Tuesday 10 May 2016

Legal Artefact Hunting Does not Prevent Illegal Artefact Hunting

Over the other side of the Atlantic, in pro-collecting circles a dominant view is that in order to cut down the trade in illicit antiquities, the answer is not to clean up the no-questions-asked market that exists today, but promote legal artefact hunting. In the silly season prompted by any public consultation connected with a CCPIA MOU, we find repetitive calls that the "right" way to deal with the trade in illicit artefacts is to 'leave trafficking alone', but force the source nations to adopt some form  of system of legalising artefact hunting "like the British Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Act". Trade lobbyist Peter Tompa of Bailey and Ehrenberg PLLC has promoted such a solution and urges the Department of State to coerce source countries such as Cyprus and Bulgaria into "regulating metal detecting". Derek Fincham thinks that this is the answer too. The Portable Antiquities Scheme itself thinks it is the answer to the problem of illegal artefact hunting. But is it? I do not think that is at all logical. I was prompted to think of this when I came across a mention of a recent study of discussion of an environmental issue which seems related (Erica Goode, 'Study Casts Doubt on Theory That Legal Hunting Reduces Poaching', New York Times New York Times 11th May 2016). 
[US] ‎Government wildlife authorities and some conservation groups have for years argued that allowing some legal hunting can help reduce the illegal killing of threatened carnivores like wolves and grizzly bears. Their theory — though there has been little scientific research to support it — has been that legalizing hunting helps reduce resentment among landowners, increase support for conservation and decrease poaching. But the authors of a new study of wolves, published Wednesday, say their findings offer the first quantitative evidence that government authorization of any legal killing of wolves appears to increase illegal killing.[...] the study showed, he said, that “there are always going to be unintended consequences of management decisions, and we do not know most of the time what those unintended consequences are.”
I would argue that the same applies to artefact hunting in places like the UK, where it is widely claimed by its supporters that legalising artefact hunting somehow reduces the amount of illegal artefact hunting going on. This is even what the Nighthawking report suggested (but readers who remember my discussion of that in this blog will know that I consider their methodology and therefore conclusions seriously flawed). Of course rendering an illegal activity legal by simply changing the law does not equate in any way or form with reducing depletion of and damage to the archaeological record by artefact hunting, indeed, it seems to be promoting it.

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