Tuesday 29 January 2019

'The Law of Treasure'

Archaeopress: NEW 'The Law of Treasure' Author: A.G. Guest (emeritus Professor of Law at King’s College, London.) with the assistance of Judge Paul Matthews - formerly HM Senior Coroner for the City of London. 152 pages. Available both in printed and e-versions. £22.00 paper EPublication £16.00. The blurb is not very encouraging:
The importance of the Law of Treasure is largely the result of the spectacular growth in the activity of metal detecting which, starting in the 1960’s (sic), has grown so much in popularity that it now brings to our knowledge each year more than a thousand objects of historical, cultural or archaeological interest. The nature and volume of these finds has in turn led to a greater public concern to ensure that measures exist which will be conducive to the retention and effective preservation of the more important of those objects.
Just stopping there to point out that it was not so much 'public' concern, but archaeological concern. Secondly, when the TA was passed there were not '1000' Treasures being found annually. The law was set up to deal with much smaller numbers of finds, and it can be argued cannot cope as well with the current situation. The sales spiel continues:
It is, of course, essential that facilities exist for the physical examination and conservation of finds and that those facilities should be accessible and adequate. But the law has an important part to play in this process by ensuring that finds of substantial value or importance should be preserved for the nation and made available to the public in museums.
But of course the law does not do that, it makes sure the glittery bits (finds of substantial value) are made available for the public to buy back its own heritage to stop them going into private collections. We do not have 'adequate' facilities for the processing and publication of the material. Many glittery hoards are displayed in museums only barely published or actually unpublished (how many? Let the BM tell us). The law does not stipulate what happens to the objects and information associated with them beyond getting them to a museum and entry in the Treasure Report (NOT the PAS database).
For many hundreds of years, the Law of Treasure was the common law of treasure trove. Today it is essentially based on the Treasure Act 1996. Although the Act is a great improvement on the common law it is nevertheless not always rational and the meaning of some of its provisions is sometimes obscure. This book aims to provide a reliable guide to the Law of Treasure in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and also to explain the role played by legal institutions, such as the Coroner, in that process. This book will be of interest to archaeologists, museums, coroner’s offices, finds liaison officers, farmers and landlords’ associations. It will also be of interest and utility to metal detectorists since, in addition to explaining what objects are considered to be treasure by the law, it explains the legal restrictions on searching for artefacts, the duty to report finds of treasure and the structure of the valuation process and rewards.
Most of the people listed will, already, know (or jolly well should know) these things, there have been 'guides' produced as long as the Act has been in force. The PAS is there to explain it to us all. So, this is being produced by an archaeological publisher. Why then is it co-authored by two legal professionals? Why were archaeologists (the PAS) not involved by the publishers in its authoring - particularly with regard the bits that are 'not always rational' and where 'the meaning of some of its provisions is sometimes obscure' (piedforts anybody?). And actually, though it pains me to say it, in today's spirit of partnership, how much more rounded a text this would have been if in addition to the contribution of archaeologists discussing the law from the arkie point of view, they'd invite a detectorist along to form part of the team.

And last time I looked, The British Isles still contain a United Kingdom, and the Her Majesty that Judge Matthews served still rules all of it, so where on earth is Scotland? Does Scotland not have 'a' Treasure law too (the book is called THE Law of Treasure)? Why just cut off a huge chunk of the UK in such a book ? So Scotland cut out, arkies not included, tekkies too. Despite all my interest in all this, I'm not really over-keen to dig into my pockets on the basis of what that blurb seems to be suggesting the purchaser is getting.

The book has just 152 pages, the second edition of the HMG guidelines that cover much the same ground it seems, the Treasure Act 1996: Code of Practice (2nd Revision) has 143, and its free (though does not cover N. Ireland).

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