Thursday, 2 June 2016

Artefact Hunting Red-Handed: The Artefacts Seized from a Sittingbourne House

Sittingbourne 'Scrap Bucket' contents?
There is a followup to an earlier post on this blog ('Operation Chronos Investigates Another UK Metal Detectorist' PACHI Wednesday, 25 May 2016) in the British newspapers: Sittingbourne reporter, 'Historical artefacts and treasure seized from Sittingbourne house in nighthawking probe' Kent Online 02 June 2016
Historical artefacts have been seized from a house in Sittingbourne as part of a police investigation into illegal metal detecting. Medieval coins dating back to the 13th century were among the items found at a property in Chalkwell Road. The warrant was the first in Kent to be carried out under Operation Chronos – a national campaign in conjunction with Historic England to tackle "nighthawking" [...] no arrests have been made.
There is no mention at all that the police officers seized any kinds of records from this collector. In other words, the police have taken some stuff to look at and decide whether or not a crime has been committed or whether they have grounds for pressing charges. Looking at the photos they present of what they took, I doubt it. This is just a wasteful propaganda activity with no real chance of achieving anything apart from the stated aim to "demonstrate how serious[ly] we take the issue". To demonstrate to whom, and why? The article expands this thought, "We hope this sends a clear message to rural communities that we take rural crime seriously and are actively targeting those we believe are responsible" but can rural communities see any feedback about how WELL you are achieving more than just "targeting" suspects? On what basis can they assess police success rate? Charges? My suspicion is that if what we see in the photos is the measure of what they have, the material will quietly be returned to the finder after a quiet talking-to in the next few weeks. There is nothing else to be done if there are no records which could show that "records are missing" (innocent until proven otherwise).

Probably what the Sittingbourne collector was more interested in - coins
What is more interesting is that we see here the "collecting process" temporarily halted while in progress. In the (operational or publicity?) photos we see some unlabelled coins arranged (presumably by the finder/collector) in plastic folders (perhaps for sale?) and a heap of metal artefacts, with mixed in pulltabs - again no labels, nothing separated by site or type. Very probably this collector was interested in the coins and most of the rest of the metal objects he found in his searching went into the 'scrap bucket', whether they were historical or not - her we see very well the fallacy of the idea that metal detectorists are "looking for" or even less "studying" history. And once the object has been discarded anonymously into the scrap bucket, why would it ever get taken to the PAS? How many recordable items are in that heap? Over what period were they found?

As for the position of the police "investigating highthawking", let us bear in mind what the essence of this offence is. Even if it were the case, how is it possible in such a muddle to ascertain in a hypothetical scenario that the third buckle from the right was taken in the dead of night from (say) a scheduled site just outside Marshfield Swamply last month? Absolutely none. Any finder challenged could easily say he or she found any or all of the questioned artefacts in the three search areas they can show a written and very vague search-and-take agreement for, and the police cannot touch them for anything - even if they suspected on other grounds that they are lying. Presumed innocence. Clearly, what is needed is to put the recommendations of the Nighthawking Report into action, make collectors provide documentation for individual items that they have been assigned ownership to the finder by an identifiable landowner.

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