The Treasure Act onsulatation 2019 - SOAG  response

The DCMS  has initiated a consultation on a reviewing the Treasure Act, which was open for comments until April 30 2019.


Whilst the review is mainly about definitions of treasure, valuation etc and not that relevant to SOAG, hidden away at the very end (page 40/1, para 142), is something that is very important to SOAG. The proposal is to adopt the system as in N Ireland where 'archaeological digging of any sort ... is only allowed by permit.' This could seriously affect the way we work. Acordingly SOAG submitted the following text in response:

Dear Sirs,

On behalf of the South Oxfordshire Archaeological Group, I attach our response form. We have in this form provided only a summary of our response (due to the size constraints) at Question 30, and make a full response below.

I have read and understood the ‘Disclosure of Responses statement’ for this consultation.

Question 30

The South Oxfordshire Archaeology Group (SOAG) was formed in 1969, and is this year celebrating its 50th anniversary. It has over 140 members and is one of the foremost amateur archaeology groups in the south-east of England.

SOAG’s success is down to delivering a wide range of amateur archaeology activities to members, focussed on extensive fieldwork excavation projects. It involves a wide range of the community in these projects, from school-children, work experience teenagers, archaeology students, through to senior citizens often starting new hobbies and careers post retirement. A number of members have archaeological qualifications, and others have relevant skills such as software design, architecture, project management etc that all contribute to the success of projects. Excavation project leaders, inter alia, have MAs/MScs in archaeology taken after retirement from their first careers.

SOAG seeks to work to professional standards, liaises with commercial and professional organisations to achieve this, and also works with them.  SOAG collaborates with similar amateur archaeology societies in neighbouring areas, who work to the same high standards of professionalism. The amateur archaeology sector in England is therefore a success story, and SOAG feels this, to a large extent, is down to the current legislation which allows organisations to come to direct agreements with landowners to excavate a site. Because of the restrictive permit process in Northern Ireland there is very little involvement of the public directly in archaeological excavation, and SOAG therefore feels it would be detrimental to the sector in England to introduce permits for archaeological digging (paragraph 142, last bullet point).

SOAG also considers the first bullet point of paragraph 142, that all archaeological objects become the property of the Crown, to be unworkable in England, where the number of finds is already far more than in Scotland. It would be costly to administer, particularly with regard to Roman ceramic building materials, which are regularly unearthed in great and weighty quantities.

Many of the suggestions in the consultation paper that directly concern metal detectorists are sensible, especially revising the definition of treasure. SOAG also supports better regulation of metal detectorists, though would add that generally there has been a great improvement in the relationship between both parties. SOAG has a good relationship with a properly constituted local metal detecting group, who work under our project leaders’ direction during excavations as an additional technical resource. It is to be regretted that many of the consultation’s sensible proposals around metal detecting and the definition of treasure are spoiled by the attempt in paragraph 142 to include proposals for the wider amateur archaeological sector that would cause a lot of harm to this thriving sector in England.

SOAG is a member of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA), who recently surveyed the amateur archaeology sector. The findings agreed with our own views on the need for enhanced training for amateurs, specifically to ensure that full use is made of the latest digital platforms to enable advice and guidance to be readily available, developing learning and training on a county basis, and how this learning could then be extended into an accreditation scheme. Central government, working with the CBA, could have a role to play in this area, possibly leading to a regulation system for societies such as SOAG.

In conclusion, we are very concerned that the proposal indicated at paragraph 142 could compromise the outcomes and the contributions to archaeological knowledge we and the amateur archaeology body have achieved. Implementing a Northern Ireland style permit system would lead to a decrease in public involvement in archaeology, would be bureaucratic and lead to increased costs for the public purse in its implementation.

Yours faithfully,

Michael Vincent (SOAG Secretary)