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We picked this up from The Pipeline blog. Here’s what Mr Whittingdale said in the Treasure’s Act debate in 1996. Can we dare hope Britain is moving towards a position closer to the rest of the world by regulating artefact hunting and unbonkering itself?


“…there is a need for a much more wide-ranging measure to cover all portable antiquities.”

“Although I welcome the Bill and the provisions that will clarify and extend existing protection considerably, I believe that there is a need to go still further. The Bill refers only to treasure, and treasure is very strictly defined. It must have at least some gold or silver content, and the Bill will clearly be a major improvement in respect of the protection of such items, but there is a need for a much more wide-ranging measure to cover all portable antiquities.

Some protection already exists in legislation covering ancient sites and monuments, but not all ancient sites and monuments have yet been discovered. By the time we have agreed that something is an ancient site that should be afforded protection, we may be too late and many of the artefacts there may have been lost. I hope that, in due course, we shall re-examine the law in this respect.”

In due course, I hope that we can go further still and re-examine ways in which we can best protect that heritage and learn more about it for our children and grandchildren.”


So has “in due course” been arrived at, nineteen years later? Who knows? One thing CAN be predicted though. Ed Vaizey (who is to stay on as Culture Minister, reporting to Mr Whittingdale as Culture Secretary) is unlikely to be having any more days out like this:

At the launch of the annual Portable Antiquities and Treasure report in May 2011 Ed refused to answer questions (on the future   of the library service, which was looking bleak) and turned to a government press officer and said: “I’m not sure what to do. Can I speak? You are here to protect me from things like this.”  On the other hand he was far less reticent about speaking to artefact hunters: “After the launch, he again refused to discuss his party’s policy on libraries and instead chatted with a treasure hunting “mud larker”, securing a promise of a guided trip to the tidal banks of the Thames with his five-year-old child.” No surprise there though as at the equivalent launch the previous year he boasted that he was proud of “being cover boy for a metal detecting magazine”....
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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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A Culture Secretary who thinks archaeologists are the real heritage heroes? Fingers crossed!

John Whittingdale, the new Culture Secretary. The first one for some time who is crystal clear about the pre-eminent value of archaeologists in archaeological investigations?

Here’s what he said in the Commons 18 years ago:

“Anyone who has been on an archaeological dig will know of the painstaking, enormously slow process that is involved in uncovering objects. The precise position in the ground of every revealed object and its proximity to other finds is carefully recorded. When people come along who are not experts or who are not necessarily interested in the history of an object, but whose main motivation is simply to try to uncover a pot of gold, and they root around without paying much attention to the archaeological importance of their finds, the archaeological information is lost. All too often, they simply chuck aside anything that does not immediately appear to have a monetary value.”

He sounds indistinguishable from his Irish and French counterparts. How refreshing!

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