by Nigel Swift
Recently a nice family in Ireland did it right: “The find proved a great historical lesson not only for Charles’ children but also for their classmates …..Charles then handed the stone hammer into the county museum”. Irish law said he had to but you just know he would have anyway. It took me back to Shropshire, circa 1955. We kids found stuff several times and would process with it in triumph to the schoolmaster or vicar “to take to the museum”. For us, like that Irish family, “finders-keepers” didn’t apply, the finds were beyond question “everyone’s”.
Many still feel that way and The Council for British Archaeology’s logo proclaims it: “Archae-ology for All”. Trouble is, some say “all” includes “me” so it’s “mine”. Two such people searched the field right next to where we used to find artefacts and soon after they argued in front of a coroner about which of them had found something: “I don’t care what he says, I swear on the Holy Bible I found it.” Same parish, six decades later, and a whole lot uglier.
The CBA’s logo was re-branded in 2012. It split the first word, archae-ology, to stress that it wasn’t the physical remains but the study of archaeology (the “ology”) which was for all, hence preventing misuse of the sentiment (or in Mike Heyworth’s far politer comment to us: “these are subtleties which inevitably are lost on many people”.) We thought it worked at the time but no, it’s still being seen as a CBA charter for personal entitlement. Maybe it’s time to make it clearer: “Archaeology for all, not just one”. It wouldn’t have the force of law but at least it couldn’t be wilfully misinterpreted. Today the present one will be. Extensively. That’s surely not what the CBA intended?