I'm concerned that people seem to be overly concerned with the
ownership of artefacts when the real concern of archaeology is to "own"
the information that the artefact gives us.
A hoard of gold coins out of context is far far less valuable to
archaeology than a single bronze coin in context. It all stinks of
"treasure hoarding" by museums wanting to secure (at no cost to them)
the best finds (much like the horrific hoards in Stockholm that others
refer to) ... with apparently no concern for public ownership of the
key information. so I would contend the focus on any act should be to
protect and secure the archaeological information regarding a find and,
if that means giving the material ownership to the finder then that is
generally a fair exchange. IT WILL ENCOURAGE FINDERS TO ACT RESPONSIBLY
AND GIVE A STICK TO FORCE KEY INFORMATION TO BE REPORTED BY FINDERS.
Personally I would suggest as general principles:
1. Artefacts belong to the finder so long as:
a. They are promptly reported
b. They can be proven to be chance finds
c. or where they have been taken from a site where there is permission
to take such finds, where there is permission to allow further
archaeological investigation of significant finds
d. that they are provided with as much key information as is available
to allow further assessment of that site.
2. Artefacts which are not legally reported as above belong to the
"state" - no question, no compensation (finder beware!).
3. Where a find is of an exceptional nature (unique, proven to be
critical to research, particularly representative of a certain type, in
need of specialist preservation, etc.), then the "state" (aka
archaeological profession) has the right to hold the object for a
reasonable time for research and/or put a hold on any private sale.
4. Objects must be held in their original state (unless advised
otherwise) and open to assessment for a month from the date of reporting
- they must not be sold or passed on.
5. Exceptional finds may be bought at a "fair price" by the state or
kept in private hands so long as they are kept so as to maintain their
archaeological value and available to loan to museums and researchers.
6. Where finds are secured by the "state", the artefact and particularly
the information regarding the object is regarded as public property and
not the belongings of some particular museum, researcher, etc. That they
must be open to all UK museums & researchers.
7. It is made a criminal act to buy, sell or export any artefact that is
subject to the act (of any age and retrospectively applied) that has not
been recorded in accordance with the requirement for new finds unless
proof can be given that all the provisions of the act have been complied
with. I.e. if you hold an artefact, the onus is on you to be able to
prove that you hold it legitimately otherwise you better register it
with as much information as is available and give time for it to be
assessed by archaeologists, before you try and sell it.