Thursday 31 December 2020

Multi-purpose Access Agreement turns out Useful for Hoard Hoiker

Last September, a British birder who’d stopped on the edge of a farmer’s field to watch a buzzard and a pair of magpies stumbled onto a trove of 2,000-year-old Celtic coins worth an estimated £845,000 (Isis Davis-Marks, 'British Bird-Watcher Discovers Trove of 2,000-Year-Old Celtic Coins' Smithsonian magazine Dec 31st 2020).

As first reported by Julian Evan-Hart of Treasure Hunting magazine, the unnamed bird-watcher—who is also an amateur metal detectorist—unearthed the stash of some 1,300 gold coins in a field in the eastern English countryside. Dated to between roughly 40 and 50 A.D., the cache is the largest hoard of Iron Age Celtic coins found in the United Kingdom since 2008 [...] “I saw the glint of gold and realized it was a beautiful Celtic gold stater, which made me sit down in sheer shock,” the birder tells Treasure Hunting, as quoted by the Daily Mail’s Luke May. “I then spotted the second coin two feet away and rushed home to get my [metal detector].” Upon his return, the man found that his detector produced a “really strong” signal, a sure sign that more treasures lingered below the surface. Digging down about 18 inches, he extracted a copper vessel brimming with gold coins [...] he filled two large shopping bags with the cache of coins and returned home. Then, he promptly contacted local authorities to report the find.
What a shame that he did not report it in time for the hoard to be properly excavated and not hoiked blind in a hurry by a bird-watcher. Although he found them in a container he seems to have tipped them loose into carrier bags. Two large carrier bags full of loose artefacts hoiked from below plough level are not archaeological information. Are the PAS going to condemn him for his actions?


Philip said...

Truly depressing... yet more information lost because of impatience or the fear - realistic or not - that other metal detectorists would make off with the hoard. After all these years and dozens and dozens of hoards, there are still almost no metal-detected Iron Age hoards found in England which have been archaeologically excavated in situ and/or lifted in a block for excavation in the lab. Taking apart the Le Catillon hoard in the lab clearly shows there is significance in the arrangement of the coins - maybe there was in this one too, but we'll never have the chance to find out.
Happy New Year, all the same...

Paul Barford said...

Happy New Year to you too. Thanks.

The whole point of the Treasure Act IS to get the archaeological information, instead of the loose objects.

The story here is that he found one coin by chance in the middle of a field (where one assumes he already had that permit) and when he looked more carefully saw a second ... so at that point the hoard was not obvious to anyone not standing right over it. A word with the farmer would have secured the parking of a vehicle or trailer over the spot to secure it until a team could come in to investigate it properly. The coins have been in that field 2000 years, can wait a little longer. I think the Treasure reward should be withheld for anyone not following the Code of Practice for the Treasure Act - for both finder and landowner. Very soon we'd see proper - not nominal - best practice in the fields.

There is no excuse for this."Two carrier bags". And that jug full of coins could at least have been delivered to the lab still full. Treasure reward should be forfeit here.

Paul Barford said...

"there are still almost no metal-detected Iron Age hoards found in England which have been archaeologically excavated in situ and/or lifted in a block for excavation in the lab."

and THESE are statistics that the Portable Antiquities Scam and Treasure Registrars should be publicising loud and clear.
Just how much archaeological information is being lost by current UK policies? Just stuffing them in a museum case with a spotlight to make the gold shine brighter to bring in the customers should not be allowed to obscure the fact that huge damage is being done to the archaeological record by Treasure Hunting.

Brian Mattick said...

Not just Iron Age, Philip, Bronze Age too:

In 2011 the Salisbury Museum director was glad a detectorist had stopped digging the Tisbury Hoard but said “you could count on two hands the number of Bronze Age hoards which have been recorded professionally by archaeologists in this way”.

And Anglo-Saxon:

In 2014 The Medway History Finders crudely dug out a whole assemblage on the pretext they couldn’t contact an archaeologist and if left there it might be stolen overnight. They say they were subsequently told they’d acted correctly: “The BM and our FLO said we done the best thing by taking out what we could”. So no question of guarding it, like normal people would.

Yes, greater punishments would largely make these people behave, although they threaten that any such sanctions would lead to greater defiance and secrecy and PAS et al take the threats seriously. But why would it be true? There are three Welshmen currently in prison who must be having a positive outreach effect on behaviour.

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