Tuesday 16 September 2008

Cold Feet about some British Finds

A metal detector using artefact hunter and collector from Nuneaton recently offered some UK coin dealers several ancient coins he claims to have found, but the dealers reported him to the police for attempting to sell what they say are fakes. As a result, he is due to go on trial in the next few months, charged with seven counts of fraud (he has pleaded not guilty). This individual is quite well-known in the British artefact hunting and collecting community. Among other things that emerges from their discussion of the case, it appears he is closely involved in the running of a metal detecting club, the "Coventry Moles". It also seems he is the same individual that was involved in another court case involving ancient coins in 2004 (before he changed his name). [For my thoughts on this case and its somewhat acrimonious aftermath see Britarch archives 17th to 24th June 2004]

Interestingly, it seems this "metal detectorist" has posted a number of his finds on the United Kingdom Detector Finds Database and they include an Anglo-Saxon coin which already a year ago was being questioned . This find was validated by the database administrators on account of the fact that it is die-linked to another coin which was already on the market in 2002 (which raises questions where that came from). The news of the upcoming court case has prompted comments on the "metal detecting" forums over the past few days how suspicious many other artefact hunters were (or now in hindsight are?) that the more interesting collectables such as gold coins, brooches and silver personal ornamets were being found on the sites searched even in "the quietest of fields" always by members of the inner circle of the Coventry detecting group (comments on Detectorist.co.uk by Lindum Searchers). There seems to be a vague suspicion in the milieu that some of the finds in the "metal detecting" meetings organized by the group to which this individual belonged may have been "planted" in the field for others to find. Who knows?

Obviously, and irrespective of the outcome of this court case, it is clear that in the current situation on the British collecting scene, anybody with a metal detector can claim they found anything in any field they choose to say it came from, and with no form of documentation of circumstances of discovery, nobody would be any the wiser. This allows all sorts of scope for abuse, and allows room for the archaeological record to become contaminated by all sorts of false and unverifiable information. This could include the passing off of fakes as genuine finds, which may even be given provenances by recording them with schemes like the UKDFD or PAS or by British museums. Whether or not that was what happened here time will tell. Certainly the development of this case would repay watching closely.

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