Wednesday 23 September 2009

Huge Anglo-Saxon Gold Hoard Dug up by Finder

The UK's largest find of Anglo-Saxon gold was discovered in June this year buried beneath a field in Staffordshire, the assemblage of 1,500 pieces consisting of about 5kg of gold and 2.5kg of silver, dates back to the 7th Century and is unparalleled in size. A one-month excavation was subsequently carried out. Today an inquest will determine if it is Treasure or not (a bit unlikly that, I guess).

The collection was found "with his trusty 14-year-old detector" by Terry Herbert, 55, of Burntwood in Staffordshire, who has been metal detecting for 18 years. He came across the hoard as he searched land belonging to a farmer friend. Not surprisingly, the exact location has not been disclosed but it is understood to be near the Lichfield border in South Staffordshire in the region of the finder's home.

Duncan Slarke, finds liaison officer for Staffordshire, was the first professional archaeologist to see the group:
"Nothing could have prepared me for that," he said. "I saw boxes full of gold, items exhibiting the very finest Anglo-Saxon workmanship. "This is absolutely phenomenal. "It is a hugely important find - the most important one that I have dealt with, but this has got to rank as one of the biggest in the country."
"Boxes of gold" - so was this another case of the whole lot being hoiked out by the finder? well, so it would appear ('Golden dreams for man who found Anglo-Saxon hoard'):
Terry Herbert, from Burntwood, Staffordshire, unearthed his find on the afternoon of July 5 this year. The 55-year-old spent the next five days scouring a stretch of Staffordshire farmland and digging up pieces of an archaeological puzzle already sparking debate among experts. He said: "Imagine you're at home and somebody keeps putting money through your letterbox, that was what it was like. "I was going to bed and in my sleep I was seeing gold items. "As soon as I closed my eyes I saw gold patterns, I didn't think it was ever going to end. "I just kept thinking of what I might find the next day."
So Mr Herbert spent five whole days digging up his lucrative loot ("money through the letterbox") before he decided to report the find? The moment he first uncovered a gold object that was not a coin, the object was potential Treasure. That's what the law says. Sadly once again the archaeologists would not have got there before he'd already spent five days removing items. What kind of records did he keep?

Mr Herbert is unemployed and therefore has a lot of free time to go out with his metal detector. He said about his hobby:
"People laugh at metal detectorists. I've had people go past and go 'beep beep, he's after pennies'. "Well no, we are out there to find this kind of stuff and it is out there".
Yes, it is out there, but is it "managing" the British archaeological heritage to dig up every last piece of ancient metal for a cash reward in such a manner?

Anyway what's in this hoard? The Belfast Telegraph somehow was able to tell the world well before the other newspapers found out, its dismounted sword fittings, bits of helmets, some cruciform objects nd an inscribed gold strip which is one of the most significant and controversial finds. One expert believes that the style of lettering indicates it is from the seventh or early eighth centuries, while another dates it to the eighth or ninth centuries. The inscription, mis-spelt in places, is thought to be from the Book of Numbers, Chapter 10 verse 35. The translation reads: "Rise up, o Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face".

I guess the interpretation hinges on the dating of the latest object in the hoard (e.g., the inscribed strip) - IF of course that inscribed strip was indeed associated with the other finds, the fact that this group was dug up in the way it was may hinder making that association - this could have been a spot where items were deposited over a umber of decades (a shrine and war booty for example). No doubt we will be hearing more about this find in the near future.

Now apart from the purchase price, how many resources is full publication of that little lot going to use up, how long will it last (publishing the Sutton Hoo objects took a mere forty years), and how much will it cost the nation?

So Britain paid out 1.1 million to have the Vale of York Viking Hoard dug up univited by treasure hunters, now how many million for this "Staffordshire Hoard"? How many millions annually will the UK be paying the people exploiting the archaeological record as a source of easy cash as more and more individuals take up metal detecting because of news like this? It seems to me that British archaeology is getting itself deeper and deeper into a cleft stick with these finds, coming out of the ground in increasing frequency - where will it all end?


jubjub said...

