Metal detector thieves are plundering our history, English Heritage warns

Daily Telegraph

(See the original English Heritage report as a pdf)

Hundreds of fragile archaeological sites across Britain are being routinely plundered by thieves with metal detectors, according to a report published by English Heritage.

Such “nighthawkers” are rarely caught, however, while those who are prosecuted are often let off with little more than the legal equivalent of a smack on the wrist.

Although most of their finds are worthless, their removal robs the nation of the story they could tell, the report by Oxford Archaeology warns.

Nighthawkers search for antiquities using metal detectors before digging them out to steal.

They are increasingly turning to the internet to trade their goods on eBay, the auction website, and exchange information on vulnerable sites using online forums.

While the internet has made it easier for them, prosecutions remain at an all-time low, English Heritage claims.

There is no distinct offence for the illegal practice. Nighthawkers who are caught are usually prosecuted for theft and criminal damage, which means that the true extent of the problem remains unknown.

The survey found that 240 raids were reported to police between 1995 and 2008, 88 on Scheduled Monuments.

Norfolk (23), Essex (14), Oxfordshire (13), Suffolk (12), Lincolnshire and Kent (both 11) recorded the highest number of raids.

Researchers calculated that about one in 20 archaeological excavation sites was targeted by thieves. Roman sites were repeatedly targeted.

But the survey found only one in seven landowners who discovered they had been raided reported the crime.

Many did not bother because they thought the police and Crown Prosecution Service would not push for legal action.

The survey concluded there was a “vicious circle” in which “an apparent lack of response from the police” led to under-reporting.

John Browning, whose farm at Icklingham in Suffolk contains the remains of a Roman villa, said he helped catch some nighthawkers “red-handed” on his farm, with Roman coins in their pockets.

But he said: “They were just bound over for 12 months and made to pay £38 costs. They were not even fined.”

He added: “When nighthawkers are fined it’s less than overstaying on a parking meter.

“The courts equate them with those guys on the beach looking for small change.”

In reality they sometimes travelled hundreds of miles to raid a site. He had encountered nighthawkers armed with knives and chains, he said.

Thousands of holes had been dug on his property over the years, he recalled, with raids sometimes happening twice a week.

Sir Barry Cunliffe, the chairman of English Heritage, is calling for a national database of nighthawking incidents to be established.

He said: “Nighthawkers, by hoarding the finds or selling them on without recording or provenance, are thieves of valuable archaeological knowledge that belongs to us all.

“Even in the case when the finds are retrieved, the context of how and where exactly the finds were found has been lost, significantly diminishing their historical value.

“In the cases of internationally important material the loss of the unique evidence that these objects provide on our common history and origins is especially poignant.

“By painting a clearer picture of the crime, this survey will help us to combat it more effectively.”

The survey highlighted big differences in the ways police forces combated the problem, with Kent singled out for praise.

A Suffolk Police spokesman said officers worked “closely” with Mr Browning on the problem, once despatching a helicopter and dogs to track suspects.

“We take these offences seriously,” he said.

Achieving an ambition – Dorothy Sayers

This was a personal ambition of mine. I have with me at the moment the bound volume of the ARLT journal, Latin Teaching, from 1951 to 1962. Shining out like a bright star among all the reports of Summer Schools and reviews of new Latin texts and textbooks is the lecture that Dorothy Sayers gave to the Summer School held at the Leys School in 1952.

I have now scanned the whole text and opened a new Page on this blog where it can be permanently available – see the link at the top of this blog.

Dorothy Sayers recounts her own 20 years of struggling with Latin, and her failure at the end of the time to be able to read any Classical author fluently, as she could read French or Italian.  Her solution is fairly revolutionary.

On the way she has interesting and controversial things to say about which of the many Latin pronunciations may be best (the ARLT favourite is dismissed out of hand), and remarks about spoken Latin that will gladden the hearts of some of my friends.

Anyway, her words are there for you to enjoy. I am fairly confident that I am not infringing the rights of  her executors, because she gave ARLT  permission to publish.

Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery’s At Home with the Roman Family

Yorkshire Post – from an article with lots of half term suggestions.

Discover what the Romans did for us

As well as building very straight roads and doing a nice line in togas, the Romans knew how to lay on a good party. Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery’s At Home with the Roman Family hopes to show what life would have been like during the feast of Paternalia, in a hands-on event which brings genuine Roman objects out of their usual glass cases. Suitable for youngsters six and above, entrance to the museum is free, but the event, on February 18 and 20 costs 50p a child. 01302 734293,

OUP booksale and new titles

Oxford University Press are advertising a book sale ending 3rd March.

