Sunday 24 March 2013

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Talking to Nighthawks

Over on a metal detecting forum near you is a thread called "Man arrested on suspicion of nighthawking" it starts off conventionally with a news item cut and pasted from a online version of a Lincolnshire newspaper (the story itself has been  covered in this blog earlier see here):
Police have arrested a man from Grimsby as part of Operation Totem. The operation is part of Lincolnshire Police’s commitment to tackling the practice of illegal metal detecting. The 57-year-old was found in suspicious circumstances in a field off the A158 between Horncastle and Wragby.[...] [Tom Carlisle,] 'Man arrested on suspicion of nighthawking', [Horncastle news, 04/03/2013].
It then continues as they all do with the members complaining about the terms used, that it gives a bad impression of the hobby, what other members "would do" to nighthawks and even a bit about punishing "illegal immigrants" and so on... In other words, the usual airheaded stuff you get from this milieu instead of any proper reflections. Then the stories. The first from "mal" in Oxford, with two accounts apparently not in the Oxford Archaeology Nighthawking Survey statistics (10-03-2013, 12:46 PM #9):
I used to have a site in the Chilterns which is near a known Roman scheduled site that is constantly being detected on by nighthawks to the point where I have now lost permission to hunt on my site. Also nearby an Iron Age fort has had numerous people arrested for Nighthawking. The last pair where from Birmingham who were caught by the Forrestry Commission rangers and handed over to the police. They had travelled 90 miles from where they lived. All they got was a small fine and their gear confiscated. They probably had the cheek to go to the police auction and bought the detectors back.
"Davidhod" (MLO Supporter) from Peterborough has an even more revealing one (10-03-2013, 06:44 PM#12):
I once managed to get one of these guys to talk to me honestly. There were sites in Norfolk being hit at night by groups from London who were selling stuff the very next day to buy drugs, these were serious, desperate, violent, organised people.[...] (11-03-2013, 10:15 AM #15) A couple of car loads on a very regular basis. Selling through the dodgiest dealers. The guy I spoke to stopped not because of the threat of being caught but because the people he was bumping into were spaced out and very unpredictable. He was worried that he might be found face down in a ditch one morning. Obviously the loss of heritage is serious but it's compounded by the threat of violence, and that's why it's worth valuable Police time dealing with it. 
"Dave9" (MLO Supporter) from Lincolnshireagrees with "Mal" ( #18) that "there are too many "namby pambies" and "do gooders" in the UK that take the rights of the thief firstly rather than the rights of the victim" (they were talking US-style about shooting trespassers - a misdemeanour in the UK - on sight). Dave9 says ( #20):
many don't understand how clever and up to speed these people are.I have had permission's night hawked by men and women and trust me they know their stuff.These people talk openly at time's about what they do.Can't say too much but they use forum's, archi sites and come across as legit detectorists.They very rarely get caught with find's on them and off load their booty as soon as possible.Needless to say ,some round here have their card's marked !!!!!!!
Once again, we have confirmation from metal detectorists chatting away amongst themseleves candidly on their forums, that ordinary hobbyists know very well who these people are and have plenty of information about their activities. Yet when the Nighthawking Survey was being compiled they stayed silent. It is hardly surprising then that when the survey was published it seemed to show "instances were down". Above it seems it is a thriving activity wherever there are sites left to be illegally plundered.

Note the key here. The history thieves have no problems in the UK of finding a 'dodgy dealer" who will turn what they find into cash. Those dealers in turn have no problems getting their investment (presumably at a profit) from no-questions-asked buyers, either collectors or other dealers. Obviously one way to break this chain is to introduce transparency and accountability of the artefact trade. Again the Glasgow Fourth (release forms signed by the landowner) seems to be indicated as one way to a solution. If a dealer has to have documentation of licit origin, shifting the illicitly obtained stuff is going to be that much harder (will involve the services of a document forger - and for that you can be convicted). The key to this is not "guard all archaeological sites" or "set up a portable Antiquities Scheme" as collectors insist, but simply clean up the antiquities market.

So who are these UK "dodgy dealers" then? It seems at least some metal detector users know.

Vignette: Nighthawks - Hopper's original is in the Art Institute in Chicago.

[Links checked, links all working 24 march 7:00 AM]

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