Britain’s archaeologists are dumping tens of thousands of unrecorded finds; pottery fragments; flint tools; medieval coins; for no better reason – they claim – than a lack of proper storage facilities. This deplorable situation was first revealed back in June 2016, by Patrick Sawer, the Daily Telegraph’s Senior Reporter.
Whereas the UK’s detectorists have and are documenting well over a million artefacts on the UK Government-financed Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), or, with the privately run the United Kingdom Detector Finds Database (UKDFD), the reverse is catastrophically occurring in the archaeological world.
The crisis of which Sawer writes, “is having,” he reckons, ”a particular impact on community archaeology groups who have been told that cuts in funding mean local museums can no longer afford to store and curate their finds.” In more extreme cases – he claims in his troubling exposé – thousands of historical fragments are simply being dumped in skips.
The experts at Culture Syndicates, a team of professional arts and heritage consultants, reflect Sawer’s words by recognising all is not well as can be seen from their website: –
Patrick Sawer’s article cites Professor Carenza Lewis, doyen of the archaeology programme, Time Team, “Everything we throw away is lost knowledge.” Prof Lewis also points out that records must be kept of the material’s whereabouts so that future researchers can study aspects of our past.
One previously mooted answer, is for ‘archaeology’ to become in part, self-funding by selling off what it doesn’t need to collectors after having been properly recorded.
Equally important perhaps, is the urgent need for farmers and landowners to know precisely what artefacts they have allowed excavators to be carted off and equally vital, whether they want them returned. Artefacts dumped without the knowledge of their owners is theft and might well place a well-meaning archaeologist in an invidious position. It would be equitable if landowners, farmers, and archaeologists entered into negotiated Finds Agreements of the kind pioneered by Britain’s detectorists to protect everyone’s interests.
The promotion of responsible archaeology is a view shared by many and a major platform of the US-based Global Heritage Alliance (GHA), an organisation advocating the interests of collectors, museums, and the trade in archaeological and ethnological objects. “Without collectors,” the GHA says, “there would be no museums.”
The GHA also calling for not only greater scrutiny of archaeological excavations but to stamp out the exploitation of locally employed native labour, where miserable wages at excavations amount to archaeological ‘sweat shops’. The GHA is committed and rightly so, to enhancing those archaeological practices of which archaeology seems to be in denial or loath to implement.
The GHA advocates, “that archaeological digs be subject to reasonable regulation aimed at ensuring site security, the prompt publication of finds and the provision for fair, living wages for local employees.”
Who could disagree with that?