Tell a Thousand Lies…

After taking a lot of grief from tekkie filmmakers over my last post I’m quite happy to turn this one over to the big bopper across the pond….thanks John.


‘Tell a lie a thousand times and it soon becomes the truth’…  by John Howland

… was Communism’s propagandist mainstay. The more astute among the UK’s Communist archaeological community dropped it like a hot brick once they realised their obscurantist game had been rumbled and ran for cover. For the dimmer, more zealous ’Reds’ in their midst, the maxim stuck fast like shit to a blanket. It still does.

Some US treasure hunters are doubtless thinking at this juncture, “What the hell is this Limey talking about?” Listen in Bubbas; what happens here in the UK, sooner or later happens Stateside. It’s perhaps for the same reason that US detectorists can’t or won’t go on the offensive or organize a defensive barrier, that US archaeologists can’t change up to a higher offensive gear. Luckily for the hobby it’s down to archaeological apathy. For the moment.

I’ve been fighting these people for the best part of forty years. From the late ‘70s when the Council for British Archaeology’s ill-advised and ill-fated anti-metal detecting STOP campaign was in full swing, the metal detecting hobby was, and to a certain extent still is, media blitzed with all manner of supposed ‘facts’ and ‘figures’ designed to bamboozle the public at large. Nowadays, this scatology comes courtesy of a mish-mash of ardent, vocal, but dim-witted claquers populating archaeology’s anti-collecting, anti-detecting, anti-US, anti-capitalist, (and some say anti-Semitic) periphery. Many commentators see them as ‘basket cases’. One in particular belongs in a secure mental hospital.

Their meagre media gruel is not so much as dug up, as made up; comprising a mix of personal abuse, personal insults, ad hominen attacks, and lies; prompting many on the receiving end of this lunatic barrage to believe there are serious psychological issues at play. One such ‘basket case’, and the libel laws forbid me from naming names, is an utter, out-and-out, ‘nut case’ – completely off his trolley.

The portrayal of Detectorists by many of these ‘fruitcakes’ who pose Detectorists as the major threat to the heritage by alleging all manner of illegal activities leading to the haemorrhage of valuable (but as always, unspecified) relic data is unsurprisingly, simply untrue. Their adherence to Soviet leader ‘Uncle’ Joe Stalin’s dictum that, “The people who cast the votes don’t decide an election, it’s the people who count the votes who do,” these claquers have had limited success (it must be said) in spinning the truth. Of course, you can fool some of the people…

So what is the ‘truth’ behind heritage theft in the UK allegedly carried out under cover of darkness (known colloquially as Nighthawking)? It depends on who you ask: But if you want it kosher and straight from the horse’s mouth, look no further than the Nighthawking Survey.


Some eight years ago an investigation into ‘Nighthawking’ was commissioned and paid for by:-

English Heritage; Cadw; Historic Scotland; National Museum; National Museum of Wales, and the Portable Antiquities Scheme, are funding Oxford Archaeology, with support and help in kind from Archaeology Guernsey; Jersey Heritage Trust; Manx National Heritage; National Museums Scotland and Northern Ireland Environment and Heritage Service, to undertake a project entitled Nighthawks and Nighthawking: Damage to Archaeological Sites in the United Kingdom and Crown Dependencies caused by illegal searching and removal of antiquities.

All of them chipping-in where possible, to raise over sixty Grand to pay for it.

Oxford Archaeology Ltd (OA) is, as their website claims; “one of the largest and longest established independent archaeology and heritage practices in Europe” and was chosen to undertake the investigation. OA’s report, The Nighthawking Survey, was published in 2007/8. It makes for sobering reading, not for detectorists I hasten to add, but dissident Luddites in the archaeological community on the fringe (of what I’m unsure, but certainly not reason).

So what did OA uncover about detectorists’ alleged felonies? I quote from their report:-

The Nighthawking Survey

Nighthawks are not to be confused with responsible metal detectorists. It is clear that many metal detectorists follow good practice guidelines, record and/or report their finds, abide by the Treasure Act (1996) and are valued contributors to archaeological understanding.

A total of 240 sites were reported affected by Nighthawking between 1995 and 2008 of which 88 were Scheduled Monuments. The number of reported attacks on Scheduled Monuments has decreased from 1.3% of the resource to 0.41% since the last survey in 1995. A total of 152 non-scheduled sites have also been raided (this category was not examined in 1995). Results suggest that from 3-6% of archaeological excavations are also raided, although the number of archaeological units that reported instances of Nighthawking was down from 37 out of 50 in 1995 to 15 out of 54 in 2007 (19 units responded, reporting 35 affected sites).

The figures are official. No question. The data reveals startling results when closely examined and doubtless came as a bitter disappointment to some of the Survey’s commissioners. OA seems to have put a brave face on things and to their credit, reported the data ‘as found’.

For example:-

240 sites are cited as being “affected by Nighthawking” over a 13-year period (1995-08). Thus, 240 divided by 13 equates to an average of 18.461 incidents per year.

Or put another way:

If the number of sites, “affected by Nighthawking” per year (18.461), is divided by 12 (months in a year) it equates to 1.538 incidents per month.

Or put another way:

If the number of sites per year, 18.461, allegedly “affected by Nighthawking” is divided by 52 (weeks in a year), averages out at LESS than ONE incident a week: That figure being 0.355.

Yes…that’s 0.355 incidents a week. A crime tsunami? Nope!

Nevertheless, those who responded to OA’s questionnaire might well have confused the ‘evidence’ of so-called looting with that caused by nocturnal animal activity – and there’s no evidence in the survey either way apart from photographs of holes in the ground. This of course is the Survey’s major investigative flaw rendering the whole Survey utterly misleading and useless.

But let’s be generous here; let’s go along with the data and let’s further suppose for the moment the ‘looted’ sites really were excavated clandestinely; so what was stolen? Anything, or, nothing? No one knows.

The Nighthawking Survey – despite its imperfection – clearly shows metal detecting (in the UK at least) is not, nor has been, a threat to the heritage. So when next some archaeological dingbat shouts the crap, quote the Nighthawking Survey in reply.


You can prove anything by statistics except the truth.

George Canning





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