Thursday 31 October 2013

Minister Vaisey, do the Decent Thing and Resign

“I salute all the responsible metal
detectorists – true heritage heroes – whose patience
and unceasing curiosity do so much to
bring this treasure to light”.

Ed Vaisey, Minister of Culture UK

It seems to me that somebody who demonstrates to that degree that he has not the foggiest idea of what archaeology and cultural heritage is and how it should be looked after really should step down as Minister of Culture and make away for somebody who does. What on earth was the guy thinking? British archaeology is on the verge of collapse and this is the muppet that has the responsibility for the branch?

Now last time this phrase dropped from the lips of a British Minister of Culture and a fuss broke out, PAS bent over backwards to disassociate themselves from it. The Minister had "spoken off the cuff without consulting us first" wimpered Roger Bland, bewildered by the fuss, "of course we would have stopped him if we'd  known what he was going to say" - that is despite the statement being relayed to the World's uncritical press through the BM press office. And what is the excuse this time?

As Heritage Action point out in a hard hitting article that in my opinion everybody who cares about the preservation of the heritage should read ('Ed Vaisey insults every archaeologist!' Heritage Journal 01/11/2013 ), the Minister seems not really to have thought this through:
And no, defining some of the artefact hunters as “responsible” does not make them praiseworthy! Archaeologists are responsible. People who run conservation websites are responsible. Bus drivers are responsible. So what’s special about these detectorists? They report their Treasure Finds – fantastic! But that’s just complying with the law like the rest of us do constantly without being hailed as heroes. And don’t forget, unlike almost anyone else in Britain they get massive rewards for doing so!
Heritage Action suggests that the Minister needs to "concentrate and take wider advice than you have evidently been getting". But in the UK, there are no end of people he can turn to to get that advice. There are two Portable Antiquities committees (one fairly dormant recently to be sure) and a whole socking big Portable Antiquities Scheme just a phone call away:
You should consider why PAS was set up 15 years ago. It was NOT because it was felt “artefact hunting = good” . PAS was tasked with outreaching to, educating and persuading artefact hunters in order to mitigate the malign effects of what was universally seen as a damaging activity (which it still is – see the Artifact Erosion Counter). It was not set up to partner, promote, encourage or expand the activity – those are perversions of the intended purpose – as are statements by two Culture Ministers saying metal detectorists are heritage heroes. The hope expressed in the Commons in the debate that set up the Treasure Act: “I trust that we will now join the great majority of other civilised countries in passing a law to protect our rich and important heritage of portable antiquities” has yet to be fulfilled by a single molecule. Talk of heroism isn’t going to help. 
Britain's insular head-in-the-national-sand approach is also perceived by Heritage Action. They point out to the hapless Minister:
consider this: no foreign Culture Minister talks like you and no other country is clamouring to legalise an army of artefact hunters so they can unearth their own treasure items – responsibly, heroically or any other way, even though it’s a cert they’ll all have them. No, marvellous though some of the treasure is, it comes at far too high a price and every other country knows it does". 
Vignette: Ed Vaisey in metal detectorist garb having a go at finding treasure.


Pam Braddock said...

I can't help but wonder what people will be thinking about all this in 50 years time and there is no archaeology that hasn't been destroyed by this stupidity. When is it going to stop?

Paul Barford said...

I do not think we need to wonder very long. It is self-evident what they will think of our ideas of "conservation" and "sustainable management of a finite resource".

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