Portable Antiquities Scheme

Department for Culture Media and Sport written question – answered on 20th January 2015.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy (Jointly with Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy (Jointly with Department for Culture Media and Sport)

I have made no formal assessment of the effectiveness of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The Portable Antiquities Scheme, through its network of Finds Liaison Officers, does an outstanding job in encouraging the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public. Since 1997 more than one million finds have been recorded in this way and made publicly available online through the Scheme. The Scheme also has an important educational role and allows children and adults alike to learn about archaeology, get involved, and discover the past. The Scheme is managed by the British Museum and funded through DCMS’s grant-in-aid to the British Museum, with local partner contributions. The funding allocation for the Portable Antiquities Scheme for the period between 2011/12 and 2014/15 has been ring-fenced with the funding reduction over this period minimised to less than 5%.

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Paul Barford
Posted on 22 Jan 2015 5:21 pm (Report this annotation)

It seems to me that a "formal assessment of the effectiveness of the Portable Antiquities Scheme" is not simply a description of what it is intended to do.

The PAS's own figures published on p. 14 of the 'Guide for Researchers', produced as part of the Leverhulme Trust funded project 'The Portable Antiquities Scheme as a tool for archaeological research', indicate that metal detectorists alone are removing something like 260,000 objects from the archaeological record a year. Given that the PAS has for some time been capable of recording only around 80,000 finds per year from all finders (Ibid.), it is difficult to consider this as in any way an "outstanding" result.

The annual 180 000 artefact shortfall indicated by the PAS's own figures means that every six years another million archaeological artefacts dug up by artefact hunters are simply disappearing into private collections or onto the antiquities market without adequate record under current 'heritage' policies.

In England and Wales, the government is significantly under-resourcing the Scheme to a degree which prevents it making up the difference or even recording all finds reported to it.