Mr Barford, i can certainly see your point about the fellow taking 5 days to carry on extracting the finds before informing the correct authorities.
But on the other hand what if after the first initial find, the authorities where informed and then nothing else was found. How much money would that have cost to bring in the archaeologist ? a very substanstial amount from what i understand. It seems by your comments that this is acceptable but not if an important find has been made by a person with one of these machines (metal detector)just in case you take that word wrongly.
Also you seem to have a very dim view of people who use a metal detector, from what i read and have seen before, there are very improtant sites that these folk find and some that would have never come to light if it were not for them. Also do you know for certain that these people are in it just for the money ? it seems very bizare to make such asumptions, it is like putting fishermen who sell their catch in the same catergory, so we may just as well tell them we don't want to eat fish anymore. My point is you can't have one without the other, while ever there is history and items yet to be discovered there will always be people with metal detectors and while ever there are star's in the sky there will always be astronomers, but , as i said at the start you are correct in saying it should have been reported straight away, but is there any harm in working together.
Just on another note, if as you say these people are in it for the money, what would have happened if the fellow found everything and not reported it and sold it via the black market ? I would not be sending you this comment or reading your post because there would be nothing to write about... food for thought.

Paul Barford said...

Mr „jub jub” (why on earth can’t you metal detectorists use your own names?)

Whether there was „anything there” or not, the law says it has to be reported, the code of practice says report it before you dig out more stuff. The point is that taking out one third of the hoard himself, we could well have lost one third of the contextual information.

Also you seem to have a very dim view of people who use a metal detector” No, I have an extremely dim view of British policies concerning metal detecting and the arguments behind them.

I made the comments about the money aspect based on Mr Herbert’s own remarks. Financing all these finds is a problem however you must admit, ad it is a problem that will get worse, not better.

"what would have happened if the fellow found everything and not reported it and sold it via the black market ?"
well, fortunately, in this particular case, he’d be locked up for a very long time the moment it came on the market. There is no way the sword fittings and other stuff could have come (as an assemblage) from anywhere except England, and frankly it would be a very bold vendor who tried to claim it was “from an old collection” or “from my grandma’s attic. (Even then, the Treasure Act requires him to report it as it would have fallen under the old Treasure Trove laws). He'd never have got away with it.

I am sure though that many metal detectorists in your country do.

Gavrielle_LaPoste said...

I find the loss of contextual information deeply disturbing, especially in a find such as this. I don't think anyone can stress enough just how much more valuable the archaeological record is than mere shiny objects - which are beautiful to look at and tell us much, but not the whole of their story.

I suppose Mr. Herbert did not understand that the value of these objects would actually have increased substantially if they'd been properly excavated. Provenance is everything. And the more knowledge surrounds a particular item the more value it has for the collector.

I do understand that he might have been touched by "gold fever" especially given the current economic downturn. Digging up one or two items to see what he'd found would have been understandable. But once the size and scope of the hoard sank in he really should have reported it. There's no excuse for a five day wait and a third of the site having been destroyed. It makes me wonder how long it was before he told his friend, the property owner, exactly what he'd found. And to whom he tried to sell a few pieces before he was told, in no uncertain terms, that no dealer, reputable or otherwise, would touch it.

Frankly, I wish fines or jail sentences might be imposed on those who knowingly disturb what is clearly going to become a national heritage site. Possibly even the forfeiture of their claim on the "treasure".

Paul Barford said...

Far be it for me to cast aspersions, but that five days going back each day to get out more does look a bit suspicious....

Mr Herbert is no novice, he has been metal detecting quite a long time, he has apparently been reporting stuff to the PAS previously, so one would have thought the message would have sunk in. So it is hard to know what he thought he was doing.

I tend to think that there is often more to these stories than we are being told, the press releases each trip over themselves to present each case as more ideal than the last. I suppose the logic is that if metal detectorists see their fellows heaped with praise, then there is more incentive to "do the right thing" and report finds. But reporting finds is anyway just obeying the law. Perhaps we should now go more for the "doing the right thing" when it comes to how it is recorded as it leaves the ground.

Your last point is an important one, the Treasure Act is written backwards, it secures the objects and not the site they came from. Who knows why this stuff was buried here? Was it a random act, or is there something at this spot that the excavations to date have not identified? Are there more deposits like this 200 metres away like at Snettisham? I suspect that is not unlikely.

But whatever, you can bet anything you like, every metal detectorist in England will be out in the fields this weekend. Some of them headed down to Staffordshire no doubt.

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