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Hadrian’s Wall.

Illegal Metal Detectorists Cause Irreparable Damage to 1900-Year-Old Hadrian’s Wall

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Nighthawks, illegal metal detectorists who search for treasure at night, have hit one of the best-preserved sections of Hadrian’s Wall. Historic England has sent out a call to action to the public with a plea that the destruction and looting will stop.

The destruction left by the nighthawks is visible in over 50 holes around Brunton Turret in Northumberland. This section of the wall has been very well-preserved and was built by the 20th Legion of the Roman army.

Construction on Hadrian’s Wall began in 122 AD and it took six years for the various Roman legions to complete it while stationed in the far from home lands of Britain. It originally measured 3 meters (10 ft) wide and up to 6 meters (20 ft) in height east of the river Irthing, and 6 meters (10 ft) wide and 3.5 meters (11.5 ft) high west of the river. In the past, the wall was called Vallum Hadriani – after the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

Hadrian’s Wall (Northumberland) stretches for miles over rugged terrain. Source: BigStockPhoto

Hadrian’s Wall (Northumberland) stretches for miles over rugged terrain. Source: BigStockPhoto

It is believed that William Camden first excavated the wall in the 1600's, though the first drawings of the wall were made in the 18th century. More formal archaeological investigations of the site began in the 1900’s and have continued until today.

Archaeologists carrying out excavations at Roman Vindolanda (2011) near Hadrian’s Wall. Source: BigStockPhoto

Archaeologists carrying out excavations at Roman Vindolanda (2011) near Hadrian’s Wall. Source: BigStockPhoto

The Guardian reports that the metal detectorists who are carrying out the illegal digs at night are both stealing and also destroying elements of a site which could be much better explored by experts. Mike Collins, Historic England’s inspector of ancient monuments at Hadrian’s Wall, said:

“We know that the majority of the metal detecting community complies with the laws and regulations regarding discovery and recovery of objects from the land But the small number of people who steal artefacts and damage ancient sites are breaking the law and robbing us all of the knowledge and understanding that objects from the past can give us. These nighthawks are committing a criminal offence and we’d like everyone’s help to ensure they are caught. Together we can protect the precious shared legacy that our archaeological sites hold.”

Remnants of Hadrian’s Wall. Source: BigStockPhoto

Remnants of Hadrian’s Wall. Source: BigStockPhoto

Hadrian’s Wall is a protected site for its historical value – this means that people committing unapproved, individual “excavations” are breaking the law. Speaking on the issue, Mark Harrison, head of heritage crime and policing advice for Historic England, said:

“Illegal metal detecting is not a victimless crime. We may never see or fully understand the objects taken or damaged because they have been removed from their original sites with no care or record as to their history or context. Historic England will continue to work with Northumbria police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the metal detecting community to identify the small criminal minority who are intent on causing loss and damage to our shared cultural heritage and to bring them to justice.”

A Historic England spokesperson also told the media that one of the biggest problems is that they cannot be sure of what has been stolen,

“We don’t know what they are taking so they are in essence stealing knowledge. It is also the scale of the problem that is a worry to us, it is hard to look after the site. At this stage we don’t know about damage to the structure of the wall but there have been investigation in the past on the site which are really invasive so the best protection for these artefacts is for them to stay buried.”

In October the National Trust were forced to fly in 35 tons of stone by helicopter to repair a 250 ft (76.2 meter) section of Hadrian’s Wall because tourists visiting that location had created a significant amount of disintegration of the stones.

In October the National Trust were forced to fly in 35 tons of stone by helicopter to repair a 250 ft. section at Caw Gap. (North News & Pictures)

In October the National Trust were forced to fly in 35 tons of stone by helicopter to repair a 250 ft. section at Caw Gap . ( North News & Pictures )

Now Historic England has created a call to action to see if local people can provide clues on who the nighthawks are.

Top Image: Hadrian’s Wall. Source: BigStockPhoto

By Alicia McDermott

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