Monday, March 1, 2010

Treasure trove

Amazing what people find in their backyards. Since the enactment of the Treasure Act of 1996, citizens of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are compelled to submit their finds
and split the profits with the Crown in the interest of historic preservation. Citizens of Scotland are bound by Treasure Trove laws.

Recently, a hoard of 208 silver denarii from the Roman Empire were found in a Suffolk field and are currently waiting assessment by the Treasure Valuation committee. The coins cover a period between the 1st c. B.C. and the 1st c. A.D. and may have been owned by a retired soldier.

In July 2009, an out-of-work man uncovered the largest treasure hoard ever found from Anglo-Saxon England while using a metal detector on a farm in Staffordshire. The 1,500 gold and silver objects (1st image) represent the best craftsmanship of the Dark Ages, weigh upwards of 11lbs., and have been valued at more than $5 million. "It looks like a collection of trophies. But it is impossible to say if the hoard was the spoils from a single battle or a long and highly successful military career," said Kevin Leahy of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

In March 2009, a gold lock ring used in the Bronze Age to secure the hair was found beneath a plowed field in Pembrokeshire, Wales. "I didn't know it was something special at first....It feels great to have found it. I'm very happy. It's my first treasure find," said discoverer Trystan Johns. Composed of 86-87% gold, 8-10% silver and 3-5% copper, the ring is one of only 4 similar objects found in Wales and is currently undergoing valuation.

A man using a metal detector on his land in Overton, Wales, discovered a gold touch-piece dating to between 1685 and 1688. The coin depicts a sailing ship on one side and St. Michael and the dragon on the other. It was not currency, but was instead wielded by the king during rituals intended to cure scrofula.

A woman in Hertfordshire found a 500-year-old pendant depicting the Holy Trinty after she and her son combed fields and beaches with a metal detector for 7 years. "You can literally miss things by inches. We couldn't believe it. We always dreamed of finding treasure," said Mary Hannaby. One of only three of its kind to have survived, it was estimated to be worth more than £250,000 and was to be auctioned by Sotheby's.

In 2006, a father and son found 28 medieval coins on farmland in Lancashire. Minted between 1351 and 1427, the pennies and groats were worth between £50 and £100. While awaiting their offer of reward, Ronald Blair said, "We have no idea how much it will be, but we are not expecting a fortune."

Conor Sandford was putting up a fence post on his family's farm in Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland, when he uncovered a 12th c. engraved silver finger ring. Said the 17-year-old,"Only when I was putting the soil back into the hole did I notice this wee thing sticking out. You know I thought it was a ring pull, off a Coca Cola can."

Another father and son team using metal detectors found a vast treasure of 617 coins and other objects in a muddy field in North Yorkshire. The Vale of York Hoard (2nd image) has been dated precisely to just after 927 A.D. and was reasoned to have belonged to the Vikings because it contained coins from as far away as the Middle East and Asia, and hack silver - pieces of jewelry cut up for their silver value. "This is the lifetime's treasure of a reasonably wealthy individual," said Andrew Morrison of the York Musuems Trust. The treasure trove was valued in 2006 at £1,082,000.

Those who don't report their finds to the authorities - like 23-year-old Kate Harding, who found a 700-year-old coin as a child while working with her mother in their garden in Shropshire - face jail time. Instead, Harding was recently fined for withholding the silver piedfort worth £1,800 that marked Charles IV's ascension to the French throne. The laws applied to treasure trove in the United States are much less clear and sometimes need to be sorted out by the courts. Depending on the state, successful treasure-hunters may find themselves charged with looting or trespass, instead of merely sharing the profits with the government and the landowner.

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