Friday 21 February 2014

The “Ruelzheim Treasure”

The “Ruelzheim Treasure” was hoiked out of the ground by an unnamed and unauthorized metal detectorist in Germany’s southwestern Rhineland-Palatinate state. They tried to sell it on the black market, but were caught, the pieces were only rendered up to the authorities "under pressure from investigators”. It is thought that some pieces have already been sold and disappeared into some private collection.  As the History Blog ('Looter caught with Roman gold, silver hoard', Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 ) put it:
By German law, all excavations for archaeological material must be authorized in advance by the government heritage authority. Different states have differing laws on the particulars. Some allow finders to keep half the value of a find, if not the find itself. The Rhineland-Palatinate is not one of them. Searching for ancient artifacts with a metal detector is a misdemeanor office. Removing any artifacts discovered without reporting them rises to the level of fraud, and selling them can result in a charge of receiving stolen property. Certainly if monetary value plays a part in determining the severity of a property crime in Germany as it does in the US, this looter is going to be in big trouble. 
The hoard dates to the early fifth century and contains a variety of prestige objects. Most remarkable are the set of silver and gold (gilded?) statuettes and pieces of fittings which are the remains of a curule seat, a commander’s portable folding chair. There were also a set of gold appliques to some kind of showy ceremonial costume. These consist of three dozen beautifully detailed solid gold pendant fittings shaped like leaves, a larger number of square sheet gold pyramids with attachment holes for gold wire stitching. There’s also some luxury tableware - a silver dish with the remains of gilding still visible that was cut into pieces, possibly to be used as hacksilver, a solid silver bowl with gold elements inset with semi-precious stones, and a crumpled and folded highly decorated silver plate that may have been a chest cover.

The hoard was buried near a former Roman road, in a relatively shallow hole. They may have been buried by the original owner or by marauders (perhaps after division of spoils or a tribute payment) who wanted to keep it safe from competing marauders, but whoever buried it for some reason was unable to come  back to reclaim so vast a treasure.
The age and nature of this hoard makes it a unique find in Germany, worth at least a million euro on the market and worth far more than that in historical value. It would be worth inestimably more if it had been excavated with respect for its context. Instead, the looter pulled whatever he could out of the ground, having no care whatsoever for archaeological integrity. According to state archaeologist Axel von Berg, the curule chair, for example, was “brutally torn out of the earth and destroyed.” The site itself was deliberately damaged. Boy would I love to see this thief prosecuted just for doing that.

The treasure will soon go on display in Mainz and Speyer.


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