Thursday, 26 March 2009

French metal detectorists seek archaeological asylum in Britain!

Heritage Action has a few well-chosen words on a recent disturbing story on "metal detecting" that has been discussed on UK and other "metal detecting" forums, and an archaeological one. Apparently "a group of French metal detectorists (from ANDL, the National Association for the Metal Detection of Leisure) has started sending details of their finds for recording at the Roman Legion Museum of Caerleon, in Wales, asking for an “archaeological asylum”. That’s the details of their finds, note, not the objects themselves - they are keeping those for themselves not giving them to the museum." Apparently the French artefact hunters have chosen this course of action due to "the issues we face in France" and "to practice our hobby, we decided to force the French authorities to take a clear position". Actually the French have already taken a clear position which is embodied in their heritage protection legislation which makes grubbing up archaeological artefacts from archaeological sites in France for entertainment and profit illgal if done without a permit. A perfectly clear and perfectly reasonable position.

What is not clear is why the French "detectorists" chose to involve this particular British institution in this stunt. Do they already have the Museum's agreement that it will "record" their finds? On what basis? Given the current legal situation concerning this kind of artefact hunting in France (as HA quite correctly noted), this is illegal. Will therefore Caerleon Museum (part of the National Museum of Wales) "pick up the phone" to the right people over the Channel? Certainly that is precisely what several international documents to which the UK is party, not to mention two at least codes of archaeological ethics, would require them to do. I would like to think they would, though seeing what kind of an "asylum" Britain has become when it concerns portable antiquity collecting and collecting.....

If the National Museum of Wales really is going along with this scheme, then what on earth do they think they are playing at? After all it's one thing when dealers and collectors of portable antiquities pick and choose which antiquity protection laws they regard as "bad laws" which they will disregard to "get their hands on the stuff", it is another thing when it is a national museum doing it. I think we and, indeed in particular, the French public deserve a statement from the museum (a French version would not go amiss in the circumstances).

The privately-run pirate "recording database" for UK metal detected finds, the UKDFD has also got involved in the antisocial behaviour of their French counterparts. Heritage Action has a few well-chosen words about them too:

In the circumstances one might have expected UKDFD to advise these people that if French law tells them not to put leurs patts grossières on French heritage they should simply do what they are told. Sadly, that is not the case since UKDFD, which constantly complains it has been branded “irresponsible” by
all of Britain’s archaeological and heritage organisations is proposing to aid, abet and host a database of looted artefacts supplied by French criminals! This revelation may not change the opinion of UKDFD in the minds of the British establishment any time soon.

It might also give them pause for thought on a wider level: if foreign heritage criminals see Britain as a sort of lawless
banana republic where they can escape the consequences of their illegal activities in their home countries, maybe Britain needs to consider who is out of step, Britain or the rest of the world?
Vignettes, above: carrefour avec priorité à droite, below: the British Hatter and Hare give the Dormouse asylum by hiding the problem...

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