Sunday, 23 April 2017

'Treasure 20', British Museum Dumbdown and Perverted Misrepresentation of Archaeological Research

Laura Silverman in her 'lifestyle' presentation of Treasure hunting and the Treasure 20 campaign begins with 'a horror story in history (sic) circles about how we almost lost the treasure at Sutton Hoo'. which she then uses as justification for Mike Lewis enthusing how wonderful the Treasure Act is for saving 'many important archaeological objects' which 'were not protected by law', putting 'our heritage at risk'. This is the problem when you look at archaeology as merely about digging up 'treasures'. The Treasure Act only refers to artefacts made of precious metal (gold or silver) or prehistoric metal objects found in hoards. Any artefacts of bronze not in a hoard, or not prehistoric, any wooden objects (like those at Must Farm), wooden tablets with writing on them, pretty cavalry helmets, stone sculptures of gods and devils, fall through the net. This selective law based on the material an item is made3 of rather than its archaeological or cultural significance law is a travesty, a totally inadequate basis for defining cultural property. That's why collectors love it so much. It is worth asking ourselves which of the iconic items in the British Museum, found in Britain, would have been claimed for the nation under such a law. the Rosetta stone no, the Parthenon and Bassae marbles, no. The Folkton drums, Icklingham lead tanks, no. And som on - if the True Cross was dug up in a garden outside Glastonbury ift could quite legally be put on EBay by the finder. No Mr Lewis, the law you are praising is Bonkers-Britain crap and needs changing. Everybody is well aware of it, and nobody lifts a finger to do anything about it. Your dumbdown Treasure 20 campaign ('viewers vote' like some pathetic lowbrow reality show in a karaeoke 'who needs the experts' tekkie lovefest) does absolutely nothing to advance that public debate. It is shameful that someone in your position acts as if he does not see that.

In any case, reducing every piece of archaeological evidence (artefact) to the lowest possible common denominator of 'treasures' (and not treasures - like the Sutton Hoo ship nails) in this case obscures an important difference between Basil Brown and the the team of archaeologists who excavated the site and gormless grabby hoikers with metal detectors. That is Mrs Pretty was looking for knowledge, not 'treasure'. That may be difficult for 'lifstyle' journalist to grasp, but it is the job of archaeological outreach organizations to put them right. It seems from the resulting article written in collaboration with the British Museum that this task is well beyond the capabilities of the current team making up the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

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