Sunday 29 September 2013

Our Generation's Lost Heritage: Archaeology Drops the Ball

Jonathan Owen, 'Heritage sites being left at mercy of planners, archaeologists warn', Independent Sunday 29 September 2013.

UK budget cuts will leave future generations with huge gaps in the preservation of the historical heritage as there was no one there to protect it:
[UK] Archaeologists have warned that budget cuts to the sector will leave future generations facing a lost legacy of historic heritage abandoned “to short-termism” and “financial expediency”.
So sort of like archaeological sites all over the country also gutted of most of their diagnostic metal artefacts in a single generation - a lost legacy of historic heritage abandoned “to short-termism” and “political expediency”. So the rest figures:
Specialist advisers act as a safeguard against planning proposals which would otherwise damage local heritage, as they help councils to make informed decisions. Yet local councils across England have lost about one in three archaeological advisers and building conservation experts since 2006, according to the charity.[...] The number of archaeological advisers, including historic environment records (HER) officers, has fallen by 28 per cent, and building conservation advisers have been cut by 33 per cent over the past seven years. In the past 12 months alone the number of archaeological specialists has fallen by 3 per cent and the numbers of conservation officers by 4 per cent.[...] Campaigners are calling for “responsibility for the nation’s heritage” to be borne equally by local and national government. The provision of conservation and archaeological services, to safeguard the historic and built environment, should be made a statutory obligation on all local authorities, Rescue proposes, but says that also means they should be given the resources needed to do this.
Perhaps not the main factor, but certainly not insignificant in the undermining of the position of archaeology and conservation is the message that "anyone can do it' with a metal detector and that by hoiking stuff out of archaeological sites, we are in some way preserving heritage. Archaeology has dropped the ball in not explaining matters in an articulate and meaningful way loud and long enough for the preservation message to hit home, but merely "going with the FLO" (sorry, could not resist) and keeping quiet about the insidious destruction of archaeological evidence for the entertainment and profit of an exploitive minority right under their very noses.

If Britain cannot afford or organize these measures, what are the hopes for other, poorer countries?  And (to address another point made on behalf of collectors) as we see, the mere fact that there is a free market for antiquities in Britain, does not in any way improve the financial position of archaeology there - and nor can it in the specific legal conditions which are the background to that market. On the contrary the Treasure Act costs public funds (or funds from the public) that could be more usefully employed in heritage research and preservation than being put into the pocket of a lone Treasure hunter who's targeted a site and hoiked something out from deep down under the plough horizon.

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