Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Third Le Catillon de Haut Hoard Found by Treasure Hunters?

Metal detecting and coiney forums are buzzing with the news that another hoard of Coriosolite and Roman coins has been found on the island of Jersey. It's a biggun, tens of thousands of coins and could be worth, speculation is rife, up to ten million pounds. The finders, veteran metal detectorists Reg Mead and Richard Miles had located the spot back in February and took out 61 (65?) coins at the time before calling the archaeologists in. Kudos for that at least. They however want to keep the findspot secret, because there might be more treasure in the ground there. The island's Minister of the Environment has already declared it protected as a site of 'archaeological potential' and plans to list it. So if he does it properly,  Messers Mead and Miles will not be going back there anyway.

Among all the jubilation and tekkie backslapping, some jabbering tekkies, taking a line from their PAS partner, reflect:
Interesting to see what the internet Trolls make of it. Ten million pounds - that will upset the Trolls who will squabble and wallow in their collective bitterness for months to come.

Personally, I think it is a triple scandal. Firstly, the financial problem for the people of Jersey. It's a shame the local authorities did not protect the site (see below) earlier. Now in order to keep a ten million pound Treasure on the island, instead of scattered on the international coin market, the island's 97,857 inhabitants will have to raise a lot of dosh to pay off the Treasure hunters and their accomplice the landowner. That means every man, woman and child on the island will have to pay them 102 quid each. A hundred quid a head to keep the heritage which is rightfully their from being sold off under their noses.

The finders want to keep it a secret, I suggest there is a second reason. I think they were targeting a known site. The local newspapers are not quite so conspiratorial as the national ones, one of them lets slip that "the biggest Celtic coin hoard of all time has been unearthed in the Parish of Grouville". That name should ring a bell for anyone knowing about the archaeology of the period. Look at this:
Metal detectorists Reg Mead and Richard Miles had been looking for the coins off and on for more than 30 years. In the early 1980s, an elderly lady told Mr Mead a story about buried coins being thrown up into the air when a tree was uprooted in the field 20 years earlier.
Other accounts talk of a 'potato sack' of coins recovered. It seems to me that such a find would not leave any other trace in local lore or the literature. In the parish of Grouville is  place called Le Catillon de Haut. Here was found a big hoard of coins in 1957, and another in 1959. Is this ['twenty' years before 1980] not the hoard the old lady told of (where many coins were left in the ground)? This would be why those two blokes kept coming back to search for the rest with their Rufus Jupitor and Whites TM808, a "two boxes hoard hunter". If you look at the "Sun" cornily-titled article ("Metal detector buffs strike gold with £10m Iron Age 'hedge fund', the fourth photo down shows a closeup of the edge of the hoard showing it had been deposited (in a sack?) in a bowl-shaped depression, but also showing a silver ring like had been found in the earlier Le Catillon hoard. I bet when the proper details do emerge (the archaeologists have to produce a report before their work is done) this new hoard will turn out to have been discovered very near indeed to the the known 1957 and 1959 Le Catillon finds.

So, if I am right, this is a spot where two big hoards had already been found. It is obvious artefact hunters are going to target such spots. Why are they (and a buffer zone) automatically not protected by law to make such searching subject to permits and conditions? It would save everyone a lot of bother and public money, quite apart from protecting the findspots from being ripped apart by treasure hunters with their two-box hoard hunters. And yes. I bet there is more here.

Let's have a look at the hole:

Well below plough level, isn't it?

The top of this hoard looks to be about a metre down.

The treasure hunters with their hoard hunter metal detectors have led to a complex group of artefacts being dug out from the archaeological layers below plough-damage level (at a depth of over a metre) in a hole about three metres square. Clearly a keyhole excavation rendering it impossible to fully understand the context of the deposition of these artefacts. How much the excavation has cost and the conservation and archivisation of the finds will cost is not stated, but however much that is, it is not enough. Targeting this known site by these two metal detectorists is going to cost a huge amount of money, money that need not have been spent to 'protect' these deeply-buried artefacts and their context. Metal detecting has not led here to the preservation of an archaeological context, but the hasty and ill-resourced exploration of one. 

Meanwhile several metal detector owners have, I expect, spent the day looking at Google Earth, they've found that hedgerow and the little bungalow without the dormer windows with the white caravan outside it seen in the background of the photos of the 'secret' location and they'll be watching for their opportunity to get out there when the fuss dies down to have a go at finding more.  Watch out for even more units of the Coriosolites "surfacing" on the market any day now...


Photos: Top BBC, bottom Daily Mail

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