Monday 10 November 2008

The sound of a pin dropping

Over on Britarch, the Council for British Archaeology's discussion forum, the chairman of Heritage Action suggested continuing the discussion on what a code for ethical collecting of portable antiquities should contain. This was a reaction to the Icklingham illegal metal detecting case discussed here. It was Heritage Action which pointed out that while collectors continue to buy their portable antiquities without a documented provenance it gives "nighthawks" a carte blanche to carry on looting sites for a collectables. In England and Wales there is a Code for Responsible Metal Detecting (but not one for Scotland or Northern Ireland), and antiquities dealers have their weasel-worded "codes of ethics" but nowhere is there the concommitant Code of Responsible Portable Antiquity Collecting. Why is that?

The suggestion had been made before on Britarch, and gained the support of the CBA's director Mike Heyworth, and after a beginning had been made on discussing what it might contain , the topic was quietly dropped. This time there was an immediate reaction to the suggestion from Norwegian metal detectorist Gary Brun who said:
I really don't see how you can make a "Code of Responsible Collecting". People have collected things since the origins of man and covers so many areas. I think it would cause a huge backlash and is a very difficult road you are trying to walk on.
That, apparently, was the end of the discussion among British archaeologists of the idea that collectors of portable antiquities can and should be establishing some sort of code of responsible portable antiquity collecting.

Why, actually, after more than a decade of "outreach" and encouragement of portable antiquity collecting in England and Wales by the Portable Antiquities Scheme should it be regarded as "a difficult road" to even discuss the creation of such a code and what it might contain? Among archaeologists. Could it be that British archaeologists themselves are totally unclear where they stand on the issue of responsible portable antiquity collection and even what it is? Why might that be?

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