No. 56 for May 1976 Vol. V. No. 9 Published April, 1977 Edited by Andrew & Wendy Selkirk, 9 Nassington Road, London NW3 2TX, Tel. 01-435 7517
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A New Antiquities Act ?
A new Antiquities Act is on the drawing board. The proposals, which we summarise on pages 282-3 fall under three main headings. The first and most important puts ancient monuments on the same basis as the planning acts so that in future 'scheduled monument consent' wil l be required before disturbing an ancient monument. Reaction to this change wil l depend largely on one's feelings towards the planning acts generally. Those who approve of the planning acts wil l welcome the proposals. But those who feel that the planning acts have worked badly wil l regret the absence of compensation. It is all very well to applaud the benefit to one's own special interest, but what, for instance, wil l the farmers think about it? Might they not, in self-defence, ban all field-walking by archaeologists lest some new 'ancient monument' be discovered on their land?
The second major proposal is that archaeologists should be allowed a minimum period of four months to excavate any archaeological site within specified areas of archaeological importance, essentially historic towns. This is a most welcome proposal and one where, surely, we can reasonably press our claims against developers and the general public. Controversy will , however, arise over the third major innovation, the proposal that designated 'competent bodies' should have monopoly powers of excavation within their areas. This is the least convincing part of the document, and appears to be an attempt to shore up the lagging prestige of the 'units'. Yet the trouble with the units is precisely that they combine tw o functions, those of the civil servant who assesses threats, and those of the contractor who carries out excavations. These functions should be separated. The Inspectorate should set up regional offices so that they can assess the threats properly themselves, and then delegate the excavations to the best available persons.
Minor points include a warm welcome to the specific prohibition of the use of metal detectors on ancient monuments, total opposition to the Minister's attempt to extend his patronage by appointing all members of the Ancient Monuments Boards; and a demand that the new Act should specifically apply to nationalised industries and local authorities.
The final judgement must be one of admiration for the skilful balancing of this consultative document. In archaeology today, as in our society as a whole, opinion is sharply divided between those, such as many in the CBA, who wish to see increased state control of archaeology, and those like ourselves who feel that the role of the state in archaeology is already dangerously large. The Inspectorate is to be congratulated on devising such an admirable compromise between these two views.