Last year, archeologists investigating land for a proposed U.K. housing development received a stunning surprise: a remarkable buried Roman building complex. This year, in a surprising move, a government historic preservation organization reburied the site.

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The ruins in Scarborough, a town on England’s northeast coast, is a large building complex with a circular central room and a bathhouse. Was it a posh upscale residence? Or perhaps a religious site? Its exact use was unclear.

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“These archaeological remains are a fantastic find and are far more than we ever dreamed of discovering at this site,” said Keith Emerick, inspector of ancient monuments at Historic England, in a statement last year. Historic England is a government organization dedicated to preserving history. “They are already giving us a better knowledge and understanding of Roman Britain.”

If the Scarborough ruins are such a great find, why rebury the site? For its own protection. As soon as the site was discovered, housing developer Keepmoat and Historic England started discussing how to keep it safe. They wanted to apply for national historic monument designation, integrating it into public space within the development and providing public access.

Unfortunately, word got out quickly that Keepmoat had stumbled upon a rare archeological find. Almost immediately, “nighthawkers” showed up. That is, people illegally wielding metal detectors.

“Sadly, heritage crime can cause huge damage to assets of great historical interest,” said North Yorkshire Police spokesperson last April, as reported by the BBC. “Indeed, the cost to communities of heritage crime is often immeasurable, resulting in the loss of artifacts to future generations.”

The housing development will continue. A Keepmoat spokesperson said, “To inform visitors of the significance of the findings, we have submitted a landscaping design to the Local Planning Authority, which will incorporate an interpretive depiction of the remains.”

It will be nowhere as exciting as seeing the actual ruins. Thanks a lot, nighthawkers.

Via Smithsonian

Lead image via MAP Archaeological Practice