Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: PAS Fallout, Scrap the Scheduling System in the UK?

It would seem that as a result of the "burgeoning" partnership between PAS and artefact hunters and its reflection in the media (like the stupid "Britain's Secret Treasures" stunt), ideas in the UK about what constitutes archaeological preservation are steadily being totally eroded. The system that obtains in the UK consists of the selection of certain nationally-important sites, which are Scheduled (there are other forms of protection too) and artefact hunting on such sites is one of the few cases where it is illegal. Now it seems suggestions are being made in the UK to legalize artefact hunting there too. According to UK metal detectorist John Howland - 'Opening up the markets (sic)' - Stout Standards Sept 26, 2012) in some quarters (where?) it is being proposed in the UK to open up Scheduled sites to:
approved amateurs (say, FID and NCMD members, authors, historians) with metal detectors, possibly for a fee of say £50. The fee will be easily recoverable from the sale of artefacts recovered (and duly recorded), or kept for museum display if of particular interest. [...] All finds made by ‘licensees’, so the thinking goes, would be recorded and collated by local FLO’s forming a database for each site. Not only could this harvest much-needed revenue for the hard pressed FLO system (so I’m told), but will increase the sale of finds bringing an even a wider selection of artefacts to the attention of collectors and numismatists. The Roman and Celtic markets in the US for example are huge money spinners for sellers and dealers alike [...] I am told that certain MP’s would be receptive, along with some archaeologists, and the notion might not fall upon stony ground.
Well, I really think the names of those MPs and anti-preservation archaeologists should be published. Not so much for approving a loony idea, but apparently for being unaware that there is already something called Scheduled Monument Consent, where applications can be submitted for archaeological intervention on such sites, setting out the reasons, expected outcome and agreeing the disposal of the project archive (which will include the finds). I am not sure whether the Secretary of State will approve the idea of plundering some of these sites for saleable collectables, to be sold on the US market, but maybe the PAS can make a case for it. So how far do these people think a £50 licence fee will go towards PAS running costs? What happens to this source of funding when all the Scheduled sites have been 'hammered' too? Why not put a tax on all metal detecting? Why not, if we are not going to actually protect Scheduled sites from metal detectorists and harmful farming methods, simply de-schedule them?

But, since we are discussing licensing of artefact hunting, who would "approve" these searchers, on what basis, and how precisely (and by whom) would the issuing of licences be administered within the UK's dispersed heritage managment system? (I use the last two terms loosely.)

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