NIGHT-HAWKERS may have stripped some of the most valuable artefacts from a newly discovered Anglo-Saxon royal settlement, archaeologists have warned.
The discovery of the high-status settlement on fields near the village of Rendlesham, Suffolk, was made public this week after more than five years of work.
But as about 70 finds which point to a site of international significance go on show to the public, those behind the search said they had been forced to act by metal-detector users scouring the site illegally. A plan has been put in place with Suffolk Police to protect what remains after the discovery was announced.
Sir Michael Bunbury, who owns the farmland, said he had contacted local council archaeologists after becoming concerned about illegal night-time activity.
He added: “The sad thing is, it is impossible to know exactly what has been lost. We will never know what it was, where it is and it can’t contribute to our wider understanding of this site.
“It is fair to speculate that some very valuable artefacts indeed have been removed and sold privately because of course that is exactly what night-hawkers are after.
“The good news is that, despite this criminal activity, there has still been a very significant find. By legitimately searching the site and putting the finds on public display, we have effectively put the problem on our land to a stop. Perhaps this is a lesson in how to put that kind of activity to a halt.”
The Yorkshire Post revealed in 2012 that English Heritage had warned illegal metal detectorists would face prosecution for raiding archaeology sites and placing the nation’s heritage in jeopardy of being lost forever.
The escalating problem of nighthawking led to a concerted drive being launched by English Heritage to tackle it.
Archaeologists say the nation’s passion for the past has been fuelling the desire for rogue metal detectorists to unearth artefacts to then sell on.