We are very grateful for Alison’s permission to republish her work. Please note. This article was written a few years ago, and some inaccuracies may exist given changes in the portable antiquities scheme since. ( Editor )
This essay will critically assess the success of the Portable Antiquities Scheme with reference to the antiquities trade. It will discuss The Portable Antiquities Scheme, The Treasure Act 1997 and how the portable antiquities scheme aims to encourage a respectable practice of recording by finders; a stronger unity between archaeologists and metal detectorists; to continually record portable antiquities; to identify archaeological artefacts within their contexts and to assist with their research (Portable Antiquities Scheme, (2003). The essay will discuss the antiquity trade, the illicit trade and the theft and looting of artefacts from archaeological sites, which are becoming destroyed through trading of artefacts and how UNESCO aim to prevent the trading of illegal antiquities (Gaimster, (2004), 700). The essay will discuss metal detecting and how, many finders destroy archaeological sites and do not record finds; however, metal detectorists recover many important hoards. It will discuss museum and personal collections and how, many artefacts purchased and displayed possess no documentation of provenance. This essay will conclude with an assessment on how the Portable Antiquities Scheme is not successful in accomplishing its aims because the illegal trade is still frequently occurring.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme.
Before The Portable Antiquities Scheme, there were no restrictions and there was no obligation to report or record any artefacts discovered (Cookson, (2000), 206). The Portable Antiquity Scheme has been operational since 1997 and aims for members of the public who discover any archaeological artefact to record it on their database, which is widely available to the public (Egan, (2010), 223). The scheme is to increase the awareness of archaeological finds and their contexts to the general public and to assist in research of the artefacts, obtain a stronger unity of metal detectorists and archaeologists and to promote the long term recording of archaeological finds (Portable Antiquities Scheme, (2003). Information on the database is invaluable as an aid for the typology of artefacts, site assemblages, finds spots and spacial scattering (Bond, (2010), 19-24).
The Treasure Act 1996 replaced The Treasure Trove; this was the only legal protection for artefacts discovered in Northern Ireland, Wales and England. The Treasure Act allows landowners to become eligible for a reward of any artifact discovered on their land and any precious metal is categorised as ‘Treasure’ (The Treasure Act code of practice, 3). The Portable Antiquities Scheme is to encourage an improved responsible approach of finders of artefacts to routinely record their finds (Bland, (2005), 445). There were over 647,000 artefacts recorded on the scheme by October 2010 and between 9000 to 10,000 finds recorded by metal detectorists, it is suggested that seventy five per cent of discovered antiquities have been recorded on the database, however, the amount of unrecorded antiquities is unknown. It is also unknown if all artefacts discovered are recorded or if only a percentage (Gill, (2010), 1-2).
The recording of artefacts requires improvement because important finds are not reported, are sold on the antiquities market, and possibly exported. In the case of the The Snettisham Iron Age coins discovered in 1991, a silver bowl contained 6000 coins and approximately 500 gold coins and ingots were placed beneath the bowl. This hoard was sold on the antiquities market and was exported to America, however, The Winchester Hoard discovered in 2000, containing Iron Age gold artefacts of neckrings, brooches, bracelets and other coins was reported to The Portable Antiquities Scheme. The British Museum’s archaeologists were able to examine the location of the find and an interpretation of the hoard and site was concluded as a votive offering, this also provides a provenence for the find (Stoddart, Malone, (2002), 303).
UNESCO is the Governments convention for Dealing in Cultural Objects Offences Act and commenced from December 30, 2003 (Bland, (2009), 69). UNESCO was formulated to prevent the illegal export and import and the transfer of ownership of cultural property, by empowering a criminal offence on the knowledge of illegal trading, importing, excavating or removal of an antiquity (Gaimster, (2004), 700-1). Antiquities require protection because of the illegal trade in antiquities amplified through wealthy collectors and institutions worldwide (Brodie, (2005), 135). UNESCO also enforces the return of cultural objects, which were removed from their original state on the day of or following January 1, 1993 (Cookson, (2000), 295).
The trading of portable antiquities is a lucrative business with the illegal trading of antiquities amounting to over £100 million worldwide, £2,811,021 in England (Brodie, (1999), 447). Most artefacts, which are traded, are stolen from archaeological sites. Outlawing the trading of antiquities would possibly reduce looting and trading, however, it could also possibly increase artefact values on a black market (Blum, (2002), 7). There is no control in effect to prevent the import and export of antiquities; however, The Board Of Trade controls the restrictions of overseas trade (Cookson, (2000), 253). It is necessary to produce a scheme to discourage thieves of artefacts from trading (Bland, (2009), 68). The majority of looted artefacts are traded through auctions, such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s. In September 2010, 33 fragments of a Roman cavalry parade helmet were taken to Christie’s to be restored prior to its sale in October 2010. The helmet was not regarded in the Treasure Act category because it is bronze and was sold for £2,281,250 (Gill, (2010), 2). In 1990, a Greek vase was sold for the amount of $1,760,000 and possessed no documentation or provenence (Editorial, (1990), 703), (Southebys.com).
