Wednesday 1 December 2010

Portable Antiquities Ministerial Gaffe

I missed this when it happened, but thought it mildly amusing. British Minister of Culture Ed Vaizey was speaking at the British Museum to announce budget cuts of 15 per cent to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Mr Vaizey said: "If I could splash the cash around I would, but I don’t need to remind people, on a day like today when we’ve seen what’s gone on over the Irish Sea, that these are extraordinary circumstances. We have to make savings where we can". Part of the British media did not really understand what this will affect. The Daily Mail calls the PAS the "Portable Antiquities System" and that "since the antiquities service was set up in 1997, 6.429 pieces of treasure have been handed in". Britain has neither a coherent system for dealing with portable antiquities finds, nor is the PAS the Treasure Unit (though the arrangements whereby both will be run by the BM probably means that they will merge in future).

The British press however was more interested in a minor incident
For any parent taking the children to a museum, it’s a heart-stopping moment – inquisitive little fingers reach towards a priceless artefact and disaster seems inevitable. So imagine the panic at the British Museum yesterday when a visitor tried on a 3,000-year-old Bronze Age bracelet [unearthed in County Tyrone last April] which is so delicate that it should never be touched by an ungloved hand. Embarrassingly, the culprit was Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, who blushed as he was told off like a naughty schoolboy by an official. As he picked up the £95,000 bracelet, shocked assistant treasure registrar Caroline Barton told him: ‘You can’t pick it up, you’ve got to put gloves on!’ A pair of gloves were thrust his way and Mr Vaizey sheepishly apologised...
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey Culture Minister Ed Vaizey Culture Minister Ed Vaizey
"Whoops! Ed Vaizey slips on the £95,000 bracelet but museum official Caroline Barton intervenes and the sheepish MP is quickly made to remove it" (Photos: Jamie Wiseman, Daily Mail)

Tamara Cohen, 'No, Minister! Put that bracelet down now, it's 3,000 years old', 24th November 2010.


David Gill said...

This story made it onto the review of the papers in BBC Radio 4's flagship news programme, 'Today'.

Mark said...

One of the perks of serving on the RCEWA is the ability to handle without gloves the objects of questionable Waverley status.

Paul Barford said...

Its to some extent an element of showmanship in the Treasure display ritual.

Not recommended for potsherds or indeed animal bone, slag, fired clay and a host of other archaeological materials.

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