A private hobby at public cost

As the national press was trumpeting the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard, the November/December2009 issue of British Archaeology was also reporting the financial problems the Royal Cornwall Museum encountered following its successful acquisition of an exceptional hoard of Bronze Age copper-alloy axes found in 2005. The finder and landowner shared a reward of £8,500, raised mainly by a donation from a charitable trust. The Royal Cornwall Museum meanwhile suffered funding cuts from the Museums Libraries and Archives Council resulting in the loss of 14 jobs, including that of the conservator. If the hoard had been found more recently the museum, in addition to having to raise the reward money, would also have had to find another £4000 to pay for necessary conservation of the objects. Jane Marley, Curator of Archaeology and World Cultures at the RCM is reported as saying ‘What is needed is a grant fund to pay for the conservation analysis and publication of treasure finds’

This is an extremely logical suggestion. It is unclear if any account is taken of the additional cost of cleaning stabilizing researching and publishing the information recovered from these objects in establishing an appropriate level of finders reward. Establishing a market value may seem fair but there are costs of ownership which ought to be taken into account. The public benefit of the investment made by the payment of a large finders reward is severely reduced if the consequential funding constraints mean that conservation and publication of the objects cannot take place. We see huge sums of money from public or charitable sources currently being poured into archaeological mitigation consequential on the activities of individuals undertaking what is essentially a private and destructive hobby, which it is hard to justify.