A reply to to the Position Statement
The English Heritage ‘Position Statement’ on the Valletta Convention, dated 18th July, 2001 is to some extent reassuring.
However considerable doubts must remain.
1. The relationship to the London Convention.
The Statement makes considerable play of the similarity of Article 3 to earlier statements in the London Convention of 1969. However this misses the main point, that the government failed to ratify the Valletta convention for 8 years, and then did so suddenly in 2000. To both questions we must ask Why?
The answer seems to be that objections were raised to the Valletta Convention. In particular objections were raised against Article 10 (which says that National Museums – in our case the British Museum – should not collect material from ‘uncontrolled finds’, i.e finds made in the course of building), and also article 3.
Now the status of the London convention in those 8 years must be a matter for constitutional lawyers, but the layman’s belief is that it was in abeyance.
The question that Chris Young does not tackle, is why the government suddenly decided to ratify it in 2000. Here the answer appears to be that there was pressure from the professional archaeological organisations, and that they were preparing the way for a sweeping new law on the model of the French and Italian and Irish laws. Our protest have, we hope to some extent prevented this, but vigilance will remain necessary.
2 The Contradictions.
The fundamental contradiction remains. The government said in its written statement that:
…The Government does not believe that additional legislation, requiring a licensing system, is necessary to fulfil Article 3. Much archaeological work is already controlled through existing mechanisms.
Yet Valletta says:
to ensure that excavations and other potentially destructive techniques are carried out only by qualified, specially authorised persons.
With the best will in the world, one cannot but say that these two statements are contradictory.
3. The Explanatory Notes.
There is a reference to the Explanatory Notes which accompany the Convention which does not appear to correspond to the Notes themselves.
Thus in regard to Metal Detecting, they say:
The Explanatory Notes however make it clear that a state party can restrict this to finds of precious materials.
The Explanatory Notes actually say:
Article 3, paragraph iii, governs the obligation of Parties to adopt the licensing or registration of the users of metal detectors. Firstly, such obligation applies to the cases foreseen by domestic law.
It is difficult to know what, if anything, the term ‘cases foreseen by domestic law’ mean. Certainly this does not make anything ‘clear’ and there is nothing about the restriction to finds of precious materials.
4. The Code of Conduct.
The government statement also went on:
There may be scope for developing a voluntary Code of Conduct for those who wish to undertake archaeological work outside the existing systems of control.
Fortunately, little more has been heard of this: the Council has put considerable effort into trying to draw up such a Code, and has come to the conclusion that such a code will either be rigorous and undesirably rigid, or it will be vacuous. We suspect that the government has done the same exercise, and come to the same conclusion.
It remains our view that the strength of British archaeology lies in its constant innovations, and constant adaptions to new ideas and innovations. The worst form of excavation is that done by rote, without considering the specific needs of site and strata, and the best way of ensuring the highest standards is by constant competition, and friendly rivalry. The restrictions that Valletta seeks to impose are not the way forward.