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4. Manx Archaeological Objects Legislation - Discussion

Generally, the portable antiquities legislation on the Isle of Man works well in practice. The legal requirement to report enables the national heritage agency to keep track of what is being found and where, which obviously is important for the knowledge and interpretation of the Island's history, but also for informing the responses to development in the landscape of the Isle of Man. The finders of archaeological objects are generally keen to share their discoveries and the relatively high number of donations to the national collections shows an additional appreciation of the need to preserve the items for future research and interpretation.

The provisions within the legislation for licensing export, alteration and/or damage to archaeological objects allow a certain amount of control over what happens to Manx heritage, and this applies to objects whether they form part of the national collections or whether they are in private hands or owned by other organisations. It is important to stress that these regulations apply to all Manx archaeological objects, no matter how they came to light, whether through the use of metal detectors, fieldwalking, development-led work or research excavation. This ability to monitor locally and control what happens to artefacts found on the Isle of Man is a huge advantage to ensuring that: a) nothing untoward happens to them, and b) results of any fieldwork are passed back to the heritage agency for wider dissemination.

Specifically with regard to metal detecting on the Island, the legal requirement to report works well, and the importance of this to the archaeological record is fully acknowledged. metal-detector users on the Island assist in giving advice to newcomers either to the hobby or to the Isle of Man, and are valuable colleagues in the monitoring of what finds are being made. The very positive response to the idea of a publicly accessible database has been tempered only with the suggestion, by the Manx Detectorists Society, that some kind of registration be required to access the database, which would enable guidelines for use to be accepted.

For those who know about the different Manx legislation, then, it works well. However, informing those who do not know still needs some attention. The need to make contact with MNH to find out about what to do if something is found means that more direct advice can be given and the intention of fieldwork in whatever form can be noted, but it is not ideal. The legislation differs from that in the UK and Ireland and MNH, as the main advisory body, has a duty to make this as widely known as possible to avoid any confusion. This is something that is being worked on and, hopefully, improvements will be seen over the next year or so.

The legislation for Manx Archaeological Objects in general is therefore adequate. Improvements do need to be made on making the procedures more widely known and a wider range of ways that people can access first-stage advice is essential.

With regard to Treasure Trove, this is an area that is seeing some radical changes and is long overdue for review. The Isle of Man is suffering from the economic downturn as much as anywhere else and there is the prospect of the government having to find more funds to pay more rewards if the definition of Treasure Trove is expanded. Essentially, funding for treasure has to be sought from sources external to MNH. Any request for additional funding, such as the acquisition of treasure, must be approved by the Manx parliament, Tynwald, and funding requests, in the past, have been for the sum of the reward only. There is still no real prospect of extra provisions for conservation, interpretation or secure display of Treasure Trove. Despite this, the responses to the new legislation have been largely positive from those to whom it would apply.

As elsewhere, even on an Island 33 miles by 15 with a population of just over 80,000, policing the legislation can be a challenge. But, a watchful eye on sales of Manx archaeological objects, close monitoring (by all those with an interest in the heritage of the Isle of Man) of activity in relation to their discovery, and the quick and helpful response to enquiries about the requirements, all go a long way to help to keep things as they should be. In addition, there is little objection to the legal requirement to report discoveries, rather than it being on a voluntary basis.

The disagreement resulting from the discovery of the Glenfaba Hoard will, I believe, lead to a fairer and more transparent procedure for finds of Manx Treasure. It is hoped that the new legislation will be in place within the next couple of years but, in the meantime, acting in the spirit of the new Act will be beneficial to all concerned.

As we all know, artefacts help to illustrate the archaeological story, which in turn connects the wider community to that story. Discoveries of archaeological objects in the Island usually elicit an interest from the local media, along with excitement and pride from finders. Nothing particularly innovative there, but that connection and interest is vital to maintain the high standards of heritage preservation and presentation that have been recognised on the Isle of Man. The community of the Isle of Man has a pride in its heritage, which is backed up by the legislation in place to protect that heritage. There are still issues to be resolved, but with advice from colleagues elsewhere and, crucially, the support of the community to whom it belongs, the future is looking secure for archaeological objects from the Isle of Man that help illustrate our past.


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File last updated: Thu Feb 28 2013