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Warriors wielding metal detectors redraw ancient maps of England

Amateurs using metal detectors have found record amounts of golden treasure and priceless scraps of history across England, according to an annual report from the British Museum. All the items were reported to archaeologists under a scheme which the museum's director, Neil MacGregor, called "quite unique in Europe". MacGregor recently presented the successful Radio 4 series, A History of the World in 100 Objects. The report shows that 2010 was an exceptional year, with 859 treasure discoveries (up by 10%) and 90,146 other finds (up 36%). The finds are helping draw new maps of invasion, settlement, trade and warfare across thousands of years of English history. All were reported through the treasure and portable antiquities

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Tags: Heritage Culture Museums Archaeology Science UK news News Article Maev Kennedy The Guardian Main section UK news

Geoff Egan obituary

Geoff Egan, who has died of coronary thrombosis aged 59, was the leading UK expert in medieval and later small finds, and pioneered liaison between archaeologists and the "mudlarks" who search for finds on the Thames foreshore. Digging in thick mud against the tide, mudlarks have retrieved a fascinating trove of metal artefacts left by generations of Londoners on the riverbanks. Mudlarks were once shunned by many professional archaeologists, who deplored what they saw as their unscientific methods of retrieval, but many developed great expertise and some, such as Tony Pilson, donated their collections to the Museum of London and the British Museum. Geoff had done some mudlarking himself before he became a professional archaeologist. Together with his colleague Hazel Forsyth, in 2005 he published Toys, Trifles and Trinkets, detailing Pilson's collection. This pioneering work studied a class of artefact (children's metal toys ma…

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Tags: Archaeology Science Museums Culture London UK news Obituaries Article The Guardian Main section Obituaries

Elaine Paintin obituary

Into a life cut short by a heart attack at the age of 63, Elaine Paintin packed three quite different phases of activity, as arts administrator, civil servant at the Department of National Heritage, and director of the Marc Fitch Fund. In each role she achieved a great deal that will be of lasting value for the arts, archaeology and local history of Britain. The second phase was the shortest of all: her secondment as civil servant with responsibility for drafting and getting through parliament the Treasure Act 1996. This major extension of the ancient law of treasure trove has resulted in the saving for the public of hundreds of buried antiquities. Elaine was born and brought up in Oxford, where her father, Leslie, worked in the council's planning department. She would have been the first to declare her debt to her teachers at Milham Ford school in Oxford. At that stage, too, she began an intermittent political involvement, as secretary of the Oxford Young Libera…

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Tags: Archaeology British Library British Museum Obituaries Article The Guardian Main section Obituaries

Why Frome is still cashing in on the Romans

Dave Crisp found treasure on a soggy ridge outside the Somerset town of Frome last April, and helped rewrite history. On a bitter winter afternoon, as he walks the frosty field again, he recalls one of the most heart-stoppingly exciting moments of his life. The 63-year-old ex-army man had discovered a scattering of Roman silver coins in the field. He came back a few days later with his detector, bought secondhand on eBay, to round up any remaining broken pieces. The signals were faint and confusing. "I picked out a piece of Roman pottery, and when I turned it over there was a coin, a bronze radiate, stuck in it. When I turned over the next handful of clay, it was stuffed with coins — 20 at least. I just sat back on my heels and shouted: 'I've done it!'. I knew at once I'd found a Roman coin hoard in its undisturbed container — I knew the archaeologists would wet themse…

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Tags: Archaeology Features Interviews History Museums Article Maev Kennedy The Observer The New Review Discover

British Museum takeover safeguards buried treasure agencies as quango goes

The agencies that handle archaeological finds, many from amateurs with metal detectors, will become part of the British Museum, their future assured as the government dismantles the Museums, Libraries and Archives (MLA) quango. The fate of the treasure and portable antiquities schemes was disclosed as they today report their annual audit of finds, another rich haul of gold coins, silver goblets, a 3,000-year-old bracelet found by a man clearing stones in a field in northern Ireland and a 400-year-old toy coach which came out of the mud of the Thames foreshore. However the two schemes, which maintain a national network of finds officers, will lose 15% of their £1.4m budget over the next four years, like the British Museum itself. Culture minister Ed Vaizey also said, as he launched the latest Treasure report which covers 806 reported finds in 2008, that the MLA responsibility for regional museums and libraries will be transferred as anticipated to the Ar…

