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Most right-thinking people will be dismayed by Wiltshire Rural Crime Team’s recent tweet: “Shocking to see illegal metal detecting near Silbury Hill within the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site“. But they’ll no doubt be comforted by the two falsehoods which invariably appear in the press after such incidents: “such cases are rare” and “it was nighthawks not detectorists”.
Yet just this week there has been a spate of cases across the Malvern Hills (and we recently photographed it happening there in broad daylight, right next to a “no detecting” sign). That’s just on one range of hills comprising a 20,000th of the UK area so it can hardly be rare nationally.
As for “it was nighthawks not detectorists”, that’s pure baloney (PAS please note!). There IS no separate species. To nighthawk, you have to avail yourself of whatever “legal” detectorists use, including their clubs, their local knowledge and their access to the local Finds Liaison Officer. Thus you can launder your finds by find-spot falsification, obtaining official identifications, and, if you’re lucky, claim a Treasure reward.
Not that illegality is the biggest problem. Vastly more knowledge theft happens as a result of the majority of “legitimate ” detectorists not reporting their recordable finds. But there are no photographs of that. Not one. And PAS doesn’t talk about it.
If anything WAS found here, it will certainly be laundered by findspot description, shown to PAS and might even earn a juicy Treasure Act reward while museums are left short of funds. As worldwide heritage protection systems go, the British one is surely the craziest?


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


August 2020

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