Sunday, 8 January 2012

Professor Karl, The PAS and the Austrian Denkmalschutzgesetz (X): A Question

As a final comment on the contents of the paper by Professor Raimund Karl the Heritage management lecturer at Bangor University called "On the Highway to Hell: Thoughts on the Unintended Consequences for Portable Antiquities of § 11(1) Austrian Denkmalschutzgesetz" (see the nine posts above), I have a question for the author. Does he think (as a general principle, without going for the moment into the practicalities) that it would aid the management of the archaeological heritage in Britain, if metal detector users were given the same freedom to go out and detect things and learn about the past, but with a permit system? Even Peter Tompa thinks metal detector use should be "regulated", so what does Raimund Karl think?

I have in mind a site (project) specific permit which would keep artefact hunters off sites deemed sensitive (for example, in addition to the obvious case of sites which are protected by law, earthwork sites under permanent pasture with sensitive finds distributions, sites currently under active investigation by teams from Bangor University etc). A permit system which would give priority to using what Dr Karl terms “metal detecting surveys” in a manner which generates archaeological information in a more controlled manner. For example “metal detectorists” claim that on some sites the metal artefacts are being damaged by the farming regimes (machinery and agrochemicals) and a permit system could give planned and documented rescuing of such finds from such sites priority. Dr Karl himself mentions the fact that large rescue excavations (gravel pits and road and pipeline leeways for example) often begin with topsoil stripping when the artefactual evidence in the topsoil is sacrificed. Perhaps “metal detectorists” could be directed to these areas as a priority in a planned manner before the development is scheduled to begin to gain some of the information that would otherwise be lost.

It seems to me that such a project-specific permit system issued in connection with regional conservation priority plans would be a manner of actually “managing” what happens to the archaeological record and the way “metal detectorists” could usefully contribute to (collaborate in) archaeological research, heritage management targets and public knowledge. In other words do exactly what Dr Karl reports that the “metal detectorists” he contacted say they want to do. A project-specific permit system would also sort out the cowboys wanting to exploit the archaeological record only for personal gain from those who actually do want to contribute to public knowledge.

It goes without saying that, whatever the practicalities, the criteria for permit issue would not be based on paper qualifications, like degrees as in the Austrian system, but rather on the merits of the search project proposed.

Or from an international heritage management point of view, does Dr Karl consider all archaeological permits unnecessary, damaging and evil? His thoughts on this matter do not emerge from his text.

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