Wednesday 11 February 2009

Nighthawking survey: all will be revealed soon

The launch of the delayed and long, long awaited report from the survey on the scale and effects of illegal metal detecting in Britain is due on Monday 16th February. Hooray.

I have touched on this survey here before. It was recently leaked, first by Kate Clark and then by Roger Bland that the report will say that the survey revealed that "illegal metal detecting is down" in Britain since the last attempt to gather statistics. It will also apparently say that this is ascribable to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. On Monday we will at last have an opportunity to examine the basis of these conclusions.

There will be a major press conference at the Society of Antiquaries of London. There will be three speakers: Barry Cunliffe (English Heritage Interim Chairman), John Browning (a Suffolk landowner from whose land the Icklingham Bronzes were stolen and who is constantly plagued by trespassing metal detectorists) and Mike Heyworth (Director of the Council for British Archaeology). As far as I know, nobody from the PAS will be expanding on how they single-handedly slew the monster of illegal metal detecting.

I am absolutely sure that the general mood in the media, forums and blogs on Monday is going to be that the looting problem in Britain has been solved. Once again, we will hear from the pro-collecting lobby that all we need to do to solve the global looting problem is institute officially-sanctioned free-for-all artefact hunting like the English have. The world's looting problem will disappear, we will no doubt again be told, by legalising it.

What the report itself says beyond the "summary and conclusions" page however is another matter. I think this is a text which will require careful scrutiny and analysis before we can use it as a basis for construction of global models of how to protect the archaeological heritage.
Photo: Newark metal detectorists Mark Longdon and Dean Wright after conviction for daylight illegal metal detecting on the scheduled Roman site of Margidunum in 2007. They look really unhappy at the severity with which they were punished, don't they? A real deterrent - phew, its a good job we have the PAS. (Photo: Newark Advertiser)

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