Monday, February 16, 2009

Nighthawking Survey Out

A long awaited survey of "nighthawking" in England and Wales is out. Archaeological groups say that the survey proves that enforcement of Britain's laws is lax and that there should be more regulation, including making sellers "prove" they have good title to artifacts they sell on such Internet sales platforms as "eBay." See: and and

Here is what English Heritage specifically states should be done:

Key recommendations of The Nighthawking Survey:

Provide clear guidance to the police, Crown Prosecution Service and Magistrates on the impact of nighthawking on archaeological records and understanding, how to identify that it has taken place, how to collect evidence for prosecution and appropriate penalties;

Provide guidance to landowners on identifying nighthawking and what to do when they encounter;

Implement changes recently introduced in Europe which increase the obligation on sellers of antiquities to provide provenances and establish legal title; urge eBay to introduce more stringent monitoring of antiquities with a UK origin offered for sale on their website, as they have done in Germany, Switzerland and Austria;

Establish a central database of reported nighthawking incidents and promote its use;

Raise awareness of the positive effects of responsible metal detecting and the negative effects of nighthawking;

Reaffirm the contribution of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and support its continued operation; and

Encourage the integration of metal detecting into archaeological work.


In my opinion, before decisions on any such action is taken, the results of this survey need to be placed in context. For example, if anything, it appears that nighthawking has declined as compared to the last survey in 1995. See: ("The Report shows that Nighthawking seems to have declined on two counts compared with an earlier survey in 1995, although there is still a significant problem with Nighthawking down the eastern side of England from Yorkshire through Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.").

In any event, even assuming nighthawking is underreported, based on the large numbers of artifacts properly reported and recorded under the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme, most metal detectorists in England and Wales appear to follow the law. See:

Contrast this to the situation in places like Cyprus, Italy and Bulgaria with no laws akin to the Treasure Act or Portable Antiquities Scheme. It would be interesting to learn how many artifacts are voluntarily reported to the authorities in those countries. Before the UK's Government proposes changes to English and Welsh law based on this survey, it should keep in mind that overregulation may actually discourage rather than encourage compliance.


Marcus Preen said...

Most metal detectorists in Britain do indeed follow the law.

On the other hand, most metal detectorists in Britain seek out "productive" sites (i.e. non-protected but nevertheless significant archaeological sites with significant archaeological contexts) and most metal detectorists in Britain (according to PAS) do not report what they find.

Whether one takes the view that "if it is not illegal it is acceptable" and ignores the fact that most legal detecting is very damaging depends upon whether one has a vested and particularly a commercial interest in the matter.

From this perspective the whole of the dialogue surrounding it becomes crystal clear.

Jorg Lueke said...

It's good to see in the recommendations that there's a differentiation between legal and illegal detecting. Nevertheless calling for proof of provenance on ebay wuld negate that as it would make it impossible to sell legally acquired items that may not be documented. Most coins, modern or not are not documented through their entire ownership change. I am also curious as to what is meant by "Implement changes recently introduced in Europe which increase the obligation on sellers of antiquities to provide provenances and establish legal title"

The whole survey seems to focus solely the archaeological context without looking at the educational contexts such items can exist in after they are recovered from the ground.

Wayne G. Sayles said...

Marcus Preen has attempted to subtly shift the issue from a question of what is "legal" to what is "ethical". Since there are no uniform standards in the later case, we must for the sake of co-existence on this planet rely on law. That is indeed why we have laws in the first place. There are governing laws at play here that were well thought out and debated rigorously before implementation. If those laws are not properly or adequately enforced, then there is perhaps reason for concern on that point. There is, however, no basis for an ethical condemnation of a legal action. An analysis of PAS shows that the vast majority of objects found and reported are not entered into the trade, therefore the slap at commercialism is misguided. Most detectorists, I am told, enjoy the hobby for reasons other than potential monetary reward and tend to keep most of what they find. But, even if this were not the case, when did commercial activity become a metaphor for unethical activity?

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.

Gary Brun

Lisa Oliver said...

Totally agree..overregulation may actually discourage rather than encourage compliance.

Lisa Oliver
Mortgage Loan Expert
All Financial Services

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