A Heritage Environment Record including all of Gibraltar’s antiquities and other heritage assets is to be compiled by the Gibraltar Museum.
“Gibraltar has many interesting and valuable antiquities, many of which already form part of the Gibraltar Museum collection, and many others which have been found by individuals on land and in the sea and which are in people’s homes,” said Heritage Minister Dr John Cortes at a press conference where he was flanked by Marcello Sanguinetti from the Heritage Ministry, the Director of the Gibraltar Museum Professor Clive Finlayson and the newly appointed Government Archaeologist who will take up his appointment shortly, Dominic Lopez.
The Government now wants to place all these items of heritage importance presently in Gibraltar on record.
Many of the antiquities may form part of the Gibraltar Museum collection but it is believed there are many others which are held by individuals locally.
Effectively, stated Dr Cortes, the Government was asking the public to take this opportunity to let the Museum record all those items of local history that may be in people’s homes, so that everyone can be aware of the “full richness of our heritage”.
“Some items may be property which people have inherited and are relevant to the Rock’s heritage. Then there are items which people may have found themselves whilst walking up the Rock or on the beach or in the sea, and taken them home.”
These were two very different things, he explained.
In the first instance if it is one’s own property then people have every legal right to keep them. But in the second instance the law does require that if someone finds an antiquity locally they must take it into the Gibraltar Museum.
This could include things like cannon balls or military artefacts.
At the press conference there were examples of several items found by divers such as gin bottles with the Gibraltar insignia, clay pipes all from different stages in history all with different designs.
Dr Cortes himself recently found a Roman terracotta figurine in the area of Princess Caroline Battery which he informed the Museum about and has now been recorded as part of the collection. It is known that there was a Roman factory in Algeciras. Both examples shown at the press conference could have been offerings (because they are broken) and would have probably made there, said Professor Finlayson.
Dr Cortes said that having received a licence for the figurine he decided it would be best to give it to the museum for research purposes.
Professor Finlayson said there had been several finds of this kind which had now opened up a new avenue of research to find out why so many were being found locally.
“This new initiative is an excellent one and we at the museum welcome it, and in particular the amnesty as this will give us a lot of information. But I would stress, that there is a law which says that if you do find something you have to bring it in. I would further stress that if you do find something and you can leave it where you found it, and tell us about it, this would be best too. Remember that the moment it gets taken out we could lose valuable information which could be recorded,” added Professor Finlayson.
The aim, he said, would be to eventually publish a list of the items on record.
Dr Cortes was keen to emphasis the distinction between heritage items that have been in someone’s possession and can prove provenance and those that are found. The Curator would be interested in recording both items that are in ownership and items that have been found, he stated.
He then added that the law had never been enforced but that now the Government felt something needed to be done about it.
“Not from the point of view of removing items that perhaps somebody has become attached to which they may have picked up years ago, but because we feel that there is a need to record all these items because they have a historical and heritage value.”
Between now and 25 May, people will be given the opportunity to come forward with these items.
“We are calling it an amnesty,” said Dr Cortes.
“If they are your property and you want that to be looked at, assessed and catalogued because there should be a record then it is your property and you will keep it, but we will also be able to catalogue it.”
Professor Finlayson said every item taken to them would be carefully examined and the person would be issued with a licence.
In the case of items owned by a person and the wants to keep the item then it will be catalogued and the person will be licenced to keep it but the Museum will have it on record.
“Clearly if it is something exceptional, and someone walks in with another Neanderthal skull for example, then it would obviously have to stay in the Museum. But there will be flexibility and we really want to encourage people to come forward without fear.”
For items found a recommendation will be made as to whether it should preferably be kept as part of the Museum collection, for which a receipt and acknowledgement would be provided, or that a licence is issued for retention of the item.
This would allow the individual presenting the antiquity the opportunity to gain information about the item and to legally retain it, and this would not unreasonably be withheld, as the priority is the recording of the artefact.
Present at the press conference and supporting the initiative was the Chairman of the Gibraltar Heritage Trust Ian Balestrino and CEO Claire Montado who pointed out this kind of scheme had been introduced in others countries and had proven to be very useful and successful.
“In the UK it has existed for almost 20 years and it has built real communities of people who have a really good working relationship with museums and people then get to know what they have.
It adds value to your item because you have the story that goes with it and it is part of a valuable collection,” said Mrs Montado.
If you have any item you would like to record in the collection you can contact: The Curator, The Gibraltar Museum 18-20 Bomb House Lane. Tel 200 74289.