In a comment to a post by David Gill on Looting Matters, Roger Pearse suggests
"If Martin Carver is correctly reported as saying "why should we pay a treasure hunter 1000 times more than an archaeologist to dig up an object?" then he should find another job."Well, I believe he is correctly reported. Mr Pearse if he does not get Antiquity can follow the links given by David Gill to the online version of the editorial. Whether or not a Professor should consider "finding a new job" because of expressing his views on the importance of discussing the issues surrounding treasure hunting and archaeological value is a moot point. I think we need such discussion, Mr Pearse seems to think we do not.
In the UK, the obligation to report potential Treasure finds to the Coroner is a legal one. As is the obligation to report finds of human remains, it is exactly the same procedure in the UK. I wonder if Mr Pearse thinks Britain should introduce a reward system to encourage people not to behave like peasants when they find a dead body in the woods? How much would that reward be? The market value of any jewellery and gold fillings left on and in the body ? The value the skeletal elements would fetch on the black market for scientific specimens?
If Mr Pearse, instead of calling for Carver's head, had read carefully what he actually says, there is a second layer of meaning. He says we should be discussing issues like paying artefact hunters to DIG UP things like the Crosby Garrett helmet, hoiked out of the ground with consequent loss of contextual information, a loss of knowledge(which is what Carver and Gill were talking about) far greater than whether this reconstructed geegaw is displayed in this or that museum, in this or that country. From an archaeological point of view should we be paying for a loss of information just to get the material detritus produced by that destruction?
To that end, the Treasure Act has a Code of Practice which lays down quite clearly what should happen the moment any member of the public comes across potential Treasure, and adherence to which should determine the amount of discretionary (for it is not laid down in any law) reward paid. Funnily enough, "dig it all out before considering reporting it" is not in it. You would think Treasure hunters would make themselves familiar with its contents before they go out to "do it themselves".
Dr Pears loves poring over old patristic manuscripts. I wonder whether he'd be in favour of paying a manuscript hunter who searches monastic libraries for one of the few surviving partial examples of some elusive lost work to surrender the illuminations they've produced by utterly destroying most of the fragile codex itself. To stop them "being smuggled abroad". Surely the important thing here too is not actually just stopping the smuggling, but the process which led to the decontextualised objects which criminals are trying to smuggle. There are two moral crimes here, not one, whether or not both are illegal. So to put Carver's question another way using this analogy, should the public pay a cynically-commercial codex-cutter 1000 times more than a palaeographer and Patristics scholar to produce something from the newly-discovered manuscript? Why can't they pay and get the codex with the illuminations in their context in a text which is properly studied? Why cant we withhold payment if all we get from it are a few interesting and colourful drawings which look nice in a frame?
Professor Carver is asking us to consider what we are paying for and why, and I think that is a very pertinent question.