Wednesday 22 April 2009

Mr Browning catches another one

Landowner John Browning in Icklingham Suffolk has caught many metal detector users seeking for collectable (and saleable) artefacts on his land illegally. His farm contains the Icklingham Roman settlement which has in the past produced a whole series of amazing finds (including the Icklingham bronzes now owned by Shelby White). It is of course a scheduled ancient monument and any "metal detecting" there without a permit is illegal.

On April 5th, Andrew Chamberlain, a 25-year old unemployed man from King's Lynn (50 km to the north) was artefact hunting with a metal detector on the site at about 4.30am. He was spotted by Mr Brown, who now patrols his land precisely to catch such heritage thieves at work. Mr Browning has been warned by the local police not to tackle these metal detector wielding intruders as they have been known in the past to be dangerous, so he called the police who sent a patrol car and Mr Chamberlain was apprehended as he returned to his van to return home with what he had found (stolen from the archaeological resource on Mr Brown's land). He was charged with stealing three Roman coins from a site of crucial archaeological importance.

Yesterday he pleaded guilty to theft in court at Bury St Edmunds and was fined £60, ordered to pay costs of £60 and a 'victim surcharge' of £15.

The court was told that Chamberlain, who had no previous convictions, was unaware that the former Roman settlement in the Suffolk village was now a scheduled monument site of archaeological interest. He was said to have a strong interest
in history, particularly medieval Roman times.
As do all "metal detectorists". It really beats me how any "metal detectorist" living locally could not know this particular site was a scheduled site (see the comments of one of them here). There is a resource however that one can check (magic map). So if he did not know it was scheduled, what was he doing there at four-thirty in the morning? He can hardly claim (as some night-time detectorists do) that they "work shifts". Also its a bit odd he claims he did not know the site was "now" scheduled. It was scheduled well before Mr Chamberlain bought his first metal detector.

Also the site must now be in a poor state if now (at the beginning of the artefact hunting season) all he could find on this immensely rich site was a measly three Roman coins. Presumably by now- despite it being a site protected by the law, all the rest of the finds have been taken away and are scattered in many ephemeral personal artefact collections of many no-questions-asked coin and artefact collectors in the UK and beyond its shores - wherever the unregulated internet market takes them.

Britain has archaeological resource protection laws, portable antiquities collectors say these laws are the "best in the world" (that's because they are among the weakest in the world). Nevertheless, even that does not stop people like Mr Chamberlain going onto protected sites and taking stuff away, despite the fact that there are tens, hundreds of thousands of other places where archaeological finds can be sought legally. Obviously the current system is not protecting the significant archaeological heritage from being trashed. What would stop it however if the posession of archaeological material which cannot be shown to have a licit provenance was in some way restricted - either by social pressure or by law - or preferably the one and the other.
Photo: John Browning (from East Anglian Daily Times)

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