Artefact hunters with metal detectors trespassing on historic sites or across farmers’ fields are once again causing a headache for landowners. But now police are cracking down and the heritage crime programme has handled more than 130 cases since 2011.
According to Kevin Attwood, of the National Farmers’ Union: “It is a problem in the county, and there are two levels. The first one is the low level, individuals with metal detectors looking around on land they are not meant to be on. “They are more of an irritant than anything, and when approached, they will generally leave. “The other level is more organised and tends to be on farm land, or where there are listed monuments. It’s more illicit, usually at night and can cause a lot of damage. We do see both levels across parts of Kent, and it ebbs and flows.”The damage caused by illegal artefact hunting can have far-reaching consequences.
A spokesman for English Heritage explained: “Removal of archaeological material can irretrievably distort the archaeological ‘signature’ of a site, or even destroy it altogether. “Artefacts retrieved from primary contexts in this way lose much or all of their potential to inform about the past, and may suffer substantial damage. “Destruction of archaeological layers and the removal of objects does not just affect the archaeologists’ understanding of a site but also destroys that information and knowledge of our shared heritage, which should be available to all.”But of course the spokesman - eager to play the political correctness game ["Nighthawkers [sic] can also bring the practice of metal detecting into disrepute, although they are two very different activities"] - illogically skips mention that artefact hunting does that anyway, legal or not. They are not really such "different activities", the difference being only two slips of paper, a search agreement with the landowner, and a finds release document for individual artefacts, giving the legal finder title to it. Without those documents associated with the products of the hunt, there is no difference when seen from the point of view of what happens to the archaeological assemblages and sites exploited by these collectors.
Maria Chiorando, 'Detecting trouble: The treasure hunters digging up our heritage', Kent News 28th March 2015.