Saturday 13 February 2021

Nighthawking: British Archaeology's Sin of Omission


         Lots of blobs, but silence on one notorious one 

Referring to a map published earlier this week in the periodical British Archaeology, Heritage Action, 'The missing Staffordshire hoard, abandoned to crooks, not even given a blob' The Heritage Journal 13th February 2021.
Here’s a funny thing. A map by Historic England of scheduled and other sites targeted by nighthawks. But one of the most important is missing. So we’ve added it (in yellow). Does the omission matter, one blob in so many? Actually, it does, for that’s the Staffordshire Hoard field and we’ve posted 22 articles about a number of raids by nighthawks and begging for the inadequate original official searches to be repeated to see if anything is still there. Yet nothing has happened. Will that be the final fate of the Hoard? World famous, and mostly on display in a number of museums, but partly still in a field in Hammerwich and being progressively removed by nocturnal scruffs, and not even accorded a blob?

Read the rest here.

The map published in British Archaeology gives the impression that British heritage professionals are doing their job by keeping an eye on illegal artefact hunting (remember, the illegal artefact hunting they said was a problem that had now been fixed by setting up the PAS and "numbers are falling" - that was 12 ago). David Gill was sceptical, a recent Guardian article from June 2020 was equally scathing. The British Archaeology article admits there is a problem with the guys with metal detectors and spades.  

I think the problem lies elsewhere too. There are 6000 heritage professionals in the UK. Yet this map shows not only no record of the Staffs Hoard field, also Bradwell on Sea (a remote scheduled site in Essex known to be looted) is also missing.  What's going on? 

When, two years ago, I spotted several unpapered gold items on sale on PRECISELY of the nature of the type of stuff that could illegally be coming off the Staffs Hoard field in the situation described by Heritage Action, I immediately reported them to the Treasure Registrar and PAS at the BM. As could any of the 6000 heritage professionals in the UK. I was told that they'd not do anything to determine the circumstances behind the 'surfacing' of those objects, and that "if I liked", I could contact British police and report it myself. Me, living in Warsaw Poland, using my home telephone to place a series, no doubt, of international calls to try and chase down a British bobby that would take it up. Instead of reporting it to an official body in the UK empowered with dealing with portable antiquities and treasure case - who'd take it further in the interests of securing the national heritage from improper handling. Oh no. They carried on drinking their coffee in Bloomsbury.   

As I said, I'm based in Warsaw, where a public official notified of a potential crime that refused to take action is legally culpable. In Britain, it seems no such situation exists.

Nigel Swift and his Heritage Action folk visited the Staffs Hoard field out of curiosity, they saw clear signs that the site was being visited by artefact hunters. They posted it online where not one of 6000 heritage professionals saw their reports and decided to take action.

It seems to me that half the problem with "nighthawking" is that a lot of British archaeologists can't be bothered to do anything at all about it.

I'm writing at the moment a paper on "metal detecting in Poland", trying to compare and contrast it with the UK. One area of contrast is that in Poland in the last few years alone, over 100 people have been arrested for illegal artefact hunting and illegal sales of material on the internet. In the UK, how many? I think the number in the same period can be counted on your fingers (if we treat Leominster as one case). The blobs on the HE map are cases that were missed, they've not caught anyone looting Bradwell, they've not caught anyone looting the Staffs Hoard field, and my experience suggests that even if a nighthawk were to openly offer bits of the hoard online (without saying "me and my mates dug this up at night near Hammerwich") they'd probably get away with it.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.