Saturday, August 25, 2012

24 August 2012: The Significance of Glasgow's New Definition of "Nighthawking"

One of the benefits for the pro-collecting lobby in the use of terms like "nighthawking"  (as in "we are not nighthawks, nighthawks are not bona fide metal detectorists") is that the term is so vague. We recall explanations like the classic "I'm notta night'awk cuz I go out in the day" and so on. For the past few weeks in the UK there has been a counterpart to the Portable Antiquities Scheme in the public debate about portable antiquities. Glasgow University's "Trafficking Culture" project. This has recently produced a new definition of "nighthawking" ('UK Metal Detecting Under the Microscope: The Significance of Glasgow's New Definition of "Nighthawking"). One of the four definitions jives perfectly with what Heritage Action have been saying for a long while about finders' agreements etc all along. According to this new definition, among other things, a metal detectorist is guilty of nighthawking when they have:
  • Searched on private land with permission from the landowner, but then failed to disclose what was found, especially items of financial value or items of Treasure, constituting theft from the landowner and/or the Crown.
I think quite notable the differences in the UK codes of ethics/practice/conduct on this point. While the Official Code says: "Report[..] any finds to the relevant landowner/occupier", the one most tekkies adhere to - the NCMD one - says "Report all unusual historical finds to the landowner". The FID code is a cracker "Report all your finds to the landowner, even those that must be declared to the Coroner as well" (surely it is primarily the planned removal from their property of potential Treasure finds of  which the landowner must be appraised from the earliest moment!). How often, though, does it happen that tekkies get blanket permission (in writing say) to turn up on remote fields whenever they want, do some artefact collection, and take the stuff home without showing how many buckles, hobnails and Roman grots and pieces of lead they've taken each time? How many after detecting then seek out the farmer, perhaps engaged in activities the other side of an extensive farm? Or drop in at the farmhouse each time to say 'thank you' and lay out their finds? How often does "wellying" take place (showing the farmer the finds in the finds pouch when leaving the field, but avoiding showing him the find concealed about the person - here metaphorically dropped down the top of a wellington boot)? Never happens even though the practice has a name?  

Basically what this is saying is that anyone, whether or not they have an agreement with the farmer, who leaves the site of a bout of metal detecting without showing the farmer exactly what they are taking is a nighthawk. Obviously in the light of such a definition, to make everything clear, it would make sense for the finder to get some kind of itemised release form signed at the end of each search. That would then sort out problems about on whose land something which subsequently is sold on eBay or to a dealer was actually found, whether it was licitly obtained, or was 'nighthawked' according to the new broader definition now being proposed by the Glasgow team. Obviously a find being sold on the open market in the UK which has no release form signed by a landowner that he has seen the object and approves its removal from his land is, by the new proposed definition, potentially nighthawked.  A finder wishing in any way to profit from the exhibition, lending or commercial use of such items would have to show such a form for each of them in order to prove they were not nighthawked. This new definition from Glasgow indeed makes the differentiation of licit from illicit finds in the UK (English and Welsh primarily) context much more precise. 

Does the Portable Antiquities Scheme fully endorse this definition? 

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