Thursday 19 February 2009

"To say the problem has gone is absolutely untrue"

Keith Miller, Inspector of Ancient Monuments for English Heritage, has commented on the response by some to the "Nighthawking" survey: "To say the problem has gone is absolutely untrue" (Mark Foster, "Detectors angry at 'Nighthawk' slur", The Northern Echo February 17, 2009). Such a comment seems at odds with the response from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) (Richard Moss, "Portable Antiquities Scheme moves to allay fears over nighthawking", Culture 24 February 18, 2008). Roger Bland of the PAS is quoted:
The number of scheduled monuments that have been attacked and the number of archaeological units that have been reported where excavations have been attacked by nighthawking has declined, and we’re keen to get that message across.
One of the issues to be emerging from the report is the under-reporting of looting from archaeological sites in the UK.

And if anyone is in any doubt about the issue they should consider the fields of John Browning at Icklingham, Suffolk.


Roger Bland said...

Rather than just quoting headlines and opinions on this subject, it might be helpful to look at the facts that are published in the Nighthawking report. It is such an emotive subject that the facts can get forgotten.

It was the Portable Antiquities Scheme that first proposed to English Heritage that this survey be carried out and our staff provided the survey with the biggest single source of data. We have been fully involved in the discussions on the recommendations in the Report. So it would be completely wrong to say that PAS was not fully behind it and we are anxious to take steps to suppress illegal metal detecting. But the facts in the Report do not bear out the assertion that came across in some of the media reporting that nighthawking is a growing problem.

On two measures it was possible to compare data gathered by the CBA in their 1995 Survey, Metal Detecting and Archaeology in England and Wales (Colin Dobinson and Simon Denison): (a) the number of scheduled monuments from which damage from illegal metal detecting had been recorded and (b) the number of archaeological units that reported excavations that had been attacked by illegal detector users. On both these counts the numbers are down. (a) In 1995, 188 scheduled monuments were reported as having been damaged, and in 2008 the number is 70 and (b) in 1995 37 out of 50 archaeological units reported that they had been attacked (74%), whereas in 2008 the number is 15 out of 54 (28%).

These figures were the opposite of what we expected the Survey would find, but they are there in the Report. There are many possible explanations that can account for them, and some of these are also discussed in the Report: for example, there are questions about how complete English Heritage’s records of the condition of scheduled monuments are (although this would probably apply in 1995 as well as 2008) and, as regards units, it has been suggested that they are better at protecting their sites now than they were in 1995 and, in any case, most developer-funded work takes place on urban sites which are not natural territory for illegal metal detecting.

The 1995 Survey did not count the number of unscheduled sites that have been attacked whereas the 2008 Report does – the number is 152 – higher than the number of scheduled sites that have been raided. One of the key recommendations in the Report is that there is a need to establish a central record of incidents of illegal metal detecting so that this trend on all sites, not just scheduled ones, can be measured in the future.

The Report does undoubtedly show that in certain parts of the country nighthawking is still a serious problem and we in PAS want to work with EH to take the recommendations forward.

David Gill said...

For some contradictions in the report see my further comments.

s said...

Dr Brand : "in 1995 37 out of 50 archaeological units reported that they had been attacked (74%), whereas in 2008 the number is 15 out of 54 (28%)"

You suggest that the 35 archaeological units wich did not reply in 2008 were not nighthawking.
But the OA Survey, 5.5.1. : "It is not possible to assume that all of those which did not reply were unaffected."

so... is the level of nighthawking on scheduled monuments really decreasing?

188 for 74% and 70 for 28% ... it's exactly the same scale!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps now the suggestion I and others have put forward for some years now will be seriously considered... SAM clearance... whereby archaeologists and detectorists clear SAM sites of metal objects each year... therefore rendering them useless to Nighthawks... instead of bemoaning the loss of artefacts.. instead of looking over the fence and wailing what can we do, let us take united and positive action... all artefacts would be plotted recorded and subject to the same conditions as from an archaeological survey. (ie are not the property of the finder)

Archaeology and detecting working together to make the Nighthawks life harder... it will never stop, but that does not mean we can't annoy them.

Paul Barford said...

There is a bit of further discussion of the PAS "allaying fears", on my blog here:

Anonymous said...

The 'Nighthawking Survey' commissioned by English Heritage

You may recently have received or read the report resulting from the so-called 'Nighthawking Survey', originally proposed by the PAS, and carried out by Oxford Archaeology for English Heritage. The report contains statements relating to the UK Detector Finds Database (UKDFD) that are factually incorrect, or misleading by virtue of the omission of pertinent information. No member of the UKDFD recording scheme was consulted at any time regarding the statements, and relevant information, readily available on the UKDFD website, would appear to have been completely disregarded. Such elementary failures to make adequate enquiries before drawing conclusions inevitably raise doubts about the validity of the report's findings in respect of its specific investigation remit.

The statements concerned are contained within clause 3.2.20 of the report, and each is addressed below.

1. The report states that the UKDFD ".only records the location of finds to parish level."

The statement is incorrect. The UKDFD provides for the recording of finds to the highest level of accuracy that a recorder is willing or able to provide.
Recording to parish level is merely the minimum level of accuracy required for material to be eligible.

2. The report states that the UKDFD ".does not pass information onto HERs and is therefore of limited value to archaeological research and management."

The statement is entirely lacking in balance, and appears contrived to portray the UKDFD in a negative manner. In particular, it fails to mention the fact that, prior to its launch, the UKDFD offered a facility to transfer records directly to the PAS database. In fact, during the UKDFD development phase, a considerable amount of time was spent making such a transfer of records technically viable. Had the PAS not chosen to decline this offer, UKDFD records would automatically have been passed to the HERs.

Furthermore, having declined the invitation - a move that some might reasonably regard as irresponsible - the PAS (along with bodies that seek to restrict the metal-detecting hobby) introduced a Code of Practice, which, by implication, brands those detectorists who record with the UKDFD as irresponsible.

3. The report states that "Some believe that the PAS database and the information that is passed to the HERs is used to further restrict the land available for detecting, others believe (erroneously) that the PAS does not record post-medieval finds. The UK Detector Finds Database (UKDFD) was therefore set up by detectorists as an alternative to the PAS."

The mission statement of the UKDFD clearly sets out its aims, which are considerably more wide-ranging than the final sentence of this statement concludes. The concerns that detectorists have regarding restrictions being placed on their hobby are also far wider than the statement implies.

See also

Gary Brun

UKDFD Administrator

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