Thursday, 23 May 2013

Tipperary Looter's Finds Tally

The reports of the recovery from a private house in England of a haul of just under 900 artefacts believed to have been illegally excavated in Ireland is interesting for a number of reasons. One of them is that it reveals just how many artefacts a metal detectorist can find. One of the suspects in question died in May 2012 (and some of his ashes were scattered, it is said, on one of "his" fields). The investigation into the illegal activity is also stated in the reports to have begun in "2012". An unknown number of items however seem already to have been sold to collectors ( "Many items similar to those recovered have been offered for sale in recent times over the internet and are the subject of on-going investigations"). The collection as a whole consists of items which "are believed to have been illegally removed from Ireland between 2009 and 2012" (Irish Times). So this haul represents the results of three years plus five months of 2012, maximum, of an ill man dying of cancer. Not all of the 899 objects shown on the table (slide show here, and on the BBC page) are recordable. The "325 metal buttons dating from the 17th century to the 19th century" for example are not "recordable" in PAS terms, but the coins were (at least 57, quite a few thirteenth and fourteenth centuries). then there was an Early Medieval enamelled mount, a Bronze Age spearhead and flat axe (the latter though not necessarily found by the dead guy), a lot of later coins and early firearm projectiles, possibly from the site of some military skirmish. According to the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter if this were happening in England or Wales, one might expect the artefact hunter to have taken from the ground 102 recordable artefacts in this time. Are there 102 objects worth recording in an archaeological database on this tabletop? We will have to wait for full documentation of the recovered collection, and the retrieval from no-questions-asking collectors who purchased items from it before it was seized, to answer that question. I'd say though its not an unlikely prospect.

Ned Kelly, keeper of Irish antiquities at the National Museum
of Ireland, examines some of the unsold items (Irish Times)

The displayed unsold items (BBC)

If you bought an artefact from this man, please contact the authorities. It was not his to sell. Of course, it would help get these artefacts back from unsuspecting buyers if the authorities named him....

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