawking". In one case, failure to obtain permission to detect and failure to report finds earnt a 2.5% reduction. In another case failure to get permission compounded by soldering (!) two bits together, 7.5% of the total. In no case was payment to the finder refused. I wonder what the comparable data are for the period 2005-8, what about the torc finder on a WW2 aircraft crash site who according to information obtained from the relevant agency seems not to have had the search permit, for example?

This is only England and Wales, perhaps the situation is better in Scotland?
Vignette: treasure

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