Monday 18 April 2011

Glemsford Detector Users: Nighthawking Down?

Glemsford is a small village with an interesting plan near Sudbury, just over the river from Essex. There was a commercial artefact hunting rally held here a while back in the course of which an unusual Roman lantern was found. It was promptly dug out there and then by the tekkies arousing some criticism in the archaeological world and media. In an effort to justify this, detectorists were claiming that the local archaeological FLO had been invited to the rally and had "failed to turn up" but the rally went ahead anyway. The justification for hoiking it out and not waiting until a properly equipped team could get there was that other detector-using artefact hunters could come and hoik it out, either legally, as one local detectorist Sukisal put it:
that farmer had given quite a few detectorists permission to search his land, my friends being some of them. [...] So, no it wouldn't still be there if left for 'proper' excavation.
[These are the "responsible" ones I suppose].
Or they would come illegally:
There is a well known nighthawk or two that resides in that very village, and I can tell you they were at that rally, I saw them.
Let us just note that a moment, a well-known nighthawk "or two" lives in Glemsford, and responsible detector user Sukisal knows about this and can recognise him even.

So-called nighthawks are criminals, breaking laws connected with both property rights and heritage protection. Has Ms Sukisal done anything with her knowledge, like reporting these people to the relevant authorities, or has she kept quiet, concealing knowledge of a crime? Were these particular individuals reported to Oxford Archaeology when they were researching the Nighthawking Report? What about the other "nighthawks" the same Suffolk detectorist reported active in the area around Icklingham (not at Icklingham, but the neighbouring areas) the other side of the county? We may also remember Norman Smith saying about Nighthawkers up north (but not only) that "we know who they are, but do nowt about it...".

Is the alleged decline in the amount of nighthawking going on in Britain that was so loudly trumpeted a while back due to the fact that when compiling their report Oxford Archaeology was primarily (and rather naively) reliant on metal detectorists 'shopping' fellow detector users as one of their basic sources of information, but the latter in fact were reluctant to pass on the information they have? The detecting forums are full of mentions of "nighthawks" that are active in the regions around where the "responsible" guys do their artefact hunting and hoiking-out. They are cited as the primary reason why ("responsible") artefact hunters all over the country "cannot" report their finds promptly and accurately. If we listen to metal detectorist chatter it is difficult to see any evidence that this problem is any less significant a threat to the archaeological heritage than it was fifteen years ago. I suppose the real question is when assessing the truth of the matter we have to consider whether we should pay more heed to the anonymous compiler sitting behind a desk in Oxford or the group of people not able to write such posh English, but actually out there in the fields in all weathers and in direct contact with the information on the ground. They certainly do not see the problem as in any way reduced in significance.

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