Saturday, 28 February 2009

The NCMD against the Treasure Act

While looking for something else, I found an old text on the internet and thought it was an interesting illustration of what kind of obstructive behaviour the British archaeological resource preservation lobby are constantly up against when dealing with British artefact hunters. This is the description from the point of view of delegates of the National Couuncil of Metal Detectorists to the draft Treasure Act which – for its propaganda value – the global pro-collecting lobby sees as the best thing for collecting of portable antiquities since sliced bread. The text is entitled “A record of a meeting held at National Heritage, Cockspur Street, London, on Monday 24th October 1994”. It would be interesting to see the official minutes of this consultation meeting.

It was the unanimous view off (sic) the delegates that we should make every effort to convince National Heritage that the Treasure Bill was unnecessary, unjust, unworkable, and too expensive to implement. […] This is a “metal" bill. It affects only metal detector users, and the honest ones (our members) do not need it. The thieves with detectors whom they need to address will not be affected by this bill. If the present Theft Laws cannot control them........ - this bill certainly will not ! No answer !

It is interesting to note the contrast between the NCMD insistence that the "honest ones don't need it" with the sharp rise in reported Treasure cases in England and Wales that the PAS highlights as being the result of its own activities in the past decade, suggesting much is being reorted now that would have simply disappeared before the PAS was set up. It would seem that - like so much in the topsy-turvy world of portable antiquity collecting - mere assertions of 'honesty" are relatively meaningless.
Also interesting historically:
“Our delegates made the point that too much land is being scheduled. There is no way, in the foreseeable future, for even sites already scheduled to be dug before acid rain, nitrate fertilizers and building development all take their toll. Not only that, but sites already scheduled years ago, examined, and low on priority lists for re-examination because of the new sites waiting for examination should be descheduled........... and handed over to us for our expert examination. Listened to with interest!
Yeah, right, too many scheduled sites... so they want us to deschedule scheduled sites to expose them to the "expert examination" of these people - these being the pre-PAS days of course, so what kind of information would have been recorded and made available if this proposition had been taken up is anyone's guess. I guess the message of why sites were being preserved had not really sunk in among this crowd, the national delegates appointed by their milieu to represent the hobby to the government.


Marcus Preen said...

"expert examination".....

A couple of questions are begged.

Does an "expert" that "examines" include in his remit taking the object home as his own and/or selling it on EBay?
(There was a televised metal detecting rally which was said to be a collaboration between hundreds of detectorists and some archaeologists. It didn't make it clear but I got the impression the detectorists were allowed to take home nearly everything they found. Is that right? If so, why?)

If a scheduled site is threatened by development it would be properly investigated by properly qualified experts (including using metal detectors) wouldn't it?

If "rescue archaeology" was required for any other reason on any other scheduled site the same procedure would apply, wouldn't it?

If "help" was required from non-archaeologists would not the obvious answer be to issue metal detectors to members of the local archaeology society? Just as expert (probably more so) and they wouldn't want to take the stuff home.

Paul Barford said...

Marcus, I think I know the rally to which you are referring (BBC One Show?), it was roundly criticised (and rightly) in archaeological circles. A most misguided piece of pseudo archaeology.

What you say is I think indeed the problem. People talk of "metal detectorists" as if they go out just to "detect/find" metal which they then walk away from leaving it in situ. We need to have a terminology to accurately fit the deed. In fact they are nothing but collectors, and they take away anything of interest to them (and throw away a lot that is not) - which in both cases includes a lot which is of import to the archaeological interpretation of the site.

There are considerable problems involving archaeologists in commercial artefact hunting rallies, as any archaeological project should generate an archive, and the things these collectors are taking away should instead be part of that research archive made available for study. A quick record made on a table in the middle of a field and few digital piccies with the mud still on are hardly very useful or archival.

I get the idea though that what these NCMD representatives of "responsble metal detecting" a la 1994 were suggesting was actually NOT involving archaeologists - if you read their atrocious letter they portray themselves as above any of that, above the BM and "National Heritage" and their restrictive scheduling.

Instead of having fewer sites protected by scheduling and conservation-orientated stewardship schemes, we need more.

Marcus Preen said...

Yes, I found it. It was right next to a scheduled Roman town and they DID keep what they found! Disgusting.

“We need to have a terminology to accurately fit the deed.”

Well in that case it was organised mass cultural theft, plain and simple, shown live and falsely portrayed otherwise by not telling the viewers what was happening to all the finds. That must have been deliberately omitted surely as it’s hardly a minor detail that you'd forget to mention, it's crucial.

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