EAA statement on the Protection and Care of Heritage in Poland

10 August 2023

Adopted by the Executive Board of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA), on behalf of the Association

Further archaeological organizations that strongly support the EAA statement: DGUF - German Society for Pre- and Protohistory (www.DGUF.de)

The President and Board of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) express their deep concern about the proposed amendments to the Act on The Protection and Care of Historical Monuments, 2003, in Poland. We appeal to the Polish parliament to vote against the amendments which will result in far-reaching changes to the existing legislation on artefact hunting with metal detectors. 

We call on all Polish parliamentarians to do everything possible to safeguard the Polish heritage from being plundered by metal detectorists and to prevent cultural heritage from being lost and destroyed.

The EAA is in particular concerned about the following points:

  • The amendments will eliminate the need for various permits;
  • The amendments will only require reporting after objects have been removed from the ground, without the provincial Conservator of Historical Monuments being able to influence or monitor the methods used on site;
  • The current requirement of written consent of the landowner has changed so that it can be obtained without any control; 
  • The amendments provide no protection at all to historic battlefields or newly discovered archaeological sites;
  • The amendments plan to provide financial rewards to treasure hunters and metal detectorists for each find of special historical, artistic or scientific value. This will encourage even more people to carry out metal detecting. 

The EAA is also concerned that, under the new notification system, people with currently illegal collections of archaeological artefacts, will be given the opportunity to monetise their collections by declaring objects from them as fresh finds. These false provenances will distort our knowledge of Poland’s archaeological record and understanding of the country’s past.

The amendments will not only significantly decrease the level of protection of Poland's cultural heritage but will also have a major impact on looting and illicit trafficking of cultural heritage in Europe. It will be possible to register to carry out searches with just a passport number, opening the door to treasure hunting tourism in Poland for foreign citizens.

The amended law will make it possible to legalise in Poland finds illegally acquired in other countries. Conditions will be created where these artefacts could be falsely reported to have been found somewhere in Poland, and thus be eligible for prize money. This will lead to a significant increase in imports of artefacts from, for example, Ukraine, where looting has now reached alarming proportions.

The EAA considers archaeological heritage to be an integral part of the environment. In situ buried archaeological artefacts, and their context, form a non-renewable resource. The EAA works for the protection of archaeological remains and cultural heritage, including the prevention of illegal activities (Statutes Art. II,8). It is our view that the current legal changes in Poland put the protection and preservation of cultural heritage at high risk.

Preservation in situ is a fundamental premise of the “Convention for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage of Europe (1992)”, commonly known as the Valletta Convention. The importance of preservation in situ is reinforced in the new European Standard on Cultural heritage, EN 17652:2022, “Assessment and monitoring of archaeological deposits for preservation in situ”.

Preservation in situ is the most effective method for the conservation of archaeological remains. Once artefacts are removed from their stable burial environment, the preservation state of objects that have remained intact for centuries can deteriorate rapidly. When excavation of artefacts is unavoidable, the burial context must be recorded methodically and in detail, as the contextual information is what provides us with the evidence-based narrative of the find site and the objects in it. Hobbyist metal-detecting - in rural agricultural and woodland landscapes in particular - presents a large-scale ongoing threat to our heritage.

The Scientific Association of Polish Archaeologists (Stowarzyszenie Naukowe Archeologów Polskich, SNAP) has declared against the proposed amendments (https://ratuj-zabytki.pl). The EAA would like to strongly support the SNAP and express its solidarity in the fight for the protection of our common European cultural heritage.