Friday, December 19, 2014

The Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Act

Advocates of collectors' rights point to the cultural property laws prevailing in the United Kingdom as being the most effective approach yet devised for effectively reconciling the many disparate, often conflicting goals, interests and concerns of all those interested in discovery and ownership of antiquities.

The PAS/Treasure Act scheme is very much in the British tradition of working things out in a practical, cooperative manner whenever possible -- preferably one which attracts a maximum of local interest and support -- as distinguished from a rigid, confrontational approach ending in enforcement by compulsion with significant unresolved grievances and conflicts remaining. The latter approach unfortunately prevails in most other nations.

The PAS/Treasure Act scheme has many significant accomplishments to its credit; indeed in many respects it has revitalized British archaeology, and given archaeologists significant new resources to draw upon.

Perhaps most importantly, the PAS has harmonized very well with the longstanding British traditions of local archaeology interest groups and antiquarian collecting. In particular it has had a beneficial effect on British metal detectorists, offering guidance on how detectorist clubs can educate their members to practice their hobby responsibly.

Every collector and numismatic professional should become familiar with the PAS and Treasure Act, which provides a clear example of why cultural cooperation is far more effective than confrontation.

     The Portable Antiquities Scheme website
     a brief Wikipedia overview
     The British Museum Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure administers the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
     A comprehensive 2008 review of the PAS by Kate Clark for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
     Derek Fincham's blog -- thoughtful, perceptive and not overly doctrinaire
     Derek Fincham's well thought out proposal to extend the Cultural Heritage Policy of England and Wales to other nations of origin
     Tom Brindle's informative book about the process of integrating vast quantities of seemingly random finds scattered across the English and Welsh countryside, to indicate the presence of 240 previously unknown Roman sites.
     Archaeology student Steve Ashby's favorable overview of the PAS.  (Intarch 33)
     A particularly significant and penetrating issue of Internet Archaeology, the premier international e-journal for archaeology (peer-reviewed). Three important citations follow:
     Ideology, governance and consequences from a collector's point of view: author Wayne Sayles' pro-collecting perspective on the Cultural Property War that rages in America, and its antecedents.
     Who controls the past?: Penny English perceptively reviews "... the intangible and seemingly insoluble question of who should have the right to control access to the past."
     Roger Bland (Keeper, Departments of Prehistory & Europe and Portable Antiquities & Treasure, British Museum) responds to other articles in Intarch 33, providing a magisterial perspective on these articles and also upon the origins and development of the Treasure Act and the PAS. Dr. Bland's perspective is not pro-collecting (as his criticism of Sayles' article proves), but his administration of the PAS and Treasure Act has been fair-minded and very effective in the manner in which it has brought British detectorists into a constructive and useful relationship with archaeology.
     Ben Miller presents ten of the best archaeological discoveries made in Britain by the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
     The Frome Hoard,  discovered by Dave Crisp near Frome in Somerset, England, is often referred to as the "Somerset Hoard" and is one of the largest ever found in Britain. It was reported to the PAS and excavated under the supervision of archaeologist Alan Graham. This Wikipedia article details how a responsible detectorist interacting with the PAS discovered and assisted in the excavation of this very important find, now exhibited at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton,
     Significant finds by British detectorists between 1998 and 2009.


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