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Tags: Quangos Archaeology Museums Museums News Arts Council England Article Maev Kennedy The Guardian Main section UK news

Roman helmet sold for £2m

In just three minutes at a Christie's auction, the most hauntingly beautiful face to emerge from the British soil in more than a century slid out of the grasp of the museum desperate to acquire it when the Roman helmet was sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for £2m [see footnote] – dramatically higher than the highest pre-sale estimate of £300,000. The man who found it last May, using a metal detector on farmland on the outskirts of the Cumbrian hamlet of Crosby Garrett, a currently unemployed graduate in his early 20s from the north-east, will share the price with the landowner, but is now a millionaire. Tullie House museum in Carlisle managed to stay in the bidding up to £1.7m, a staggering sum for a small museum raised in gifts and grant promises through frantic fundraising in the last month. Three more bids of £100,000 each lost it the treasure. "I'm still shaking," Andrew Macka…

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Tags: Heritage Culture Archaeology Museums UK news Science News Art and design Article Maev Kennedy The Guardian Main section UK news

Campaign to keep Roman cavalry helmet in Cumbria given boost

An anonymous benefactor has offered £50,000 to help keep a stunning Roman cavalry helmet discovered with a metal detector near the village of Crosby Garrett in Cumbria within the county. The donation is a major boost to the fundraising campaign by Tullie House museum in Carlisle, a small museum within yards of Hadrian's Wall which has a major Roman collection. Members of the public have donated £32,000 and the museum is racing to raise enough money to bid for the artefact at a Christie's auction next month. The helmet, modelled as the head of a handsome youth wearing a Phrygian cap, in bronze with a tinned face which would originally have shone like silver, is the most spectacular find of its kind in more than…

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Tags: Museums Culture Archaeology UK news Heritage News Carlisle Article Maev Kennedy

Roman cavalry helmet found with metal detector may go abroad at auction

A stunning Roman cavalry helmet, made to awe the spectators in a procession of wealth and power rather than for practical use in combat, has been found by a metal detector user near the village of Crosby Garrett in Cumbria. However, the artefact is not certain to end up in a local museum as single items of bronze are not covered by the Treasure Act. Instead the helmet, the best found in Britain in more than a century, is likely to make its finder rich at auction, with a guide price at Christie's of £300,000. Tullie House in Carlisle, which has an important Roman collection, is desperate to acquire the helmet with the backing of the British Museum, but faces an uphill battle to match bidders at next month's sale. One expert believes the helmet could go for £500,000 or more. The bronze helmet, which was originally tinned so it would have shone like silver, is modelled as the head of a handsome young man with curly hair, wearing a Phrygian cap - la…

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Tags: Museums Heritage Culture Archaeology UK news News Article Maev Kennedy The Guardian Main section UK news

Medieval roof finial found beside Thames

A scrap of muddy terracotta found on a bank of the Thames has provided a rare glimpse of the grandeur of medieval London before the Great Fire. The roof finial, up to 800 years old and in the shape of an animal, would have decorated a grand tiled roof at a time when most people lived under thatch. It was found by a mudlark – one of the small army of amateur archaeologists who scour the beaches and mudflats of the river at low tide. The finial is a rare find. The fire of 1666 obliterated much of the medieval street pattern and led to changes in building regulations to prevent fire spreading again with such disastrous speed. Roy Stephenson, head of archaeological collections at the Museum of London, said: "It gives a fascinating insight into the lost roofscape of medieval London, which we know relatively little about. Here we have evidence of a decorated tiled roof, possibly from a prestigious private dwelling." Mudlarks have operated for centurie…

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Tags: London Heritage UK news Culture News Article Maev Kennedy

Haul of Roman coins dug up in field to earn finder a fortune

Dave Crisp excavates part of the hoard of Roman coins he found in a pot in a field near Frome, Somerset. Photograph: Somerset County Council/PA A metal detector enthusiast could share a £1m payout after finding one of Britain's largest ever collections of Roman coins in a farmer's field, it emerged today. Dave Crisp, an NHS chef, was celebrating after a coroner ruled the find of 52,000 coins was treasure. It becomes the property of the crown and is bound to end up in a museum, but Crisp and the landowner will be rewarded once the hoard has been valued by an independent panel. Crisp, 63, had spent more than 20 years hunting for buried …

