Thursday 30 October 2008

Give and Take of Obeying the Law

Cultural Property Observer ("Reported Treasure Find Prompts Catcalls Rather Than Congratulations") thinks that we should be profusely thanking metal detector users that obey the law in England and Wales. This is the law concerning reporting to an agent of the Crown discoveries of items falling under the UK’s 1996 Treasure Act.* Among the people I think by the same token we owe a debt of thanks to are all those bus drivers who obey the Highway Code, politicians and civil servants that do not expect bribes for doing their job, gun-owners that don’t shoot at passers-by and all those teachers out there that do not seduce their under-age pupils. I think we should also thank all "metal detectorists" for not dismantling iron park railings to sell for scrap. So here's a “thanks” to those two heroic metal detectorists we read about in the newspaper report for lying on the cold ground hoiking out all those coins from well below plough level apparently in a manner which means we do not have to worry about working out anything about how they were deposited there. True, the PAS has spent millions of pounds of everybody’s money trying to persuade people like them to do things differently; true that the Treasure Act Code of Practice says that something different should have happened for these guys to get the full reward. But these surely are minor details aren’t they? Let’s not let a little thing like that get in the way of fullsome praise.

After all those coins have got “Fel temp Reparatio” written on them, so it must be a good thing, eh? When those coins were minted, everything seems to suggest that the Roman economy in Britain was functioning much as it had for the last three hundred years. Within two decades, it was not. There were severe disruptions which within 60 years of the reform they signal led to the total collapse for most of the British Isles of a whole lifestyle. Gone. The written sources tell us next to nothing about this period in Britain. The numismatic evidence likewise; all we see is a faltering of the small change economy, increasing hoarding of high value coins, and then…. Nothing. If we are to understand this period at all (and I must confess its one of my favourites) then it will only be through the archaeological evidence, but not loose contextless artefacts like Quoit-brooch style metalwork and “military buckles” or loose coins hoiked out of the ground by metal detectorists, but careful and painstaking excavation of shallow and difficult sites like Wroxeter. It is however the deposition patterns of metal objects like those hunted down and taken away from these shallow sites by metal detector using portable antiquity collectors that are often the only way to date the deposits concerned. Damaging these sites simply removes any possibility we and future generations will have of even trying to understand what happened in the last decades of the difficult fourth century in Britain.

So, no, lets not "thank" any metal detectorists who bodge the job, ignore the Codes of Practice and destroy through their haste what could be important evidence. Let’s thank the ones that listen to the “outreach” that in Britain they’ve been spending a lot of time, money and effort trying to persuade them to do a bit of “giving” with their “taking”. Let us not thank people for merely obeying the few laws that do regulate this activity, let us reserve our praise for those that actively apply the principles of "best practice". What the newspaper report of the Treasure inquest tells us happened in that dark field that December night would not be even 'almost good-enough' practice. But then, as anyone from outside can observe, notions of best practice in the antiquities collecting world as a whole do tend to be a bit "fuzzy".

I would like to drew Cultural Property Observer's attention to the fact that this is MY blog and not that of any “SAFE”. The views here are my own, not theirs.
Vignette: a "happy days" coin.
* A lawyer should know the difference between the Treasure Act 1996 (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and the law of Treasure Trove (Scotland). Newport Pagnell is not in Scotland.

1 comment:

Paul Barford said...

Well, Mr Brun, you may "think" my "facts are wrong", but when I asked you off list to explain by what means you deduce that Julian Watters digging at "Buckingham" and Mr Phillips and Mr Plasom digging at Cold Brayfield are the same thing, you declined to answer. Perhaps you will do us all that courtesy before you post any more of your duplicate messages all over other people's blogs. I see you've been up to the same tricks on "Looting matters".

Since you did not do me the courtesy of backing up your allegations when i asked you, I contacted (among others) the two FLOs involved in the find, and the owners of the Central Searchers website to which you post links. By not answering my request that YOU as accuser provide further information, you have led to my time being taken up following this "lead", the time of two PAS employees answering, and the time of Central Searchers website owners.

I have set out what i was able to ascertain about the context of these photos here:

Though I have to admit, I am far from clear why I still seem unable to get straight answers to certain straight questions, but will try again next week. Your drawing attention to these photos has thrown up at least one other issue which I find rather interesting and needs further investigation.

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.