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Some of those who read the exchange between members of the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group and Baroness Rawlings last week might take issue with the unalloyed joy about it expressed here and elsewhere.

Yes, she confirmed an export licence would be needed to take the Crosby Garrett helmet out of the country but she also admitted she had no idea where it is now. Considering it’s national treasure in all but name that’s depressing. Especially as the circumstances of it’s excavation may have been – what can I say?  exotic? – and certainly of a damaging effect, and that the cultural vandalism continued when it was hastily sent to be stuck together for selling by an oh-so-snooty auction house without being made available for proper study – so the whole saga adds up to a big loss for everyone, and somewhat of a national humiliation. Never mind politely mobbing her, it would have been more appropriate if their lordships had rioted.

Lord Renfrew was said to be pretty pleased at hints that the law on treasure may be extended to cover bronze artefacts from Roman times. Who could oppose it? Well some people, and unfortunately it’s some of the very people that will be unearthing such artefacts. Detecting forums are full of people saying extending the Treasure Act in the particular ways being mooted doesn’t accord with how they feel heritage protection should be structured. That’s a rough translation of course, the dialogue is actually about the idea that the rewards system is a swindle and they’d get more for the loot if they were free to flog it on EBay and that if push comes to shove they’ll simply say they found stuff prior to the Treasure Act becoming law. Check M8! Simple really (that’s both the proposed behaviour and the minds) but I refuse to dignify their awfulness by quoting it all verbatim – it’s all there to be read in it’s shameful detail. There’s even been “a word to the wise” on Britarch lest anybody should be in doubt bad consequences will arise unless things go a certain way. Has the English desease reached fever pitch? A person who is probably the most respected man on the planet on these matters thinks the Treasure Act needs amending in a particular way and a detector retailer warns archaeologists it had better not be done other than in the different way some metal detectorists require!

Someone should ask Lord Renfrew to sign up to a few metal detecting forums, if they’ll have him. (They may not. They think Lord Avebury is a snob!)   It’s the one gap in his vast scholarship, and it’s a crucial one. Legislating is not getting. Retired colonels and Guardian readers from Bournmouth disinterested in money some of these people aren’t. Look at the Crosby Garrett helmet.

APPAG members were also said to be “ecstatic” to hear the Portable Antiquities Scheme is to continue – and Lady Rawlings’ words have been widely interpreted elsewhere as “PAS funding is safe”. Her words weren’t quite to that effect though were they? She gave a politician’s answer – merely confirming the Scheme had escaped the bonfire of the quangos but that the question of its funding was still being considered. That means cuts are coming does it not? [UPDATE: they came, 15%] I suspect their Lordships may well have suffered from premature ecstacy.

Finally, something has just been announced that, had they known it at the time, ought to have driven their Lordships not merely to riot  but to go off on a rampage in the direction of Millbank. English Heritage is to close its entire outreach department.  Sad in itself, but quite mad in context: even after any PAS cuts we will have  a situation in which (apart from outreach by quarry companies in receipt of aggregates levy funds – Tarmac PLC at Thornborough Henges for instance!) there’s no national outreaching to 49 million ordinary members of the English public but there’ll still be about 45 PAS archaeologists outreaching to 8,000 English metal detectorists (178 metal detectorists each – of whom perhaps only 10 or 20% fully co-operate!)

Is that sensible resource allocation in an age of public spending frugality my Lords? And a matter for ecstacy (whether premature or not)?


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting



November 2010

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