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The French Heritage Act, a law against the circulation and conservation of archeological data

January 21, 2016 – Since late September 2015, the French Parliament has been examining and discussing a proposed law named “Culture: Freedom to create, architecture and heritage”. This Heritage Act (Loi Patrimoine) has also serious repercussions for coin collecting as it might discourage discoverers from reporting their finds. Here you can read an assessment of the situation expressed by Cgb.fr.

Possible repercussions for coin collecting

How does the named proposal affect coin collecting? Article L541-4 of the proposed law would award any movable archeological items to the French government found by chance on any land purchased after the law’s enactment: [... Movable archeological goods are considered as belonging to the State as soon as they are discovered during an archeological operation in the event of a fortuitous discovery, ...]

Article 20 of the proposed law “Culture: Freedom to create, architecture and heritage” was adopted after a first reading on 2 October 2015 at the French National Assembly. It is henceforth being discussed in the Senate (since France has a two-chamber system).
Even if this demonstrates a commendable intention to protect and monitor archeological goods, which are essential to cultural heritage, the risk of such an action would coerce discoverers to no longer officially declare their treasure. 

Two different scenarios are possible

Depending on the land’s purchase date, if the proposal is definitively adopted, there would be two different case scenarios for discoverers:
1 – discoverers who could claim half ownership of the goods discovered,
2 – discoverers fully stripped of ownership. Moreover, it is clear that this article breaches the basic principle of equality of all citizens written in the French Constitution.

Such a measure would definitely no longer encourage individuals who have made fortuitous discoveries to declare them. It would have a prejudicial effect on historical knowledge which is counterproductive to its purpose. Individuals finding archeological treasures would very likely be tempted to declare a discovery site different from the actual site. Archeological maps would then be incorrect, and such declarations would not allow for archeological work to be carried out at the site. It would thus be impossible to associate this discovery with a specific archeological context. 

Three amendments already rejected

Three amendments proposed by Cgb.fr were forwarded by two Assembly members during a debate at the French National Assembly to challenge this principle of appropriation of archeological discoveries, fortuitous or otherwise, by the State. It comes as no surprise that the three amendments were rejected, but since they were submitted to the Assemblée Nationale, we can hope that the French Senate will see things in a different light and be more discerning. 

On the same note, in its opinion dated 2 July 2015, the Conseil Constitutionnel (French Council of State, a public agency which advises the government, in particular for proposed laws) expressed serious reservations about the presumption of public ownership for items discovered fortuitously independently of any intervention by the French government. The French Economic, Social and Environmental Council also gave an unfavourable opinion dated 22 June 2015, by highlighting the adverse effects of this measure which would undermine protection and promotion of archeological treasures discovered fortuitously. 

Despite these unfavourable opinions, the proposed law continues along its course, fervently defended by the French Minister of Culture and Communication, Fleur Pellerin.

The Cgb.fr team has been rallying support against this proposal for nearly two years. For reading comments about this law and its consequences, please click here.

This is the website of Cgb.fr.

Please find more information about the law here.

And if you want to compare this measure to, let’s say, the British approach, please read more about its Portable Antiquities Scheme here.

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