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Tags: Archaeology Science UK news Article Steven Morris The Guardian Main section UK news

Kabul calling: British Museum set for Afghanistan exhibition

"You can inform me please where is British Museum?" It is a question foreign visitors have been asking in Bloomsbury for more than 200 years, and I was especially happy to answer it this morning, because I had just left the museum's Annual Review press conference. Headline plans at the venerable Great Russell Street institution include an exhibition about Afghanistan, which will open next spring and which is the result of protracted negotiations with Kabul and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. But Neil MacGregor, the director of the museum, would not be drawn about the impending impact of cuts to museum funds. The museum management will find out on 20 October how much money they are to lose and they will be arguing their corner hard, probably mostly behind the scenes, until then. They have already gone so far as to develop a series of …

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Tags: Culture Museums Art and design Charlotte Higgins on culture Blogposts Article Vanessa Thorpe

Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon treasure hoard valued at £3.3m

The largest and arguably most beautiful hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found in Britain has been valued at nearly £3.3m by a panel of experts, a reward that will be shared between the amateur metal detectorist who found it and the Staffordshire farmer in whose pasture it lay hidden for 1,300 years. Professor Norman Palmer, chair of the treasure valuation committee, whose members pored over 1,800 gold, silver and jewelled objects in a day-long session at the British Museum, said: "It was breathtaking – we all agreed that it was not only a challenge but a privilege to be dealing with material of such quantity, quality and beauty. It was hard to stop our imaginations running away with us." Museums in Staffordshire will now scramble to raise the money – £3.285m to be precise – which will be paid as compensation to Terry Herbert, the metal detectorist, and Fred Johnson, the farmer. Johnson was magnificently underwhelmed by his good fortune this mornin…

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Tags: Heritage Culture Museums UK news News Article Maev Kennedy The Guardian Main section UK news

It's unfair to label metal detectorists as mere treasure hunters

Alexander Chancellor described Terry Herbert, who discovered the Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver – and with him the rest of the metal detecting community – as "disappointed lottery players" (The hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure is spectacular. But I fear the countryside will now be overrun with metal detectorists, 25 September). And in complaining that the Staffordshire find will "inevitably bring metal-detecting in from the cold and lead to a modern gold rush", he harks back to a cold war mentality between metal detectorists and archaeologists that is now long out of date. …

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Tags: Opinion Response Comment Archaeology Museums Article The Guardian Main section Editorials & reply

Largest ever hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold found in Staffordshire

A harvest of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver so beautiful it brought tears to the eyes of one expert, has poured out of a Staffordshire field - the largest hoard of gold from the period ever found. The weapons and helmet decorations, coins and Christian crosses amount to more than 1500 pieces, with hundreds still embedded in blocks of soil. It adds up to 5kg of gold – three times the amount found in the famous Sutton Hoo ship burial in 1939 – and 2.5kg of silver, and may be the swag from a spectacularly successful raiding party of warlike Mercians, some time around AD700. The first scraps of gold were found in July in a farm field by Terry Herbert, an amateur metal detector who lives alone in a council flat on disability benefit, who h…

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Tags: UK news Archaeology Heritage Art and design News Benefits Article Maev Kennedy

Beginner's guide to archaeology

Archaeology on television can seem like an activity for geeks in white coats and blokes in over-sized jumpers. But its range of activities is so wide – from laboratory to museum, from excavation to historic building – almost anyone can find a welcome somewhere. Master our quick guide, and you will soon sound like a proper digger. Key concepts Site: A place where something happened in the past that could be or is the subject of excavation. Evaluation: Research, including the digging of narrow "trial trenches" (often with machines), to establish the quality of preservation at a site and its significance (Time Team digs are often described as evaluations). Excavation: The real McCoy, from a few days digging in a farmyard, to years investigating 75 hectares (185 acres) by 80 field archaeologists, with a laboratory and 27 computers on site, prior to the opening of Heath…

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Tags: Archaeology Science Features UK news Heritage Heritage Art and design Culture Travel Article The Guardian G2 Comment & features

