Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has welcomed sentencing in the case of irreversible damage to Dunadd Fort in Kilmartin Glen following illegal metal detecting and excavation.
In June 2020, a member of the public informed HES of metal detecting and excavation at Dunadd which is a Property in Care (PiC) of HES and protected as a scheduled monument in recognition of its national importance. Under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, it is an offence to use a metal detector or carry out unauthorised works on a scheduled monument without consent from HES or Scottish Ministers. HES reported the illegal activity to Police Scotland who referred the case to the Procurator Fiscal.
Subsequent investigations by HES and its archaeological contractors discovered 35 holes or areas of disturbance carried out by a spade which is consistent with metal detecting activity. 22 of the holes no longer contained the metal item that would have caused the detectorists to dig at that spot. Police Scotland seized an iron hammerhead that had allegedly been retrieved from Dunadd and HES commissioned specialist finds conservators to undertake a full assessment of the artefact as part of the case.
Dunadd is a nationally important site known for its high-status metalwork and the removal of up to 22 metal objects is substantial and illegal and has a serious impact on the cultural significance of the monument, causing irreversible damage.
The removal of an artefact from its soil context in isolation without any of the controls, analysis or care deployed by an archaeologist effectively destroys the artefact’s relationship with the site and can damage other archaeological remains. Artefacts removed through metal detecting hold limited monetary value and most of the information about its origins and associations - arguably its real value - alongside the physical artefact itself, is lost forever. This inhibits an ability to understand and appreciate the monument and its contribution to Scotland’s national story.
Oliver Lewis, Senior Ancient Monuments Officer at HES, said:
“We welcome the court’s decision which reflects the seriousness of the offence and the impact that it has had on one of Scotland’s most important archaeological sites.
Heritage crime is a serious matter which can irreparably damage our monuments and cultural assets as well as our proud historical connections to the past. HES is committed to investigating incidents of damage to scheduled monuments and we will continue to work closely with Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) to protect Scotland's historic environment."
Police Inspector Alan Dron, Police Scotland Rural Crime Coordinator and Chair of the Scottish Heritage Crime Group, said:
“Illegal metal detecting is a serious offence which can result in significant harm and loss to Scotland’s historic past. The detection and prosecution of these offences at Dunadd have been the result of a concerted effort by the Police, the Crown Office and Historic Environment Scotland, to ensure that we continue to protect that history and preserve it for generations to come.”
Dunadd is a complex multi-phase site with evidence of human use dating from around 3000BC to at least AD1500. It is best known and internationally renowned as being the royal centre and capital of the Gaelic kings of Dál Riata from about AD 500 to AD 800. It is one of the few places referenced in early histories - first mentioned in AD 683 - and may also be the spot where St Columba reportedly met a merchant from Gaul in the late 500s.
Excavations in the 1980s confirmed that Dunadd was a major production centre with one of the most significant metalworking workshops in early medieval Europe as well as yielding the largest and most diverse range of pottery of any site in north-west Europe.
Dunadd is located in the prehistoric landscape of Kilmartin Glen which has one of the most important concentration of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in mainland Scotland.
Under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, HES is a Specialist Reporting Agency meaning that it can submit reports to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) in instances where a scheduled monument is deemed to have been significantly damaged by unauthorised works.
The two individuals were sentenced to a Community Payback Order requiring them to carry out 80 hours unpaid work and supervision for six months. A requirement of their sentence was that they do not enter any site owned and managed by Historic Environment Scotland for a period of two years. The court also granted the prosecutors motion for the forfeiture of the metal detector.
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