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   Inside Out - South East: Monday September 5, 2005


Nighthawks - treasure hunters or plunderers?

Inside Out investigates Nighthawks - the treasure hunters who refuse to abide by the law.

BBC One's Inside Out programme uncovers evidence of an ancient golden cup, which could be only the third of its kind ever found in the UK.

For the past five months, Inside Out has been investigating illegal treasure hunters who plunder archaeological sites in the South East of England.


A find is regarded as treasure if it is:
- more than 300 years old
- more than 10% gold or silver

The finder has to report it to the local coroner within 14 days.

Failure to do this can result in prosecution.

All registered treasure is logged by a 'Finds Liaison Officer' from the Government's 'Portable Antiquity Scheme' based in London but with officers in every English region.

The coroner takes the find to a local museum or archaeological centre.

The museum receiving the find has to notify the Sites and Monuments Record.

If the find is important, the site will be excavated.

If the museum decides to keep the find, the coroner holds an inquest to decide if it is treasure.

If it is treasure, it is valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee.

The money is shared between the landowner and the finder.

Dr. Paul Wilkinson from the Kent Archaeological Field School says that the treasure hunting business has become extremely controversial.

"There’s been punch ups on fields. Cars are being rammed. Yes, it’s war, it’s as simple as that," he says.

This is the world of the 'Nighthawk'.

'Nighthawking' is a term attributed to people who trespass on archaeological sites and farmland with the sole intention of removing any historical artefacts they can find.

The offences involved are theft, trespass and contravention of 'The Treasure Act'.

However the Nighthawks themselves see the plundering of treasure as fair gain.

They can see little difference in the way they and museums acquire antiquities.

"Our past belongs to us, as much as them," says one Nighthawk.

"There’s all that stuff in museums, half of that was stolen. Who’s the thieves there?”

Ancient finds

While doing this research the team uncovered the evidence of an ancient golden cup.

If authenticated, it could prove to be priceless.

Only two Bronze Age Gold Cups have ever been found in the UK.

"It really disgusts me because they are physically removing our heritage."
Liz Wilson, Portable Antiquity Scheme Officer, Sussex

The Ringlemere Gold Cup was unearthed in a field, also in Kent in 2002.

It is on display next to the Rillaton Gold Cup at the British Museum, which was found in Cornwall in 1837 and is listed as one of Britain's top ten treasures.

Golden cup

On Thursday 18 August, and following lengthy negotiations with a gang of illegal treasure hunters, BBC's Inside Out took possession of a gold handle believed to be from a third Bronze Age cup buried somewhere in Kent.

The story of how it was handed over will be revealed to the viewers in this 30 minute documentary into the dark world of criminals who will stop at nothing to raid archaeological sites.

The 'handover' took place in a field just outside Tunbridge Wells and was witnessed by Dr Paul Wilkinson of the Kent Archaeological Field School.

When Dr. Wilkinson met the Nighthawk and witnessed the handover, he said, “You know it’s important, you know where the rest of it is. You’re finding the Crown Jewels of a Bronze Age Chieftain.

"This was buried by a Bronze Age Chieftain. If he thought 3,000 years on there would be two people in a field with a BBC crew arguing over it, he would probably have laughed."

Gold handle
Golden find - the handle of the ancient cup

The film shows a masked man agreeing to hand over the golden handle he claims to have dug up somewhere in the county so it can be authenticated by experts at the British Museum.

His aim is simple: after two years trying to secretly locate the rest of the cup with his metal detector, he has given up and now seeks immunity from prosecution.

This is so he can legitimately work on the land with archaeologists to find the treasure and claim his reward.

During the programme, Inside Out talks to archaeologists whose sites are regularly being plundered.

We also talk to the police tasked with tackling the problem and investigate the 'Nighthawks' responsible.


See also ...

Inside Out: South East
Lord Lucan

On the rest of Inside Out
Ghost hunt delays


On the rest of the web
National Council for Metal Detecting

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