Saturday, 3 January 2015

No to Hurried Hoard Hoiking: "How to Hinder Nighthawks"

The 'Lenborough hoad best practice fail' is not by any means the first time something like this has happened. A metal detectorist finds something important, but digs it out in excitement. Most of the time they give the paranoid excuse that if they left it in the ground a moment longer the nighthawks might come and steal it. In the case of a rally the chances are increased, they argue, by the number of folk who saw it and saw where it was and may talk about it. (Interesting isn't it that all the time they claim they are all responsible, and the nighthawks are 'only a very tiny minority', but when a few are gathered in the name of a rally, they then say there is a good chance that one of them IS a nighthawk.) So obviously rally organizers need to think of other ways of dealing with this 'nighthawks everywhere' problem than simply hoiking teh whole thing out in flagrant disregard to the Treasure Act Code of Practice.

Buckinghamshire's FLO is still on holiday, so we'll have to wait for her version of why, being actually on the site of a major hoard discovery on 21st December, she did not put a stop to the digging in order to preserve information about its context and structure. Instead, according to a video record made at the time, with nothing more than a paint stripper and a Sainsbury's carrier bag, she attempted in the last hours of daylight to scoop the whole lot out in a hurry (quite a difference from the way a hoard in Jersey is currently being dissected - also by a small museum like hers, or the Bath Beau Street hoard where individual bags of coins which make up the deposit are being carefully recorded). My guess is she will say that since loads of nice people in the Weekend Wanderers had seen the first few coins, there was a danger that one or more of them may be tempted to come back at night and pinch the lot under the cover of darkness. That's the usual explanation. So how to STOP that from happening? What simple easy methods could be applied - using materials readily available to the finders or on a farm (it's the landowners' hoard until the inquest and his or her responsibility) to achieve this? The PAS have issued guidelines on this * and this is what  they suggest after seventeen years of frustrating experience with this very problem, but also trying to instil best practice among finders and get them to respect the Treasure Act Code of Practice:
Before the Event:
Consider and establish the procedure to be followed in the event an important find is made while metal detecting. (See also the Guidance for Organisers of Metal Detecting Rallies)

Make sure the landowner of a site where a search is due to take place is appraised of and acquiescent to this procedure and obtain assurance that if needed, he or she will allow access to the land by a team of archaeologists for the time required to deal with any sensitive find after the event.
In groups or clubs, appoint (elect) a Treasure Officer to stay on the site and guard it if something unexpected is found. He should arrive at each event with appropriate warm clothing and blankets, a thermos, refreshment and fully charged mobile phone (for making emergency calls). A van or tent should be available to bring to the site for him to sleep in. If two officers are appointed one can relieve the other - or keep him company. Failure of the Treasure Officer or an appropriate delegate to turn up or be able to stay overnight should mean cancelling the event.

Until any coroner's inquest, responsibility for the archaeological finds on his land is borne by the landowner. Events should be organized on days when the landowner is available for immediate contact, and issuing decisions and assistance. If the landowner is away, the event should be cancelled.

If something is Found that requires archaeological intervention 

1) Inform the landowner and explain the situation, give him or her the contact details of the FLO.

2) Contact, or leave a message for, the FLO (please respect their privacy at weekends or evenings), stating clearly the nature of the find and requesting an on-site meeting.

3) Inform the local police of the discovery and request that patrols note any suspicious activity in the region of the findspot (which you will have to give them) over the next few weeks. Offer to meet an officer on the site to explain the situation, and supply information who has permission to be on the site.

4) Take measures to secure the site.

To prevent unauthorised detector use and digging before archaeologists can arrive:
With the full agreement and help of the landowner, take measures to secure the site such as:

1) park a big bit of low-body farm plant straddling the findspot and remove the keys,

2) Get the finder or rally organizer to park his car or van straddled over the hole, immobilise it.

3) Lay out thick wire netting and (if no animals in the field) barbed wire staked down in several directions crossing the findspot - removing that in the dark will be difficult.

4) Place pallets over the findspot and pile straw bales interspersed with tarpaulin between the layers, place a tarp over the whole lot and tie down.

5) Somebody (the finder or a club's Treasure officer) should stay the night guarding the find, it is not recommenced that he be armed (injuring a trespasser unless in clear cases of self-defence can lead to legal consequences).

6) The landowner could hire a security firm to provide round-the-clock presence of trained security guard,
7) The electronic device produced for HAPPAH in France could be installed temporarily on the site to set off an alarm if a metal detector is used in the vicinity of the findspot. The PAS so far has not purchased any of these devices, though clubs might want to consider purchasing one for use of its members.

8) In Scotland a ferocious bull was tethered near the findspot of one hoard (not recommended, nighthawks presumably are not afraid of meeting big farm animals in the dark).
If readers have any other ideas how to achieve this it would be good to collect them together, and we can send them to the PAS.

* Actually, surprising though it may seem, the PAS have NOT in seventeen years of outreach and the Treasure Act Code of Practice, issued any such suggestions, let alone guidelines. One might ask why not, and how many more million quid they'd like before getting around to it.


Brian Curtiss said...

At risk of wearying the host with too much of the guest's casserole, I have to post that I really thought this offers fairly simple, concrete and extremely reasonable and beneficial suggestions to address at least part of the problem. I am not really knowledgable enough to supplement this with suggestions of my own, but I hope others will. I can't see how anyone could really find issue with these ideas - even the collectors that oppose your perspectives generally could not possibly deny the positives that would come out of doing these things. So if they don't do them, it really couldn't be that they cant see the benefits, but rather just don't care. That seems an aweful shame to me. Prospectors seem often to have a genuine appreciation of the finds and their historic significance ( I'm referring to the coin collectors), so why not really walk the walk and preserve not just the objects but the knowledge that comes from the proper handling gf the site?

Paul Barford said...

Well, Brian, the fact that there has been absolutely zero comeback on these suggestions indicates just what it is we are dealing with.

It is no use assuming a-la-normal-person that "collectors could not possibly [ignore] the positives that would come out of doing these things", but we should look at the fact that they do. That is the difference between the fluffy bunny policies and the reality that lies hidden behind them which this blog attempts to address.

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