by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

I was in London this week and dropped in to have a look around the British Museum. Amongst the other treasures and only for these few months, perhaps, are some small items from the Staffordshire Hoard. On the day that I visited, these same were housed in a couple of desk-high display cabinets, underneath some explanatory notices and in the corner of a bright, open, upstairs room. Beside the doorway, on the adjacent wall, was a glass donations box containing all manner of money. Unless £3.3 million could be raised, it seemed that the famous Staffordshire hoard would be sold and, obviously, dispersed on the open market.

Although the news since is that the money has been found and the hoard saved, as a unit, for the nation, I’m just puzzled as to how this situation could have arisen at all?

Setting aside the fact that the metal detectorist wouldn’t even have been able to do his detecting in Ireland, in the first place, and ignoring the temptation to suggest – like a game show – progressively halving his ‘prize fund’ for each day he hoovered around himself before informing the authorities (let’s just imagine that he found it while digging his garden and reported it straight away), this would be the legal position here;

Under the National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1994 , Section 2 (1);

“..,there shall stand vested in the State the ownership of any archaeological object found in the State after the coming into operation of this section where such object has no known owner at the time when it was found.” (That owner wouldn’t be Terry or Fred, I’m afraid);

Section 4 (2);

“No person shall purchase or otherwise acquire, sell or otherwise dispose of an archaeological object which has been found in the State after the coming into operation of this section unless the object is one in which the rights of the State have been waived under this Act.”;

Section 9 (1), in cases where the object is of sufficient archaeological or historical interest;

“..,the Director (of the National Museum) shall, as soon as practicable, take possession of such object and may retain it on behalf of the State.”;

And Section 10 (1), (4);

“The Director may, following consultation with the Minister and the Minister for Finance and with their consent given in writing, pay to each or any of the following, namely, the person who has found an archaeological object, the owner of the land and the occupier of the land on or under which such object was found, a reward where the object is retained by the Director on behalf of the State.”


“Nothing in this section shall impose an obligation on the Director to pay a reward unless he is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so.”

It seems straightforward, sensible and equitable and saves all the scrabbling and haggling to pay off someone who wouldn’t have ownership rights anyway. In fact, the whole thrust of the 1994 Act is towards the preservation of our historical record for those who will come after us.

So, here’s a metaphor, which I got by googling ’depletion of fish stocks’. This 2006 article is from the Washington Post and I’ve taken the liberty of trimming it to fit. You can, of course, follow the link included to read the complete article;

“An international group of ecologists and economists warned yesterday that the world will run out of seafood by 2048 if steep declines in marine species continue at current rates, based on a four-year study of catch data and the effects of fisheries collapses.

The paper, published in the journal Science, concludes that overfishing, pollution and other environmental factors are wiping out important species around the globe, hampering the ocean’s ability to produce seafood, filter nutrients and resist the spread of disease…

…”We really see the end of the line now,” said lead author Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Canada’s Dalhousie University. “It’s within our lifetime. Our children will see a world without seafood if we don’t change things.”…

…”It’s like hitting the gas pedal and holding it down at a constant level,” Worm said in a telephone interview. “The rate accelerates over time.”…

…Oregon State University marine biologist Jane Lubchenco said the study makes clear that fish stocks are in trouble, even though consumers appear to have a cornucopia of seafood choices.

“I think people don’t get it,” Lubchenco said. “They think, ‘If there is a problem with the oceans, how come the case in my grocery store is so full?’ There is a disconnect.”…

…Yesterday’s report suggests it is possible to resolve this puzzle. The researchers analyzed nearly 50 areas where restrictions had been imposed to stop overfishing and found that, on average, the range of species in the water increased by 23 percent within five years. That provides reason for optimism, Worm said, because it means sound management can halt the decline of fish stocks worldwide.
“It’s not too late to turn this around,” he said. “It can be done, but it has to be done soon.”

Greed is not good. As of today (March 24th, 1.57 pm) the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter stands at; 10,729,594 artefacts removed (since 1975). How do you get your head around that?