Sunday, 2 September 2012

Digging up £10m of Iron Age Coins

As told to Chris Broughton").
In May, Reg and I returned to the field with his Deepseeker, a detector designed to locate objects at greater depths. Sweeping the area where we'd found the greatest concentration of coins, he hit the target almost straight away. Three feet down, Reg's spade struck something solid. [...] It was five days before the hoard was hoisted from the clay it had occupied for more than 2000 years. It emerged like a huge teardrop, three feet across and five feet long [...] So far, it's the biggest hoard ever discovered on Jersey, and possibly the largest found anywhere. Some reports say it may be worth £10m. I don't know if Reg and I will ever see any of that – the law for finders in Jersey has yet to be fully established. [...]  A reward would be a bonus, but simply adding something to the archaeology and history of Jersey would be enough – that's all Reg and I ever really wanted to do.

It is not actually true to say that there is no established "law for finders" as Treasure Trove applies (see Stéphanie Nicolle, 'Treasure Trove (1) Lost, Stolen or Strayed), The Jersey Law Review Vol. 5 number 1 Feb 2001 [Cf. here]).

Well, never mind the reward, what somebody has to come up with now is the funding for one or more people to work on the soil block, recording the precise three-dimensional position of each individual item within that deposit and cleaning and photographing each and every one of those coins, then their individual storage with their finds numbers in a form allowing any one of them to be retrieved for examination. Then the permanent storage, inventorisation and monitoring of their state (and insurance for the premises) in perpetuity. How many thousands of pounds will that be costing? It's all very well digging something up from undisturbed and otherwise unthreatened archaeological deposits a metre or more down, it is entirely another thing "adding something to the archaeology and history of Jersey" by their proper recording and study.  Getting them out of the ground is just the beginning of a long and expensive post-excavation process, archaeology is not a simple treasure hunt to "find interesting things". And who do these detectorists think will pay for that? Did they consider that before targeting the site of a known discovery with their Deepseeker, and oughtn't they to have done?

Is it not the job of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to raise these issues with their collecting partners and make them aware of the consequences for others of their actions?   Yes, of course it is, but what's the betting they will continue to ignore that part of "outreach" in favour of head-patting to get more artefacts in their database? (And yes, I know the PAS does not cover Jersey, but if I can read and think about what the PAS is and is not doing and saying to artefact hunters from the other side of Europe in Poland, I imagine artefact hunters just the other side of the English Channel can too).

Richard Miles, 'Experience: I dug up £10m of iron age coins', Guardian

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