Sunday, 8 January 2012

Professor Karl, The PAS and the Austrian Denkmalschutzgesetz (IX): A Solution

Re: "On the Highway to Hell: Thoughts on the Unintended Consequences for Portable Antiquities of § 11(1) Austrian Denkmalschutzgesetz" (the eight previous posts)

As I said earlier, the situation Dr Karl describes in Austria reminds me very much of that in Poland, in particular the issue of excavation permits. I simply cannot agree with the author when (pp. 129-30 ) he criticises Art 3 of the Valetta Convention:

The Austrian example thus serves to demonstrate that if these provisions are applied heavy-handedly, instead of achieving the best possible protection of the archaeological heritage, they have the potential to seriously damage archaeological heritage protection.

Likewise not applying them with any firmness has the same result. I cannot see it is particular "heavy handed" to exclude access to sites of those whose main aim is to exploit them as a source of collectable geegaws, but obviously Dr Karl and I will have to agree to differ over that one. Certainly I would say (p. 130) that there is a very clear need today more than ever: " to ensure professional standards for the recording of archaeological heritage unearthed during [any kind of investigations]". Leaving aside my personal misgivings about Dr Karl's phraseology(p. 130) about: "a collaborative approach which engages the wider public, which allows for interested members of the public to be involved in the management of the archaeological heritage without having to overcome so much red tape" (and a very PAS-y: "this ‘we’ includes both professional archaeologists and responsible metal detectorists alike" - yuk), let us agree that if this is indeed what (these 'blameless') artefact hunters will do, then there should not be bureaucratic hurdles to achieving this. The problem Dr Karl identifies (pp. 128-9) is as follows:

§§ 8 and 11(1) DMSG, the two main passages in Austrian law regulating portable antiquities and archaeological excavations, have certainly been written with the best of intentions. Yet, by making it illegal through § 11(1) DMSG to carry out any excavation, defined as ‘any search in situ with the intent to discover archaeological finds’, without a licence from the National Heritage Agency BDA; and by restricting the possibility to be awarded a licence to, exclusively, archaeology graduates; the very opposite of what was intended has been achieved. By effectively outlawing the use of metal detectors by members of the public to search for archaeological finds through § 11(1) DMSG, the many responsible amateur archaeologists (sic) who would be both willing to assist and interested in assisting with the protection of the archaeological heritage have been criminalized. This has completely removed many people’s motivation to report finds...

The solution seems pretty simple, and the one that exists in Poland, instead of having as part of the law the bit about who can get a permit, the wording needs to be changed to something like (and this is from the old Polish law): "The Minister responsible for Culture defines by means of a decree the manner of issuing permits for interference in the archaeological record, and the qualifications of those entitled to obtain one". That would solve the Austrian problem with a stroke of the pen. The Minister then writes a decree with any exceptions and special clauses he can be persuaded by lobbyists to put in, can change it from year to year to take into account the changing situation (such as for example setting up training courses for detector users) and as a result of open debate with the wider public who are the stakeholders in the heritage, but Parliament is not involved in each and every change. The same would go for the other problems Karl defines.

After having read Dr Karl's article, I would VERY much like to see this done, and then Dr Karl's follow-up article, on the number of permits issued and the reaction of all those "blameless" "amateur archaeologists" to having to get a permit to go out artefact hunting. And let us not forget the effect of having a permit will be that anything they find has not only to be reported, but to be turned over as in any other archaeological project - let us see how many Austrian "amateur archaeologists" with metal detectors are doing "research" and how many are in fact just collecting ancient geegaws.

Certainly it seems from what Dr Karl writes there need to be more opportunities for public involvement in archaeology, but this should take the form of creation of amateur groups working alongside archaeologists on conservation-guided programmes, or on the ‘community archaeology’ model, and not promoting personal collection of artefacts. Certainly I am surprised to see Dr Karl proposing as some kind of a novel idea involving inviting

metal detectorist volunteers to planned excavation sites before the topsoil is machine stripped — much as we now almost universally expect a proper geophysical survey to be carried out before we start digging holes.
(“And believe it or not, the majority of metal detectorists seem very willing to volunteer their time and skills to such projects”). Many projects in the UK and central Europe do this as a matter of course (if they do not have their own metal detectors) I am surprised that this has apparently not been done in Austria.

Vignette: the solution?

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