Sunday, May 6, 2012

Treasure hunting

With all of the treasure hoards being unearthed there, I picture the British countryside looking from Google Earth like it's inhabited by a plague of strange insects weaving to and fro, waving long, shiny appendages across the terrain. Lucky for these fortune hunters that the loot's former owners believed you can take it with you. Metal detecting on the beach has nothing on this!
Atypically, the trove at left was discovered by Dr. Owen Johnson of West Yorkshire in his own back yard, at a hole dug by builders (were they too anxious to get to the pub to investigate the bit of crockery?). It totaled 600 gold and silver coins dating to the 1640s and a gold ring inscribed “When this you see, remember me.” All precious metals older than 300 years are property of the Crown, according to the 1996 Treasure Act. After market value is assessed, museums are given the first chance to make an offer. As a reward, the purchase price is split between the finder and the property owner.
Stan Cooper had been metal detecting for 20 years when he finally hit paydirt in a farmer’s field near Sandbach, Cheshire. The unique clasped-hands brooch he found is shown above. The “Portable Antiquities Scheme” identified it as a high-quality gold piece from the late Middle Ages (1350-1450 A.D.), probably meant to be a betrothal gift. The lovely item at left was discovered by professionals; namely the Cambridge Archaeological Unit in the village of Trumpington Meadows, three miles south of the city. It's a gold and garnet pectoral cross that had been buried with a teenage Anglo-Saxon girl. Curiously, they found her skeleton laid out on her bed, which consisted of a wooden frame, metal brackets, and a straw mattress.

England's most breathtaking cache of recent times was found in 2009, when an amateur metal detector from Staffordshire who lived on disability stumbled upon a motherlode of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver from the 7th century. Three times that of the famous Sutton Hoo ship burial discovered in 1939, the unprecedented find of 1,500 royal-quality items included 84 pommel caps, 71 hilt collars, and spectacular gem-studded sword ornaments decorated with tiny interlaced beasts. Leslie Webster, formerly of the British Museum, examined the metalwork initially and described it as "absolutely the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells." Several of the "star items" are shown in detail here, including this stylized seahorse. Both the Staffordshire and Sutton Hoo treasures are described and beautifully depicted in Lost Treasures: The World's Great Riches Rediscovered.


  1. Tis a cold study that takes a dead girl's cross without inquiring into her story. But what did you think of the Freemason angle to Friday's post on Paul Revere?

  2. I wonder who the ring with “When this you see, remember me.” inscribed on it belonged to?

    The Freemason angle to Friday's post made a bit of sense, as did the deist angle.

  3. So strange to think it's some random item in the earth with no other objects or way to connect it with a person. The iconography indicates that it was a male/female couple's pledge of troth.
    I too liked the exegesis of the onlookers' poses from the Friday post.

  4. I've done some "treasure hunting" in my time, and have only come up with some old bottles out of rivers, probably no older than 50 or so years. I can't imagine what it would be like to unearth one of these ridiculous troves of pure gold and rich history... and then have it confiscated by the Keepers of The Crown!! Actually, possibly the most surprising part of the reclamation process is the fact that the finder gets to keep a great percentage of the value (50%!)!!