THE BRITISH ARCHAEOLOGICAL TRUST
TREASURE ACT FAILS TO PROTECT BRITAINS HERITAGE
In a recent press release (DCMS 131/98) the Department of Culture,
Media and Sport praised the success of the 1997 Treasure Act (Note
2). RESCUE believes that this praise is extremely premature.
The act, which is complicated, confusing and has many loopholes, has
actually discouraged the public from reporting archaeological finds
(Note 3). The legislation is too weak and is clearly treated with
contempt by some metal detector users, who are among the principal
sources of "treasure" finds:-
"The [Treasure] act is without doubt a grubby piece of legislation.
Our enemies have spent a great deal of time, money and energy on it.
Make no mistake its sole purpose is to damage the hobby of metal
detecting and in this respect I am sure it will fail miserably.
Like all bad laws there are holes in it. Legal holes for lawyers to
exploit and common sense man in the street holes for you and I to
exploit." (Note 4)
In order to cope with the failings of the act DCMS is developing a
scheme for the voluntary reporting of all portable antiquity finds
(Note 5). But this too has hit problems. In a recent statement on
the scheme, Dr Roger Bland of DCMS said "We have to reconcile the
principle that data gathered should be available for public
benefit...with the need to respect the fact that most finders will
only be willing to divulge find-spots if they know that they will be
kept confidential." (Note 6) Clearly these two goals are
RESCUE believes that it is ridiculous to use public funds, including
money from the National Lottery, to collect information that will be
kept secret from the public.
Dr Robert Young, Chair of Rescue, said; "We recognise the legitimate
interests of metal detector users and wish to encourage co-operation
between them and archaeologists. But the government are conceding
too much to this small vocal lobby group and are thereby ignoring
the interests of the vast majority of the British public who would
like to know more about their heritage".
Contact Dr Robert Young, Department of Archaeology, University of Leicester. tel. 0116 252 2846
Notes to Editors
1)RESCUE, The British Archaeological Trust, is the only entirely
independent national archaeological organisation in Britain, and has
campaigned vigourously for the preservation of archaeological
heritage since the 1960s.
2)The Treasure Act redefines what is considered to be treasure under
the law and thus requiring a coroner's inquest to decide ownership.
The act defines as treasure all artefacts more than 300 years old
containing more than 10% gold or silver (although some more recent
objects may be treasure). Finds of 10 or more coins more than 300
years old are also treasure. Objects found in association with other
artefacts that may be treasure can also be considered treasure (e.g.
a pot containing gold coins is treasure as well as the coins).
Objects considered treasure by association need not be found at the
same time as the original treasure! The act is complex and confused
- 9 coins are not treasure but ten are, allowing finders to split
hoards of coins up and avoid the law.
3)A survey in Wales of reporting centres for the new act including;
archaeological Sites and Monuments Records covering former counties
of Glamorgan, Gwent, Dyfed, Powys and Clwyd, and of museums in
Swansea, Neath, Newport, Abergavenny and Merthyr Tydfil; revealed
that none had had any finds reported under the Treasure Act to date.
Most reported that they had had a general decline in finds reports
of all kinds and this was attributed to suspicion of the new act. To
our knowledge, only the National Museum in Wales has had any such
finds reported to it. This was despite the expectation that the
Treasure Act would produce a vast increase in finds reports.
4)Quote from metal detectorists internet site at
5)The portable antiquities scheme has so far allowed the setting up
of 6 pilot posts in England. Staff liase with finders and compile a
database of finds. 6 new posts, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund,
are expected to get the go ahead in August. But the database will be
kept secret if finders wish - even archaeologists charged with
protecting archaeological sites may not be allowed this information.
6)Quote from Statement by Dr Roger Bland mailed to the Britarch
internet list on 9/6/98