When hidden treasure is just a Stone's throw away

Metal detecting will, for some people, always be viewed as the beach equivalent of trainspotting or twitching; an activity associated with social misfits. But joining enthusiasts to uncover hidden treasure could mean potentially profiting from long summer days (or, at worst, an antidote to boredom). In fact, it can be quite rock and roll – really! – with legendary Rolling Stone Bill Wyman such an enthusiast he even has his own website. Since the gadget arrived in the early 1970s, the hobby has soared in popularity. Countless small, low-value items such as copper coins and belt buckles have been unearthed but sometimes there's something much more significant.­ Less than two weeks ago, a Hertfordshire­ housewife found a 15th-century gold treasure valued at £250,000. Then again, it was her first find of real worth in seven years ... so don't get your hopes up too much. According to the British Museum there were around 67,000 finds of archeo…

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Tags: Alternative investments Money Heritage Travel Consumer affairs Article Harriet Meyer The Observer Observer Business, Media & Cash Cash

Treasure raiders scooping up UK heritage

Not all treasure thieves tiptoe through the shells of Iraqi museums or churn up the deserts of Peru in their hunt for valuable antiquities. Nearer to home "nighthawkers" are using metal detectors and online auctions to strip rural Britain of its archaeological riches, and their illegal activities are proving every bit as destructive. English Heritage has been so concerned about the extent of the depredation that it commissioned a study, which revealed that what was once an illicit hobby has mushroomed into a semi-professional criminal industry. According to police, thieves have formed loosely connected networks to trade information, often in online forums, about new and vulnerable sites. Some farmers have been threatened after confronting groups trespassing on their land at night. The survey, published today, found that while bronze axes, Roman coins, Saxon jewels and other precious scraps of British history are being looted from officially prote…

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Tags: Archaeology Heritage Science UK news Art and design Article News Maev Kennedy Sam Jones The Guardian Main section UK news

£350,000 gold collar hailed as best iron age find in 50 years

An iron age gold collar worth more than £350,000 that was found by an amateur metal detectorist in a muddy field in Nottinghamshire was described yesterday as the best find of its kind in half a century. "I was only in the field because a customer kept me late," Maurice Richardson, a tree surgeon from Newark, said yesterday. "Normally I'd never want to go into this field because a plane crashed there in the last war, and the whole place is littered with bits of metal." The first beep from his detector was indeed a chunk of wartime scrap metal, but as he bent down to discard it, his machine gave a louder signal. Expecting to find a bigger chunk of fuselage, he instead discovered the 2,200-year-old collar. The piece, a near twin of one already in the British Museum, was the most spectacular of 1,257 finds reported over the last three years. Treasure reports have increased every year since the Portable Antiquities scheme was set up to record finds by the p…

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Tags: Heritage Art and design UK news Article News Science Archaeology Maev Kennedy The Guardian Main section UK news

Things to do with your family this week

Play a game of cards Lesley Carr When Buckaroo has lost its charm, half the pieces from Mousetrap are missing and you're wondering if your children are entirely lost to computer games, it's time to turn to Pontoon. It's precisely because Pontoon is "grown up", and because it involves (dare I say it?) betting, that this simple card game hits pretty much all the buttons for kids. All you need is a pack of cards and a pocketful of pennies. If you object to gambling for money, you could substitute tiddly -winks or matchsticks, but we find there's nothing like the glamour of hard cash to get young brains engaged. The aim is get the cards in your hand to add up to 21, or as near as you can. You bet on whether or not you'll beat the banker (a role taken by one of the players, and which often transfers to another with amazing speed). While the rules are straightforward, there's no lack of heady excitement. There's always a flutt…

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Tags: Life and style Article Family The Guardian Family Family features

Corrections and clarifications

The British Museum is not facing a budget cut of 25% in the wake of this year's government spending review, as an editing slip led us to say (Curse the emperor, page 10, December 17). The cut is in funding for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, which oversees the Portable Antiquities Scheme. In an article headlined Gene mutations found that could triple risk of bowel cancer (page 11, December 17) we should have made clear that the triple risk came not just from the two genetic variations identified in research published last weekend. The increased risk from these two variants is small, but if they are both present along with other variants identified in research earlier this year the risk of bowel cancer can be tripled. We did a disservice to England's batsmen in saying that none had made a Test century since June (Half-sodden, or half-built, Galle must have its game, page 15, Sport, December 17). Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen scored centuries in the T…

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Tags: Article The Guardian Main section Editorials & reply

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