‘New laws needed to protect archaeological heritage’ – McKevitt
SDLP Culture spokesperson Karen McKevitt MLA has called for a review of the current laws around archaeological artefacts.
Speaking on an Assembly debate on the issue, the South Down MLA said: “The legislation currently in place states that any archaeological artifacts discovered at a site belong to the property developer. There is no reference to the care, protection and preservation of the artifacts and no practiced policy of passing the objects into the care of a government body. These gaps in legislation have led to a situation where there is no overall responsibility for the archaeological excavation process from the beginning to end.”
According to McKevitt, the current legal framework is insufficient in allowing for the passing of archaeological objects obtained through the planning process to move to museums. “The number of archaeological objects obtained over the last twenty years which remain outside of the museum system is thought to be vast, although we do not know exactly how many artifacts are in the possession of archaeological groups and property developers.”
She continued, “It is of grave concern to me as without accounting for these artifacts we cannot monitor their movement or ensure that they are protected and cared for. By not taking ownership of what could be important artifacts we risk losing what could be of great significance when looking at our shared past and heritage and by doing so our history will remain buried. Of-course the existence alone of these archaeological artifacts would be pointless if the public are not aware of them and unable to access them.”
McKevitt insists a survey needs to be undertaken so that we can learn what artifacts are held by developers and archaeological groups. “We then need to plan what to do about these artifacts, should they all be automatically brought into the care of museums or should we distinguish between those which tell us the most about our heritage. One idea is developing a centralized storage unit for these artifacts.”
“We need to review legislation and the licensing system to develop a practice of passing important archaeological artifacts obtained through development led planning into the care of our museums so that we can all learn more about our heritage and shared history. It is imperative that we address the gaps in policy and legislation in order to safeguard our archaeological heritage,” she added.
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