Wednesday 12 September 2012

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Glasgow Fourth and the Theft of Artefacts

There is a letter on the Heritage Action blog from a "Farmer Brown" (first name and other personal details withheld) asking why it is that UK landowners are so systematically underinformed about recent determinations concerning the illegal use of metal detectors on their property. The text is in the form of an open letter to two heritage organizations (“Theft from landowners”: how come no-one tells us farmers about it?"). There are no prizes for guessing that neither of them will admit to having seen it, let alone actually issue any kind of answer:
How come you professionals haven’t told us farmers what “theft from landowners” means? Glasgow Uni says it’s failure to disclose finds but that isn’t right as most detectorists ask farmers to sign a paper allowing them to take most finds home without disclosing them. So PAS says something different, that theft is removing without permission i.e., without a Finds Agreement. But that’s wrong too [...] removing them is theft through failure to disclose finds under the Glasgow definition and theft through removal without permission under PAS’s definition. In other words, theft by any definition! It seems everyone knows what’s going on except us farmers! We assume little was found but PAS must often know better for it gets shown most finds at rallies it says – yet neither they nor EH nor CBA nor academics say a word. [...] Widespread metal detecting may be legal but widespread theft isn’t. There’s a thieving elephant in the room and you professionals aren’t telling us about it.
Since it cannot handle illicitly-obtained items, the only ancient artefacts from artefact hunting which the Portable Antiquities Scheme have a right to handle and record are those that have been obtained in accordance with the law, and in accordance with best practice. The Glasgow Fourth lays down that this means each of those objects has been shown to the landowner and approved for removal. Do the PAS have any kind of documentation that this is the case for any but a very small proportion of the hundreds of thousands of finds they have handled? Or have all these "data" been acquired in flagrant disregard of the Glasgow Fourth?

A related point, I was reading the other day about some of the Crosby Garrett metal detecting finds in the PAS database (a sorry lot) and it said many of them were given "back to the finder". If there is no documentation that this object was seen by the landowner, then THAT is the person to whom the object should be returned, and his or her decisions about what then to do with it which are theirs and theirs alone. Without proof that the object has been obtained licitly, then the PAS has no right to give it to a person who may have acquired it illicitly.

 Vignette: Frances McNair (one of the Glasgow Four), "the Choice" [fragment]


Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that

"....any REAL due diligence would not touch with a barge-pole any of those items "presumed" to have been licitly exported "long ago" from Syria but without any way to prove it. They do not exist for the truly responsible collector. A dealer who offers such items without any explanation upfront, hoping the potential buyer will "presume" they are kosher without checking should not be touched with a barge-pole."

But is it not equally wrong for PAS to record stuff at a rally from which the Landowner is absent on the "presumption" he has been shown and/or paid for the items?

Well yes it is. In fact the presumption in that instance is far less justified than it would be in a back-street bazaar where there's at least a chance all is pukka. If a landowner is absent and the items are getting loaded into home-bound cars there can be no pretence his rights have been preserved.

Paul Barford said...

Knock me down wiv a fevver. One "James" reckons it's a put-up job, there is "no" Farmer Brown, but what smart folk call a literary device.

Of course "James" can't suss out how to send a comment here hisself...

Paul Barford said...

Blimy Kev, therz annuvver, Two-sheds Howland howevver rekins 'ee's too kleva to get kort out. Good fer 'im, eh?

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