Auction houses are of no obligation to provide any historical context or to investigate any provenence of any antiquity traded through their premises (Editorial, (1990), 703), (Southebys.com). Other auctions of antiquities are through the website auctions of Ebay. The artefacts offered for auction are extremely inexpensive and very limited artefacts possess provenence or authentication. Many artefacts are possibly replicas, however, there are insufficient context descriptions and no reference of legal documentation (Ebay.co.uk). Issues of licenses for auction houses would possibly restrict sales of illegal antiquities by dealers wishing to trade artefacts, by submitting a form to the Export Licensing Unit (Brodie, (1999), 449).
The looting of antiquities in Israel has amounted to in excess of 11,000 sites since 1967 and comprise mostly from tombs. The Israel Antiquities Authority declares that 99 per cent of the looting of archaeological sites are committed by shepherds and local villagers. The IAA is preparing to outlaw the antiquity trade to reduce or even prevent antiquity trading in Israel (Blum, (2002), 1-7). UNESCO are also preparing to prohibit and prevent the illegal export of antiquities because of the destruction of archaeological sites and historical records through looting and the illegal trading of artefacts. Many worldwide states are also preparing to prohibit illegal trade and transfer of ownership of cultural property (Editorial, (1971), 246).
Looters have destroyed paintings on rock walls of the Tassili-n-Ajjer in the Algerian Central Sahara; this site is a Designated World Heritage Site. The cave contained hundreds of paintings on its walls. The paintings were chiseled out of the rock, there was evidence of chisel marks left on the rock and many paintings were left destroyed because of the rock breaking, therefore only half of the paintings remained (Keenan, (2000), 287).
Looting in countries which is at war is a delicate situation, archaeological sites and artefacts are in danger of accidental damage or as a military target and also at risk from civilian looters and military looters as a ‘booty’ (Brodie, (2005), 126). In the conflict of Iraq, the UN Security Council Resolution removed items of Iraqi Cultural Property of archaeological, historical, rare-scientific, religious and cultural importance, however, this was undertaken illegally. The United Kingdom’s Government reacted to this by issuing an order of a criminal offence and a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment. The damage or losses of antiquities in conflict are classed as ‘collateral damage’ (Gaimster, (2004), 704). The British Government undertook an order to prevent looting of museums, antiquities and archaeological sites and to safeguard the archaeological historic and cultural heritage of Iraq, with the particular attention applied to reduce any risk or damage to civilian populations, including historic, archaeological and cultural heritage sites (Stone, (2005), 933).
Forgeries of antiquities are also problematic; they are also illegally exported worldwide along with genuine artefacts. Many museums have discovered that their exhibits of national treasures are replicas of extreme quality. These forgeries were purchased in good faith. Many forgeries are traded for thousands of pounds and are believed to be genuine, however, authorities are only concerned in preventing the export of genuine antiquities because of their importance. It is believed that ‘The market in forgeries canlook after itself’ (Editorial, (1971), 248).
Metal detecting is for most person’s a recreational hobby, however, many detectorists neglect the responsibility of custodian of that artefact which belongs to a location’s heritage. The National Council for Metal Detecting is interested to support the portable antiquities scheme and therefore members record finds on the database and also many members record finds on personal databases. The council for metal detecting is also interested in becoming more involved in the scheme for a greater understanding of heritage and historical landscapes by research, conservation and also to work with archaeologists (Austin, (2009), 119-120). Metal detecting Rallies encourage detectorists to record all artefacts, which have been discovered with a member of The Portable Antiquities Scheme, who attend the Rallies. Artefacts are weighed, measured, photographed and recorded on the portable antiquities scheme database. Metal detecting Rallies have discovered approximately one thousand, three hundred artefacts, all of which are recorded on The Portable Antiquities Scheme database (Levick, Sumnall, (2010), 39, 45).
Metal detectorists discover many important finds and hoards. The Snettisham Treasure hoard comprised of three deposits of fifty torques, seventy rings and bracelets, three straight ingots and nine coins (Stead, (1991), 447).
A metal detectorist, Alan Meek discovered an important Roman treasure find in 2002 close to Baldock in Hertfordshire, this find comprised of twenty seven silver and gold artefacts, gold jewellery, votive plaques and a silver figurine. Mr. Meek contacted a local archaeologist immediately and an excavation was undertaken to establish the finds context. The hoard was later dated to the late 3rd to 4th Century and was possibly connected to a shrine or temple dedicated to the Roman Goddess Senuna. This hoard was reported to The Portable Antiquities Scheme (Bland, (2009), 65).
