Thursday, 11 October 2018

RESCUE Has Clarified its Policies, Passed by the Council

This is very welcome, from one of the major British archaeological bodies:
"Rescue Council felt that it would be helpful to put together our policy on key issues relating to archaeology and the historic environment. We hope that this will clarify where we stand and provide a basis for future actions. The document begins with a summary of our commitments, cross-referenced to the relevant sections of the full set of policies."
The document is here, it is dated January 2018

There is a lot here to think about and discuss and it covers a whole range of concerns. This blog however is concerned with just one set of issues raised, related to the collection of archaeological artefacts. I was therefore pleased to see that this got quite a bit of coverage (two secctions of sixteen) and much of it in a form I would myself see as 'right-minded' as behoves an organization that had its origins in conservation concerns.

The preamble discusses 'The Purpose of Archaeology' which I hope will be read by all. It is difficult not to get the impression from a lot that they write that some British archaeologists see the discipline primarily as simply "digging up things [for me to write about]".

Page 1: This introduces the sixteen items of policy. The first that caught my eye is something I have always supported:
As the historic environment comes under increasing pressure we will:[...] • Advocate for the conditions of Article iii of the Valetta Convention to be applied to all metal detecting and other intrusive fieldwork and for the compulsory reporting of all recovered archaeological material. We will press for a national investigation into the feasibility of a licensing system for all archaeological work. [10]
Bravo, should have done that twenty years ago. Implementing it is going to be a problem. But it's good the discussion is given a new footing by this.

This is expanded on below, on page 13:
Issue 10: [...] Rescue recognizes the contribution amateur and community survey and excavation can make to the overall record: for example metal detecting can provide a good indication of the ongoing destruction of archaeology in arable areas. However, Rescue believes that unregulated hobby detecting and other fieldwork does not contribute sufficient value or information to our understanding of the past to justify the damage caused to the wider archaeological resource, in particular by detecting on non-arable land, by poor recording of find locations and by inadequate postexcavation reporting. Of the suite of amateur techniques, only the recovery of finds, mainly through metal-detecting (because it is the most widely practiced and has the potential for making lucrative discoveries) has been subject to any state intervention in the form of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). Whilst this has been successful in recording significant numbers of de-contextualised finds, the PAS has been unable to sufficiently advocate for archaeological methodologies and rigorous survey practices to underpin artefact collecting and this results in archaeological material being removed from the landscape without appropriate recording. The voluntary nature of the PAS means that hobby detectorists are not obliged to adhere to the principles of the scheme nor to record the material they are recovering. Furthermore, funding for the scheme is no longer guaranteed. There are no arrangements in place to govern any form of archaeological fieldwork outside the protection of Scheduled Monument status or the planning framework. Rescue does not believe that these arrangements correspond to the requirements or the spirit of Article 3 of the 1992 Valetta Convention which they were designed to address, and therefore we have concluded that the current system for regulating the recovery of archaeological evidence by non-professionals in the UK is inadequate.
The remedy is discussed further on page 13:
Rescue Policy
Rescue supports the provisions of Article 3 of the Valetta Convention and welcomes discussions and further debate on the subject of how best to bring the UK into line with the requirements it sets out. Rescue calls for a national investigation into the feasibility of a licensing system for all archaeological work, including metal detecting. In the meantime we will advocate for all metal detecting, fieldwalking, excavation and other intrusive survey to be subject to prior authorisation on a case-by-case basis, supported by appropriate pre-commencement documentation. Rescue will also advocate for the introduction of legally enforceable compulsory reporting of all recovered archaeological material supported by adequate resourcing of procedures for authorisation and supervision.
Good. And of course that could be a new role for the PAS, actually placing it on a proper legal footing as part of the heritage management system. Again, that is something I and Nigel Swift have been saying for a long time now. Strengthening the PAS will allow it to speak out more fi=orcibly against bad practice, like the recent fiasco at Bellingham.

It gets better: Page 14
Issue 11: Archaeological antiquities
The law in England and Wales allows the sale of archaeological objects and as a result they acquire a financial value that distorts behaviour in respect of them. Artefacts considered under the Treasure Act 1996 are assigned a financial value that museums wishing to display them have to raise, rather than the automatic acquisition of these objects for public benefit and enjoyment. The Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003 and the UK ratification of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property prevents museums and galleries purchasing objects that have been acquired illegally from any historic site or monument or that have been imported illegally, but it does not apply to archaeological finds made legally in this country. Antiquities law is very variable across the world, but England, has some of the least prescriptive regulation; Scotland has a different system which offer more protection to archaeological finds. The Metropolitan Police Art and Antiques Unit has recently been suspended but is due to re-open; however it is always subject to the uncertainties of public spending budgets.

RESCUE policy
We will support and encourage the better identification of the source of artefacts coming into British auction houses from international markets. We will support the creation of antiquities legislation for England that requires all archaeological objects offered for sale to be fully and legitimately provenanced, will discourage the sale of UK archaeological artefacts, and which takes a similar line to the Scottish system whereby any objects found by chance or through activities such as metal-detecting, field-walking, or archaeological excavation, for which the original owner is unknown, automatically become the property of the state.
So, collection-driven exploitation of teh archaeological resource will become a thing of the past like wild bird egg collecting. What RESCUE do not mention here (and the analogy with the bird eggs is a useful one - especially with regard to the issue of 'burden of proof' - nota bene), what happens to undocumented (unpapered) artefacts from old collections - for example of 'metal detectorists'?

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