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It’s a valid and urgent question. Everyone knows nighthawking is looting (taking something by dishonesty, force or stealth”) but another form of metal detecting has precisely the same effect: having permission to be there but taking things home without permission. Yet unlike nighthawking that is rarely highlighted.

There’s no doubt it happens (many openly admit to it) but how widespread is it? There’s one strong clue: this clause in the NCMD “model finds agreement”, something which tens of thousands of farmers are persuaded to sign:

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The value of the finds will be shared with the farmer except if their value is below a specified price (often £300, sometimes £2,000)? Why? And why, above all, is the judgement as to that value left with the detectorist and not with the farmer or an independent expert? An old lady selling her diamond ring to a back street jeweller springs to mind. Who benefits?

They have no legal, ethical or valuation qualifications and have a massive interest in their own decision yet only they decide the value and therefore whether the farmer gets anything or even sees the finds! Old lady. Back street jeweller. Get it?

It’s impossible not to suspect the NCMD wording, which they’ve refused to change for years, is there to facilitate looting (taking something by dishonesty, force or stealth”) by those Members who are minded to do it. That’s quite a claim, but the fact that such words are in the agreement at all and have never been changed speaks volumes about the demand for them to stay. Let the Archaeological Establishment speak out or deny it, and next time they speak of looting let them talk of more than nighthawks.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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