Saturday, 28 March 2009

Newark Aircraft Crash Site Questions

On this blog we have previously discussed the varying accounts of the discovery of the Newark Torc and the legal issues involved in the finding of this item which has become a sort of flagship of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Readers may recall that previous media accounts initially indicated that it in fact came from searching with a metal detector one of the few types of site in the UK (WW2 aircraft crash site) which every responsible "metal detectorist" in the country surely knows needs a search permit for "metal detecting" to be carried out legally. We have seen that although it was admitted in the first press accounts that finder Maurice Richardson was searching a WW2 aeroplane crash site, for some reason very quickly a different version of the story was later being circulated by the British media, playing down the question of the proximity to the crash site. Our enquiries from the relevant authorities suggested that no search permit had been issued for this site before the discovery. Our question addressed to the British Museum's Treasure Unit whether they has ascertained that proper procedures were followed in before processing the case suspiciously went without answer. Our enquiries addressed to the archaeological unit that investigated the site drew an ambiguous and incomplete answer. The question therefore remains.

Today Maurice Richardson gives in his own candid words an account of the discovery: 'I discovered priceless Iron Age treasure' The Guardian, Saturday 28 March 2009). He writes as follows:
That February afternoon I had a couple of hours to spare and a location in mind. But it was raining as I parked the car, so I had to settle for a closer spot I knew to be peppered with shrapnel from a crashed wartime aircraft. The first time my detector bleeped, it was shrapnel I uncovered. As I bagged it, the detector swung on my arm and bleeped again.
Again, no mention of him chosing on the spur of the moment to search a site for which he had previously obtained a permit to search and made the necessary arrangements. So was Mr Richardson in possession of a search permit for this aircraft crash site on the basis of which he was in February last year bagging part of the wreck? (Why, in fact, was he taking it away?)

Maybe in the light of this publication of a fresh story, the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the British Museum's Treasure Department might like to issue a statement about "responsible metal detecting" of WW2 crash sites and in particular their handling of this Newark Treasure case in order to set to rest the nagging doubts that the fresh account raises.

At the end of his story, Maurice Richardson writes:
But those buckles, brooches and coins are no less interesting now. Besides, if a fisherman catches a big fish, he doesn't give up - not while there's the chance of a bigger fish tomorrow.
Perhaps he has ambitions to go back and recover the whole aircraft - but to do it legally he should be informed by the "metal detectorists'" new "partner", the Portable Antiquities Scheme that he needs to apply for a permit first. Would that be too much to ask?


Marcus Preen said...

So did he get the full reward on the grounds his behaviour was exemplary?

Or was it reduced, on the grounds it wasn't?

Paul Barford said...

Well, this is something I think we would all like to know. The PAS is keeping very quiet - but whose money and whose heritage is it we are discussing here? Should the British public be required to enter a FOI request for the information that is theirs by rights? Why are they constantly being told only half the story about artefact hunting, hunters and their finds? Where's the transparency of heritage decision-making here?

In any case grubbing this torc up in the dark as the finder candidly describes in the latest article was hardly what the Code of Practice prescribes. Again this is something the PAS is time and time again failing to point out in its press releases.

The finder mentions he was afraid if he left it in the ground somebody else might come along in the night and take it. Let's take this argument to its 'logical' conclusion. (Is it actually a logical conclusion if somebody is digging in the middle of a field at dusk that a passing "nighthawk" WILL inevitably spot him? That rather suggests that this "metal detectorist" thinks that "nighthawking" and "nighthawkers" are not as thin on the ground as a certain institution's interpretation of a certain recent strategic report would suggest)....

The longer and deeper the finder digs the more of a trace he's going to leave for anyone to come along and find other elements that might have been buried there. When he took the decision to start to dig it out, the finder had no way of knowing it was not a hoard or a grave. This is why the Treasure Act Code of Practice says they should leave it in the ground. Not that anybody pays any attention to that. Not that the finders are in any way penalised for ignoring that.

What also is the betting that before long finders of Treasure will be asked not to write for newspapers their OWN accounts of what they did and did not do without clearing it with their "partners" in the PAS/BM first, just to make sure they do not say anything out of turn?

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