Sometimes (well quite often lately actually) the super tanker that is the British archaeological Establishment changes its course a little. One such trajectory twitch seems to have happened last December.
We have often suggested (and many agree) Treasure rewards are indecently high – and unnecessarily so. That”s why pledge number 5 of the Ethical Metal Detecting Association obliges Members to agree to this: In the event that a public museum wishes to purchase a find, Members will voluntarily forego a significant portion of any benefit (whether Treasure Act reward or ex-gratia share offered by the landowner) in order to enable the museum to purchase at less than full value as we believe accepting maximum rewards are inconsistent with an ethical approach, as is obliging hard-pressed museums to buy finds at full market value).
…. and now, Michael Lewis, the deputy head of PAS has come back from a fact-finding mission in Denmark with the impression that similar opinions have been arrived at elsewhere, both in Britain and abroad:
It is clear that there is a long tradition of amateur archaeology in Denmark, and a general belief that archaeological finds should be in museums (for all to enjoy and study) rather than private collections. It is possible for museums to acquire all finds they want because museums don’t have to bid for funding (the state provides it) and rewards are not set at the full market value. However, if many more people were to take up metal-detecting in Denmark it is not clear whether this ability to acquire ‘at will’ could be sustained – it was certainly the view of the detectorists that I met that fewer finds would be claimed Danefae in the future.
Given the number of metal-detectorists in England and Wales, the differences in the material culture (principally the high numbers of Roman finds found in the UK each year), and finder’s demands for a ‘fair-price’ for finds acquired by museums, it seems to me that the Danish system (not that its politically viable at this time) would not be attractive to English and Welsh metal-detectorists, though it would probably be supported (as a better alternative) by many archaeologists and museum curators here. Interestingly most people in Denmark seemed less favourable disposed towards the English system, believing finders to be greedy and rewards too high, though to some extent that reflects press coverage of big Treasure finds.
It should be stressed that Mr Lewis didn’t express the “g” word (greedy) or the “t” word, (too high) he merely said it was what most people in Denmark thought. But who doesn’t? Not any man born of woman that doesn’t go metal detecting, surely? For here’s the current list of the scores of museums and heritage organisations facing cuts or closure because of lack of money.
In the face of that, who but the unthinking wing of detecting would insist that detectorists, alone in the whole public and private economy, should be totally immune from cuts? Immune, even while DEFRA is decimated, PAS is squeezed, EH is forced to slash what it can do and the government is looking to dump it’s duties onto the Public. A Big Society in which everyone is being asked to do their bit. All except certain people who are blatant in their threats towards the rest of us if they don’t get every penny, and promptly, else they’ll break the law and won’t declare their finds! Society has been warned about that in unmistakeable terms. Emphatically. In hundreds and hundreds of metal detecting forum postings and on Britarch.
Of course, the vast rewards currently paid are not only at the expense of the economy, the rest of the heritage sector and the public they are also against the interests of metal detecting itself – although getting many detectorists to comprehend that would be like explaining cycling to a turbot.