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An open letter to:
The Archaeology Forum

Dear Sirs,

We’ve previously written to you (here and here)  about the threat to archaeology posed by the new deep seeking metal detectors. The recent discovery of 90 items on the Staffordshire hoard field suggests we were justified. It is said they were too deep to be found in 2009 and have only recently been brought within range of metal detectors due to ploughing. However, the Minelab GPX 5000 was launched in October 2010 and that (as well as the Blisstool LTC64 V3) can find small objects at 24 inches or more, far deeper than any ploughing. That didn’t matter so long as it was thought the site had been cleared but the discovery of the 90 items proves it wasn’t, and that whatever wasn’t found originally has been wide open, without the help of ploughing, to theft by nighthawks using the new machines for over two years.

We agree with Paul Barford that nighthawks will have been on the site. Indeed there are reports the farmer has been plagued with them. It would be a surprise if he hadn’t been for at Icklingham, which hasn’t had a tenth of the global publicity, there have been hundreds of attacks despite a battery of high tech security systems. If nighthawks have visited the Staffordshire hoard field it is surely likely that as professional criminals they will have been armed with “the depth advantage” as Minelab term it.  If so it’s hard not to feel that the 90 items recently recovered probably need to be seen as the ones the nighthawks missed.

In conclusion, this is only one (albeit spectacular and probably tragic) example of the damage these machines may cause but in a wider context we are unable to think of any use of them for artefact hunting that doesn’t involve causing damage or breaking the law and we suspect neither can you or anyone else. Consequently, we hope you will consider making strong representations to the government to impose restrictions on their use and importation. A reply to this letter would be appreciated.

Yours faithfully

Heritage Action


Update 5 January 2013

Since this letter was sent two theories have been proposed to explain why the latest finds were not discovered sooner:

They could have been buried deeper so couldn’t be detected with the original Hoard items or the geology of the area might not be conducive to metal detecting.”

However, the first theory doesn’t stand up if the Minelab GPX5000 was used by nighthawks, as explained, and the second theory wouldn’t stand up if nighthawks used another recently launched revolutionary Minelab machine, the CTX 3030. That is specifically designed to provide sensitivity and discrimination on sites with difficult geology such as iron contamination. Not that they’d necessarily need that. According to Minelab the GPX5000 is so sensitive it too can  “see through” heavily mineralised ground to locate finds deeper down!

Thus, so far as we can see, it remains highly probable that numerous thefts have taken place on this site and that metal detecting technology is leaving the thinking and actions of The Archaeological Establishment far in its wake. Something needs doing.


Update 6 January 2013

The Searcher magazine has just tweeted that “More Staffordshire Hoard treasure may still be buried” and they point to this press report.

The main story is about the emerging theory that there was more than one event on this site and “the Anglo Saxons clearly visited the site more than once to bury items” but the interesting bit, to some, is the statement that “Artefacts found at the Staffordshire Hoard site could lead to further discoveries of Anglo Saxon treasure in the area, according to experts.”

It’s all speculation of course but since speculation is in vogue perhaps we may be allowed to speculate that The Searcher Magazine is likely to be required reading for virtually every nighthawk in the country – and you’d therefore have to be in serious denial not to accept that this story will attract further visits from thieves. Not that it matters particularly if one assumes, given the inarguable capabilities of the latest metal detectors, that some of the nighthawks have already cleared the site of the bulk of the items originally missed.


Update 13 January 2013

It has now been suggested that  in 2009 archaeologists “used top-quality equipment to go over the area, which they use to find underground stuff in Afghanistan”. But in fact what both US and British forces were using at that time and subsequently were Ebex 420H machines which have little depth capability (mines are mostly at shallow depth) and are not recommended for use in iron contaminated soil or for finding very small targets (mines not being small targets). [It’s important to stress that a second archaeological investigation took place after ploughing at the end of 2012 but it appears from photos that very few or none of the detectors used were of the new generation of deep-seeking machines that nighthawks have access to.]

So we remain of the very firm opinion that the subsequent launch of two machines with vastly superior depth capabilities and another with a much greater capacity to operate in iron contaminated soils signals a sky high probability that elements of the Staffordshire Hoard(s) have been stolen by nighthawks using equipment that is entirely superior to that which was employed in the original archaeological search.

It’s also our opinion that the Government should be told about what may have happened and be asked to take urgent steps to control the importation and use of deep-seeking metal detectors on the grounds we have suggested. It’s also worth bearing in mind that if thieves (and thousands of legal artefact hunters) are in a position to cause heritage damage because they have technical capabilities that are denied to front line troops who are risking their lives it’s time something was done. It takes rewarding the undeserving to levels previously unsurpassed even in pro-artefact hunting Britain!


Update 14 January 2013

More downside to the Archaeological Establishment not coming out and publicly admitting nighthawks hold all the technological aces and can go back and help themselves to any remaining items whenever they want:

Well-meaning local organisations saying things like this:
“There are signs on the A5 near Hammerwich which tell people that the hoard was found there, but there’s nothing to tell casual visitors exactly where it was. The farmer didn’t want anything in the field itself, so this platform would be just outside with information plaques and maybe a car park.”

They might as well sell torches.


Update 19 January 2013

Yet more confirmation of the power of the new technology. A prospector has found a massive gold nugget in Australia “using a state-of-the-art metal detector, which meant he was able to find the gold relatively deep underground in an area which had been searched many times in the past”. Note, “had been searched many times in the past”. And the detector? A Minelab GPX5000. And the depth? 60 centimetres, almost exactly the 24 inches a number of people have reported this machine can reach down to.

Update 22 January 2013

It appears that to the Minelab GPX5000 and the Blisstool LTC64 V3 another machine, the “Noktia Golden King Deep Processor Radar” should now be added.  A public demonstration of it was held as far back as March 2009 in Saumur, Western France, in front of TV and magazine journalists and a large audience of highly enthusiastic treasure hunters. Targets of precious metal buried at a depth of 63 inches were successfully located. and an official was quoted as saying “we have witnessed here with our own eyes that Noktia’s technology is at least 5 years ahead of other technologies”.

If we were in charge of the safety of any remaining items from the Staffordshire Hoard we’d get in touch with Noktia (and the others) and ask for their help rather than simply waiting (as has been announced) for the land to be ploughed once again in a couple of years. It is hardly wild speculation to think that the three firms will have “helped” others already.

See also HERE


See also our subsequent article in October 2016.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting



January 2013

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