HERITAGE criminals are not just stealing artefacts, but robbing Suffolk of the chance to discover its past, the county archaeologist has said.
As Suffolk County Council announced on Tuesday that it had joined the national Alliance to Reduce Crime Against Heritage (Arch), archaeology department head Keith Wade said that thieves digging up archaeological sites closed windows into the past.
“They damage the layers and the context of the site,” he said. “With careful excavation, you can peel it back and work it out, but if people have been digging all over the place you can’t.
“Coins and metal objects give you the ability to date layers so if they are taken you are robbing future generations of the knowledge.”
In addition, many of the thousands of rural sites have never been properly excavated and East Anglia is the richest area of the country for them. Icklingham’s Roman settlement is a scheduled site so night detectorists are breaking the law, but bronzes from there have turned up in a private collection in America.
Mr Wade said his department worked with responsible metal detectorists who had land owners’ permission and reported their finds.
“They’ve been responsible for lots of important findsd. Our concern is the people who do it at night, stealing things so the information is often lost, he said.”
Arch was launched by English Heritage last year and covers all kinds of damage to and theft from historic sites, including graffiti, arson, vandalism and the alteration or demolition of listed buildings.
Mr Wade said: “The scheme is about co-ordinating efforts on heritage crime and making sure it goes to the most relevant authority to deal with.”
Cllr Guy McGregor, Suffolk County Council’s portfolio holder for roads and transport, said: “Theft and vandalism of Suffolk’s rich and irreplaceable heritage is on the increase. Heritage crime blights communities and must be stopped, which is why I am delighted to commit Suffolk County Council to this new initiative to work alongside local communities, farmers, landowners, the police and English Heritage to tackle it and protect Suffolk’s heritage.”