Monday, May 26, 2014
An Archaeo-Blogger's Manifesto
Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford has issued yet another manifesto against the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme, going so far as to characterize it as the "British disease." His underlying assumption (and that of his fellow archaeological hardliners) is that only state cultural bureaucracies and their chosen archaeologists should have access to and control over artifacts of the past. Barford apparently believes all the coins and artifacts that have come to light and recorded under the programs would be best left off in the ground for future archaeologists to find. But the vast majority of these artifacts are found on private farmland where context has already been disturbed by agricultural activities. It's doubtful that archaeologists would ever be excavating in these areas and, indeed, it's far more likely that if left in the ground these artifacts would be lost forever due to the impact of chemical fertilizers or other human activities. Barford also claims UK authorities can't keep up with the finds and that they shouldn't have to pay fair market value for what artifacts are retained for state collections. But that's only an argument for more efficient efforts at recording and more judicious decisions on what the State should keep. The fact is there are so many coins around, all but the most significant ones are better off in the hands of private collectors who have every interest in preserving them. And let's not forget, focusing on any shortcomings in the Treasure Act and PAS ignores how much we've learned about coin finds in Britain and Wales compared to places like Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Bulgaria, where finders have little incentive to report what they find. Finally, Barford laments that most British archaeologists don't share his distaste for the Treasure Act and PAS, but perhaps that's just because they recognize the benefit of engaging interested members of the public as partners rather than adversaries.