by Nigel Swift
Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, believes the Portable Antiquities Scheme “is envied the world over“. Not enough for any country to have ever copied it I think. However, in case any are thinking of doing so they should be aware of some basic realities. Well one actually. In Britain, doing without regulation and promoting a voluntary system for 15 years has preserved the overall situation of ADWIM – “avoidable depletion with inadequate mitigation”. I believe Neil MacGregor could not disagree that that is indeed an accurate description and any wannabe overseas PAS-cloner should take heed.
However, if any foreign heritage professionals are thinking of going down the British route (which I sincerely doubt) they would also need to consider how they could persuade their taxpaying and stakeholding public that overall “Avoidable Depletion with Inadequate Mitigation” is fine – and both preferable and more effective than statutory regulation. As to that task, they would clearly be well advised to emulate the way Britain has done just that (not willingly but forced to by the lack of legislation – but successfully nevertheless). It involves some actions and inactions they might not be too keen on from the point of view of archaeological ethics (just as Britain’s archaeologists may not be) so I’ve drawn up a wall chart showing what they must say and not say. Here it is –