Unfortunately, metal detecting is a major contribution in the looting of archaeological sites worldwide. The Icklingham Bronzes were discovered and taken without the landowner’s knowledge or permission and were exported illegally. The site in which they were removed from was a scheduled site. Metal detectorists also destroy archaeological sites because of their complete disregard for the archaeological information they contain (Cook, (1991), 537). Treasure hunters or ‘night hawkers’ have destroyed 188 Scheduled Ancient Monuments and have also destroyed thirty seven out of fifty archaeological excavation sites by attacking them for the looting of antiquities during a five year period. Night hawkers trade their discoveries to dealers who disregard any provenence or legal documentation. To deter night hawkers and rogue metal detectorists, it is possible to monitor the trading of antiquities and enforce prosecution (Bland, (2009), 68-69).
Museum curators are in a position ofa high responsibility to ensure any unprovenenced antiquities for display or purchase are not illegally excavated, looted or smuggled from their country of origin. These antiquities must be accompanied with an evidence of provenence (Cook, (1991), 534). Preventing the trade of antiquities would restrict museum collections and displays; therefore, it is at the museum’s discretion and attitude of acquiring legal antiquities (Blum, (2002), 6). Antiquity forgeries are also considered by the museum curator, therefore, documentation of authenticity and provenence is paramount before an artefact is considered for purchase and display. Many National and International museums now work alongside UNESCO to control the illegal importing and exporting of these artefacts because of the increasing illegal looting and trading of antiquities (Editorial, (1970), 171), by introducing an ‘Acquisition Policy’, this policy is to not acquire any artefact if there is any reason of doubt of it’s country of origin and devoid of appropriate export documentation (Cook, (1991), 534).
Today the EEC enforces a duty on each Member Of State to protect their country’s National Treasures and artefacts of a high financial value and also to remove any other country’s National Treasure or high value artefacts by January 1, 1993. These artefacts are then to be returned to their relevant state or country from where it was taken (Cookson, (2000), 295). The British Museum promotes a code of practice today by encouraging a public outreach programme of ‘Community Archaeology’ to provide opportunities for amateur archaeologists to display their discoveries in exhibitions at local museums, to obtain a greater interest in archaeology and to encourage an awareness of the illegal trade in antiquities (James, (2011), 1068, 1072).
Many stolen artefacts are sold to private collectors, who are also a problem to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. A majority of collectors may not question the provenence of an artefact, however it is possible, provenence is of little or no consideration (e-c-h-o.org). There are collectors who have purchased artefacts in ‘good faith’, unknowing that they could possibly have been illegally excavated or looted, which happened in the case of a New York Financier, Leon Levy. Mr. Levy agreed to return twenty-one antiquities from his collection since ninety three per cent of his collection was of unknown provenence (telegraph.co.uk). In the 1800’s, a private collector, Robert Mortimer from East Yorkshire, England had an interest and purchased local collections of polished axes and arrowheads. Mr. Mortimer developed his collections into a business enterprise and began trading antiquities to wealthy gentlemen to advance their own social status. Mr. Mortimer began excavating sites of burial grounds in search of antiquities to trade, eventually Mr. Mortimer began recording his excavations of which included sketches and plans. Mr. Mortimer’s recordings resulted in the aiding of artefact typology (Giles, (2006), 280-293).
There are antiquity collectors who do consider provenence and will only purchase artefacts with a known provenence, permits for export, within the same country and will only purchase from accredited dealers (Chesterman, (1991), 538).
The Portable Antiquity Scheme has encouraged a tremendous amount of discovered artefacts recorded onto the scheme’s database through a public outreach project. In 2010, there were 90,146 archaeological finds and 859 treasure finds recorded, this is an increase of thirty six per cent of finds and ten per cent of treasure finds since 2009 (finds.org.uk). Recorded artefacts have varied from copper alloy rings, dated to the middle of the 17th Century, a copper alloy sword chape, dating to the 17th Century, an iron dagger, discovered in London, dating the 16th to 17th Century and a silver spur from Rossett, near Wrexham in North Wales. The spur contains a hallmark dating to 1763 (Egan, (2010), 223-232).
The increase of recorded artefacts provides evidence of The Portable Antiquities Scheme’s success, however, the scheme’s Treasure Act is not preventing the illegal looting and trading of important archaeological artefacts.
It is possible; The Portable Antiquities Scheme encourages looters and metal detectorists to search for ‘Treasure’ because the public is becoming aware of antiquities and their monetary value. Night hawking is declining, however, it is still occurring, archaeological sites are still destroyed regularly and also antiquities are still illegally imported and exported (pia-journal.co.uk), therefore, The Portable Antiquities Scheme is not successful in controlling the illegal trading of antiquities.
A possible solution would require antiquity dealers, collectors, owners and metal detectorists to obtain an ‘Antiquity License’, this license could possibly assist in the prevention of illegal antiquity trading and exportation.
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