Letter: Legal protection for antiquities found in British soil

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article 'Ploughing, delving, discovery' (2 March), referring to Lord Perth's new Treasure Bill, is a timely reminder of the lamentable state of Britain's legal protection for our portable antiquities. The problem has always been with us, but has been made very much more acute in the past 20 years by the advent of 'metal detecting' as a hobby and a profession.

Last year this society, together with the Council for British Archaeology and the Museums Association, issued a statement of principles, in which we stressed the need for all archaeological material found in the soil to be reported to a competent authority. We urged that reporting be made a legal obligation on the finder, and that all items be regarded as Crown property in the first instance. Such a system would allow for finds of national importance to be retained in public collections (after payment of compensation) while the rest - by far the greatest proportion - could be assigned to the ownership of the finder or landowner.

The principles behind this are clear - archaeological finds are an integral part of our national heritage and should be properly recorded. As things stand, a huge number of finds, probably hundreds of thousands, are gouged from the soil, often illegally, and dispersed without notice to the antiques trade and into private collections. The individual may gain, but the nation loses.

Lord Perth's Bill may not go as far as many may want, but it will be a dramatic improvement on our present medieval laws and will move antiquities in England and Wales a little closer to the state they enjoy in most of the rest of the civilised world.

Yours faithfully,

BARRY CUNLIFFE

President

Society of Antiquaries

London, W1

2 March

(Photograph omitted)

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