Heritage Action's Heritage Journal has announced an interesting new initiative, the creation of an Association for the Ethical Purchasers of British Portable Antiquities (AEPBPA).
Under our [British] system “looting” is defined very narrowly – or to be precise, many things that are defined as criminal elsewhere are perfectly legal here – including the removal, taking home and selling of artefacts from more than 90% of our known archaeological sites. By any reasonable yardstick, that is looting – particularly since, as the Portable Antiquities Scheme openly admits, most detectorists don’t report most of the details of what they find and therefore offer zero mitigation for their actions. For any would-be ethical purchaser of British antiquities an appreciation of this reality is obligatory: ILVUD (information loss via unethical detecting) is far, far worse than ILVID (information loss via illegal detecting) ...
I see I get an honourable mention :>) This initiative has been the result of several discussions over the past couple of years and which has taken into account the attitudes of dealers of ancient artefacts such as dug-up coins which treat the existence of the PAS as some kind of protective umbrella shielding their parochial activities from scrutiny (in particular several US dealers' lobbyists who pay lip service to "supporting" the Scheme, but constantly misrepresenting it in their propaganda and ignoring it in the pragmatics of their commercial exploitation of the archaeological record).
The actual website is here: http://www.ethicalcollecting.org.uk/ [now isn't it interesting and indicative of something that this domain was still free for use?] This notional association has three purposes, above all to point out that after thirteen years of PAS outreach the British archaeological establishment has not produced sorely needed detailed guidance for the purchase of British portable antiquities despite there being official encouragement of artefact hunting and collecting as a means of "engagement with the past". The Association serves to indicate to collectors (both in Britain and abroad) what ethical purchasing of British Portable Antiquities entails. It is postulated that collectors are often ill-informed (and constantly misinformed by dealers) about this. Thirdly the aim is to promote the belief that in Britain (where most detecting is legal but subject to voluntary reporting), the would-be ethical purchaser must not only avoiding buying looted artefacts but far more urgently must avoid buying recently unearthed but unreported artefacts.
The members of the Association are pledged to the following:
1. We accept that as ethical purchasers we have a general duty of care towards the British archaeological resource which is both finite and fragile. We see proper enquiry as integral to this duty and follow the well documented mantra: “The Good Collector casts a jaded eye upon those dealers who insist that their reputation take the place of details of provenance”.
2. We recognise that the British system is unique in that what is protected by law elsewhere is often only subject to voluntary arrangements in Britain and this imposes additional duties of care upon us: we hold ourselves obliged as ethical purchasers to buy only if voluntary requirements have been met and not to regard legality as an adequate measure of ethicality.
3. We will never buy anything we know or suspect is a recent British “dug-up” unless: (a.) it has been reported to PAS (and has a legitimate PAS reference number), (b.) any Treasure Act and export requirements have been complied with and (c.) the landowner upon whose land the item was found is aware of the item and the price and consents to its sale.
4. We will always establish, through enquiries to PAS or the local archaeological curator or both, that the circumstances of the recovery and the location of the find spot have raised no concerns regarding damage to or lost information from the British archaeological resource.