You can pick up Oakley’s commentary on Livy books VI-X for £40 rather than £160, so if you happen to be wanting that, it’s a bargain. There’s also Lyne: Collected papers on Latin Poetry for £17.75 down from £71. Katherine Radice welcomed this one when new:

‘a must-buy book for any school library. Lyne writes with remarkable panache and with the rare ability to get right to the core of a work’ – Katharine Radice, The Journal of Classics Teaching

New books, or new in paperback, include a selection of essays on the Odyssey, edited Lillian E Doherty, £29.99 paperback.

There are more Classical translations, Aeschylus’ other four plays, Euripides’ Trojan Women, and Cicero political speeches.

Universities warn of stiff competition this year


Universities warn of stiff competition as recession prompts big rise in applications

• Mature students opt to retrain during downturn
• Weak pound boosts numbers from overseas

* Polly Curtis, education editor
* The Guardian, Monday 16 February 2009

The recession has triggered a scramble for a place at university with a record-breaking 465,000 people applying to begin a degree this September and a significant increase in the number of older applicants, official figures suggest.

Vice-chancellors warned last night that with a 7.8% increase in applications – 34,000 more than last year – students face the most intense competition in years.

A last-minute boom in applications in the run-up to the December deadline is thought to have been triggered by people wanting to use academia to escape the recession and be better qualified by the time the jobs market picks up again. The number of applications from over-24s rose by 12.6% and the 20-24 age group increased by 12.9%, the figures published yesterday by the university application service Ucas revealed.

There are also signs that the recession is affecting people’s choice of degree, breeding a new generation of economists and mathematicians. The number of applications for economics degrees increased by 15.7% to a total of 44,750. Applications for maths rose 10.4% and for politics 16.7%.

More people have applied to do training degrees to work in the public sector. Applications for nursing rose by 16.7%, education degrees by 10.7% and teacher training by 3.7%. It is thought that people are opting for “safer” jobs outside business and commerce.

There was a 7.6% decline in applications for building degrees as the construction industry slows, though there were modest rises in business degree applicants.

Applications to Oxford and Cambridge rose 9.9%. The University of Exeter said it had an 18% increase in applications from British students and 88% rise in those outside the EU. New universities and smaller specialist institutions also reported record rises. Bedfordshire University had a 24% rise in home applications.

The race for a place will be intensified this year after the government was forced to reduce the planned expansion of student numbers by 5,000 following a miscalculation of the cost of grants for the poorest students. The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills was facing a £200m black hole in its funding last year and decided to lower the threshold for partial grants and reduce the planned expansion of student numbers to make it up. Universities have been warned they could face penalties if they expand their student numbers at all to meet demand.

Steve Smith, the vice-chancellor of Exeter University and a board member of Ucas, said: “It feels like the rise in applications is linked to the recession. That happened in previous recessions so we’ve been expecting it. The big problem is that admissions numbers are capped and we’ve got a 7.8% increase in applications. It is the case there will be more competition this year.”

He said it was likely that clearing, the process by which students who haven’t got the grades can find a place at university in the summer, would be much briefer. Where universities often apply some discretion and admit students who have only just missed their grades, they would no longer get this chance, he added.

The Ucas figures also showed that applications from within the EU had risen by 14% and from outside the EU by 9% because of the weak pound.

The National Union of Students last night called for the government to lift the cap on student numbers. Wes Streeting, president of the NUS, said: “The government needs to weigh up the costs of putting people through higher education with the cost of unemployment. It is cruel to raise aspirations, convince people to apply and then close the door on them.”

Diana Warwick, chief executive of the university umbrella group Universities UK, said: “These are very encouraging figures. Applicants are making informed choices and thinking carefully about the value of higher education, particularly in the current economic climate. Following last year’s record-breaking year for applications and acceptances, we call on government to ensure this growth is matched with continued financial support.”

A source close to the universities secretary, John Denham, said there were no plans to change the cap on numbers.

Anthony McClaran, Ucas chief executive, said: “There has been considerable speculation about the effect of current economic conditions on applications for higher education but these figures give some assurance that demand remains strong. Education is a long-term investment for the individual and for society as a whole.”