Wednesday, 21 September 2016

For Nigel: For the Rest of You a Free Bit of the Book and Explanation of why Blogging is Light at the Moment

Nigel, a new draft of the first bit of:
Black is our old text, blue the new bits. After it is the bit with all the risible quotes about the PAS from the dealers. 
The pas in a wider context

Soon after its inception, the PAS became of great significance for collectors of portable antiquities both in the UK and beyond. Anyone engaging with the global portable antiquity collecting milieu will be struck by the frequency with which the opinion is voiced in such circles that allegedly the only possible way forward for the archaeological world is firstly to accept that the worldwide exploitation of the archaeological record for collectables on a massive scale is inevitable and unstoppable and secondly that the world archaeological community should therefore react by creating a ‘fair and voluntary scheme’ whereby what is taken by collectors can be documented to the same degree as the (always) admirable British Portable Antiquities Scheme. This will, it is alleged, be the panacea to all the problems. In this way, Britain’s PAS has been taken to hold out the hope of a satisfactory solution to the ethical and legal disconnect between antiquity preservation laws and what hunters, dealers and collectors wish to do (in other words it is taken as showing that laws restricting the activities of the antiquities trade are unnecessary). 

The Portable Antiquities Scheme has directly played a part in the development of this trend. In September 2009, a one-day PAS-sponsored conference was held in the British Museum program entitled: ‘Recording the Past: How Different European Countries Deal With Portable Antiquities’. It was attended by speakers from ten European countries who addressed the issue of their government's legal and administrative approach to recently discovered portable antiquities. At the meeting,  Roger Bland, the head of PAS, gave the keynote speech presenting the successes of the PAS in England and Wales and the 1996 Treasure Act and Treasure award system. Participants from the national museums of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic discussed the situation in their countries, and all suggest that artefact hunters were active in all three areas, but reporting levels were very low there.  There were  speakers from the Netherlands, Denmark who talked about the manner in which artefact hunting was accommodated in those countries and the archaeological benefits they saw in this. Representatives of Schleswig Holstein, Slovenia, Hungary and Poland discussed the situation in countries where artefact hunting was regulated, or punishable. The conference apparently came to the conclusion that ‘if the proper recording of finds is the objective, those systems which most closely follow the [British] approach of credible market-value rewards and outreach are the most successful’. [1] One cannot avoid suspecting that this is precisely what the British organizers were hoping to hear. It is a shame that the conference proceedings and discussion sessions were never published.

More recently, members of staff of the PAS have been involved in attempts by European portable antiquities collectors to weaken foreign legislation and legalise unrestricted artefact hunting. In once case, in April 2015 PAS employees were involved in the creation of promotional material for a campaign (‘Green Light for Change’ attached to the Irish metal detecting forum)[2] 'to legalise metal detecting for antiquities in the Republic of Ireland'. This campaign, led by Norfolk-based detector user Liam Nolan, basically consisted of pointing out what a success the PAS had been getting finds recorded in Norfolk, and that if the laws in Ireland were relaxed, more loose artefacts would be taken out of the ground and recorded there too. A senior figure in the PAS is reported by Mr Nolan to be in ‘regular contact’ with the Campaign and allegedly ‘offered to fly over to address any meetings and explain to archaeologists how such a system could be modified to suit the specific Irish needs but we want there to be a more positive climate before that happens’.[3]

It is not per se against the law in Ireland to use a metal detector, but to use it without a permit to dig up artefacts to collect and sell is. The whole of section two of the National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1987[4] sets this out quite clearly, and below that, the procedure for obtaining a permit and reporting finds thus made. Section 20 and 23 set out the measures for dealing with those not reporting. Since a measure to get chance finds and (both legal and illegal) finds made with the use of a metal detector reported is already in place in the legislation, instituting a PAS is clearly superfluous. 

The same Mr Nolan was also involved in setting up the European Council for Metal Detecting (ECMD). This developed from meetings of several groups of artefact hunters from the continent in 2011 and 2012 in which Trevor Austin of the NCMD became involved. The ECMD’s inaugural conference in April 2015 at The Holiday Inn, Birmingham Airport was sponsored by metal detector manufacturer Minelab and the ‘Searcher’ metal detecting magazine. This was intended to bring together artefact hunters not only from England, Ireland and Spain, but also France (Groupe Militante Pour un Treasure Act Francais), Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Germany. The keynote speaker was the new PAS head, Dr Michael Lewis. The stated aim of this meeting was to create conditions in which artefact hunters could ‘work together for the common cause to allow responsible metal detecting to be allowed in all European countries’. The ECMD (closely modelled on Britain’s NCMD) is to create a framework through which foreign artefact hunting and collecting organizations

can help establish a working relationship with their respective governments, the eventual aim being to encourage the type of co-operation and recording of finds that has been so successful here in the UK and with the power to advocate reform and influence existing National [sic] legislation. [...] The promotion of the benefits of the "English Model" will be a key factor in achieving these goals [...].[5]

It is disturbing to see the PAS involved in this plan to undermine European preservation legislation. Of course the function of European antiquities preservation legislation is not merely to ensure things are recorded so that collectors can pocket them, article 2 and 3 of the Valetta Convention - the very ones the UK rejected (Chapter 4) - exist to attain that. 

These efforts all ignore one basic fact, the Portable Antiquities Scheme was not set up in order that national laws could allow artefact hunting and collecting, it is instead a symptom of lax laws which allow pilfering of sites for collectables - something the laws of all those other countries without a PAS strive to protect sites from. Instead of prompting foreign countries to abandon any attempts to prevent looting, to bring them down to the same parlous level as the UK, rather one would expect an organization like the PAS to be more deeply involved in efforts to tighten up the British legislation.

The pas and the global antiquities market
Of course anyone else who is not my co-author can comment on this fragment too (Nigel, comments offline please). That applies especially if you work for the PAS, for this book is mostly about you, now we've chucked out the chapters about metal detectorists (you'll see those in 2017/8). But if you work for the PAS you'll not be reading this blog anyway, will you?

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