Monday, 16 February 2009

The Nighthawking Survey Summary document

Today two documents were released, above I have discussed the main one (212 pages), the full report of the Nighthawking Survey (above). This is apparently only available as a download. The second one is only twenty pages long, printed on paper but is available as a download too. It is presumably intended as a summary for the general public of the main conclusions and recommendations of the full report. The trouble is it is not. Not really.

This text gives the impression of being by a totally different author from the main report, and quite frankly is an atrocious piece of work. Although the main report bears traces of the apparent pro-detecting sentiments of the authors, this summary document oozes it. Let us take Page 3 in a document about illegal artefact hunting: "in the absence of real evidence, feelings have often run high and the reputations of responsible metal detectorists have suffered". One might ask, what "real evidence" has the Oxford Archaeology team come up with that could save the reputations of responsible "metal detectorists", and from what? What have the latter got to do with criminal activity?

It turns out that the key to resolving the problem is not only to let people know what-a-jolly-good-thing-responsible-metal- detecting is [p. 12] but also "provide opportunities for legal detecting" [p. 8], by "supporting properly organized metal detecting rallies" like the text infers the PAS does [p.12], heaven forbid that a farmer should "impose a total ban on metal detecting" [p. 8] on his own land as a response to being raided... One way, we are told, "proven to be effective in preventing Nighthawking is to allow responsible metal detectorists to detect (sic) a site" [p.9] in other words take it all away to their ephemeral personal artefact collections? Yes, that would stop the nighthawking of that piece of land, but also it rather defeats the object - which is site preservation. There's some not-very-joined-up-thinking going on here.

Recommendation four to stop "nighthawking" is a real side-splitter. "Publicise the positive effects of responsible metal detecting..." [p.12] "Part of the problem is that the subject is clouded by ignorance and prejudice on both sides of the debate with self-appointed champions of both extremes broadcasting antagonistic propaganda via the various available media, serving only to perpetuate a pointless conflict" [p. 12].

Apparently "organizations like the PAS and NCMD are building bridges [...] and making constructive contributions to the debates on the various web forums". That's a laugh, especially with regard to the PAS who make a concerted effort to keep OUT of debates on any forums (including their own - now defunct).* I'd like to ask the Oxford Archaeology when it concerns the commercial or otherwise exploitation of the of archaeological record as a source of collectables, IS it actually a "pointless conflict"? What is "pointless" about questioning policies which go against everything modern archaeology stands for? In referring to "both extremes" I assume the text's author is referring on the one hand to the archaeological resource protection lobby echoing the ACCG labelling of them as "radical archaeologists". Who would Oxford Archaeology see as the other "extreme" - advocates of illegal artefact hunting. Where please can we see the "propaganda" of the self-appointed champions of illegal artefact hunting in the UK media? I think we have a right to know where Oxford Archaeology is finding this stuff, otherwise these are just so many empty words which have nothing to do with the activities of criminal artefact hunters.

Personally I do not think the key to tackling heritage crime is even more of the fluffy bunny pro detecting propaganda ("examples of the constructive use of metal detectors should be publicised more widely... " p. 13) which simply confuses public perception of the nature of the problems facing archaeology. We have enough of that. We do need more informed debate on portable antiquity collecting as a whole which forms a basis for the whole problem.

*As for the PAS engaging in debate on the forums... it is instructive to take a look at the PAS blog run by Dan Pett. There we read "If you are interested in discussing the Scheme’s role in the production of this report, please contact Michael Lewis or Roger Bland in our Central Unit on 0207 323 8611." Who is that aimed at? Who would be perhaps concerned at the "role" of PAS in the production of a report on illegal artefact hunting, and why? Why can PAS not simply take part in a debate on the issues it raises and not invite their partners to discuss it with the head and deputy head of the scheme quietly and privately over the phone? All very odd.

Vignette: Cover of the summary text (Oxford Archaeology)

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