Thursday, February 19, 2009

"Nighthawking" Survey: some corrections and clarification

The recently published "Nighthawking" survey has been attracting some comment and defence. (We should note that the client was English Heritage not the Portable Antiquities Scheme.)

It is interesting to read the section on Icklingham where the bronzes acquired by a New York collector - and defended by James Cuno - were apparently found. The "Nighthawking" report comments (6.3.2):
In 1989 the farmer began an 18 month long campaign to recover objects which did not receive official support from the UK authorities (Rescue News 53 1991). The outcome of the eventual court case will result in some artefacts eventually being given to the British Museum. Although suspects for the original theft were identified, the strength of the evidence was not felt sufficient for a prosecution to proceed.
As far as I know there was no "court case" or "course action" (9.9.4) but rather a legal out-of-court agreement.

The report also seems to have been weak when it comes to the international dimension of the illicit market. Take the section on Italy (9.9.4):
the Italian courts are currently prosecuting a number of dealers and museum officials following a complex investigation.
So who are all these dealers (plural) and museum officials (plural)? Or is this a reference to the Hecht-True case in Rome? A little more precision would have been helpful.

Some have been trying to play down ("getting the message across") the scale of the problem. Yet I read in the report comments from Norfolk County Council (in East Anglia) (9.10.3):
We are concerned that the nighthawking survey may not be able to assess fully and accurately the scale of the issue due to a lack of evidence. In Norfolk we suspect is that the problem is one of considerable dimensions with the (very few) prosecutions being merely the tip of an iceberg. We currently identify over 20,000 metal objects per annum in the county, which we estimate is only a proportion of the total recovered, leading to a concomitant unknown loss of knowledge. That said, we do not know how much of this additional knowledge is lost as a result of the deliberate non-reporting of finds, or how much of this information we might be able to capture if we had more resources to undertake outreach to metal-detectorists and farmers with whom we currently have no contact.

The lack of clarity is clear in the concluding sections, e.g. 10.1.2:
The results of the Nighthawking Survey show that in England on Scheduled Monuments, the level of Nighthawking is decreasing. ... It is likely that this figure is an underestimation of the problem, as was the original figure from the 1995 survey. ... Despite a national decrease in reported incidences, there is evidence to suggest that in some areas the incidence of Nighthawking is increasing on Scheduled sites, with some of these areas also showing a large number of non-designated sites also affected.
In other words: data would suggest that "Nighthawking" is decreasing ... and increasing.

And before anyone tries to play down the impact of "Nighthawking" think about this comment (10.1.4):
In the case of unscheduled sites it is not possible to assess whether the level of Nighthawking is increasing or decreasing as this survey is the first to collect information about such sites.

1 comment:

garybrun said...

Ill be following your blog and have added an RSS feed to our website so others can follow your progress too.
Good luck with the dig.

Gary Brun

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