Friday 1 February 2019

UK Government Announces Plans to Redefine Treasure and Prevent Sale of Unreported Finds.

"We welcome comments and observations,
particularly where these are supported by empirical evidence".

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Press release, 1 February 2019: 'Government announces new plans to protect treasure finds'. 
Plans to widen the definition of treasure so more archaeological finds can be protected for the nation have been outlined by the government today. Heritage Minister Michael Ellis announced proposals that would allow more artefacts to be acquired by local and national museums and put on public display. Under the plans, the definition will be changed so that finds worth more than £10,000 will be considered treasure and made available for acquisition by museums. [...]  Each year, dozens of items of national importance are believed to be lost to private sellers because they do not meet the treasure criteria or are sold by those who do not declare the find. [...]  The proposals are to be consulted on and aim to clarify, improve and streamline the process for reporting treasure to ensure that museums can continue to acquire important finds for the nation. There are currently no sanctions on someone who knowingly buys an unreported find and the growth in online markets has given opportunistic finders an outlet to sell unreported finds under the radar. The changes will also mean that the duty to report treasure will be extended to those acquiring it. The measures would be the first major changes since the Treasure Act came into effect more than 20 years ago. Heritage Minister Michael Ellis said: [...] "These new proposals will [...] make it harder for nationally important finds to be sold for personal profit. 
the Press release also shows that the threat to the British archaeological record is increasing annually:
More items than ever are being discovered by treasure seekers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland with the number of finds increasing by over 1,500% since 1996. The latest figures show that 2017 was a record-breaking year for treasure finds with a total of 1,267 items unearthed, including ancient Roman statues, Bronze Age rings and a Stuart pocket watch. In the last 20 years, 13,000 finds have gone through the treasure process. Of these, over 30% are now in museums and can be enjoyed by millions of people each year.
That means 70% of them are not. Is this additional evidence that Treasure Rewards will be slashed, post Brexit. Surely the limited resources available for heritage conservation will be stretched by an increased number of Treasure finds.

It is rather sad that after twenty years, the best lawmakers can come up with as determining 'value to the nation' is still market value. I hope this is brought up in the consultation process by archaeologists concerned about knowledge loss through Collection-Driven Exploitation (CDE) of the archaeological record.

One way that I have long advocated could be by making reporting by artefact hunters of all artefact finds to the PAS mandatory (perhaps with a recording fee) and the PAS in their record making the assessment (as is already IN the PAS database records) of what is important on archaeological grounds and in the local context. This would strengthen the PAS buy giving it an established place in the heritage management system, and strengthen the archaeological response to CDE, as well as strengthening the system of mitigating information loss.

In fact one finds that the consultation document includes a section on The long term future of the treasure process and its sustainability (sections 136-43). One of the biggest difficulties with regard to the Treasure process is its long term financial sustainability. The rise in administrative costs resulting from the substantial increase in the amount of cases is a matter of concern, "if, as seems likely, the number of treasure cases continues to rise, a revised approach will be required". In order for the Treasure Act "to encourage positive behaviour", the Treasure Process "must have a sound financial underpinning" (141).
142. To this end we are putting forward several initial suggestions as the basis of discussion on the future form of the treasure process. These are:
● the introduction of a process similar to that in Scotland, whereby all archaeological objects become the property of the Crown;● strengthening educational outreach to the full spectrum of the metal detecting community in order to encourage the proactive reporting of finds and adherence to the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting and the treasure process; and
the introduction of a regulation as in Northern Ireland where archaeological digging of any sort (both by professional archaeologists and others) is only allowed by permit
143. We are aware that these suggestions would involve considerable changes to the current process. We emphasise that the aim in raising them within the current consultation is to open some initial debate and to encourage other suggestions for the long term sustainability of the treasure process.
One thing, if artefact hunting with metal detectors was made into a permit-led archaeological activity, on what grounds would a Treasure Reward be issued to artefact hunting permit-holders and not to archaeologist permit-holders? Perhaps the answer is to only allow rewards to accidental finders who are not out going equipped with tools to actively find buried metal objects?

The second and third points of section 142 may be taken as an admission that the PAS-voluntary reporting of metal detected finds is not working. This comes twenty years after the PAS was set up precisely to avoid introducing mandatory reporting and a permit system as required by articles 2 and 3 of the Council of Europe 'Convention for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage of Europe (revised)' -Valletta, 1992 (doubly ironic that it comes in the year the UK leaves Europe!).

 hat tip Alan Simkins

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