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Kabul calling: British Museum set for Afghanistan exhibition

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"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 …

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

Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon treasure hoard valued at £3.3m

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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 morning. …

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

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.As a…

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

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 disabili…

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

Digging deep

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They are known in the trade as "grot pots" – buckets and Tupperware boxes that amateur archaeologists and metal detectorists fill with battered, corroded, base-metal coins and other finds. And in these murky vessels our history is being rewritten.As the money that funded an unprecedented explosion of professional archaeology during the economic boom years runs out, public hunger to peel back the past beneath our feet is helping to fill the gap. So the grots are identifying lost villages and settlements, Roman forts and temples, previously unknown trade routes; even mapping the slow ebb of the Roman empire from Britain.By law, you must have a licence to excavate or remove even a pebble from a scheduled ancient monument or listed building, and all treasure finds anywhere must be reported. But anyone can pick up a metal detector – there are an estimated 180,000 in Britain – and take it into a ploughed field with the permission of the landowner. Fired by an u…

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

Beginner's guide to archaeology

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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 conceptsSite: 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 Heathrow …

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

When hidden treasure is just a Stone's throw away

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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 archeologi…

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

Treasure raiders scooping up UK heritage

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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 protecte…

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

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

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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 th…

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

Things to do with your family this week

Play a game of cardsLesley CarrWhen 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 flutter …

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

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 Test se…

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Tags: Editorials & reply Main section Article The Guardian

Rare find highlights antiquities fears

Some 1,650 years ago someone was so comprehensively fed up with the state of the Roman empire that they committed an act of treason, blasphemy and probably criminal defacing of the coinage. They cursed the emperor Valens by hammering a coin with his image into lead, then folding the lead over his face.The battered scraps of metal discovered by Tom Redmayne, an amateur metal detector, in a muddy field in Lincolnshire are a unique find.The mid-fourth century was a time of turmoil in Roman Britain. A Roman aristocrat, Valentinus, had been exiled to Britain where he was stirring up trouble.Thousands of Roman cursing charms survive, scrawled on pieces of lead with a hole punched to hang them up. Many were found thrown into the hot springs in Bath, demanding revenge on those guilty of petty theft.Nothing as audacious as cursing an emperor has ever been found before. However, Sam Moorhead, a coins expert at the British Museum and expert adviser to the Portable Antiquities …

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Tags: UK news Maev Kennedy UK news and analysis Main section Article The Guardian

Lost or found?

One of the unsung successes of this government is the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which records archaeological objects found by members of the public and makes that information available for all on its online database. The scheme recently recorded its 300,000th find. But all that is now under threat, an unintended consequence of this year's comprehensive spending review by which the government fixes its funding for the next three years.Although the spending review proved to be much better for museums and the heritage than was feared - a tribute to the negotiating ability of James Purnell, the new secretary of state - the Portable Antiquities Scheme comes under the aegis of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, the one organisation that was singled out for cuts in the spending review, as its grant is being reduced by 25…

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Tags: Comment is free Comment Museums Culture Art and design Spending review 2007 Article

Scheme to log treasures faces cuts

Russell Peach's plastic ice cream tub contained many items that made his metal detector bleep excitedly, but only one that made an archaeologist's heart skip a beat - a unique find that will rewrite one small corner of British history."I didn't know what it was, I just had a feeling it was really old," Peach, a landscape contractor, said of the small muddy piece of metal. Peach's treasure has turned out to be a copper-alloy comb, almost 2,000 years old, with a swirly decoration known from contemporary mirrors. Similar decoration is known on bone combs, but only one similar metal comb is known in Europe, from a site in France - and Peach's is better."He brought us in six ice cream tubs in total and the contents included buttons, modern coins, and several bits of broken tractor springs," said Angie Bolton, the finds officer who records amateur archaeology discoveries, in Warwickshire and Worcestershire. "Then I saw what just had to be an Iron Age comb, but of a k…

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Tags: Art Art and design Heritage News Maev Kennedy Culture Article

Metal gurus

Eyes down and bulbous headphones attached to their ears, 17 figures march like purposeful ants across bleak rows of winter wheat. It is the coldest day of winter so far. A blast that forecasters like to call arctic whips in from the north. The Isle of Wight is as exposed as a rowing boat on an icy ocean. "On days like this you begin to wonder about your sanity," says one of these amateur sleuths and treasure seekers known as metal detectorists. Another swears he is sweating inside his fisherman's floatation suit. I am wearing a shirt, jumper, fleece, padded jacket and raincoat with jeans, walking boots and leather gloves and I have never been so cold in my life.Trying not to question anyone's sanity, I trudge up the hill with members of the Isle of Wight Metal Detecting Club, spades over our shoulders, sleet spitting venomously on our cheeks. Swinging my borrowed Laser Rapier metal detector across the sodden earth is a bit like vacuuming. Except that I am not indoors.…

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Tags: Art Patrick Barkham G2 Comment & features G2 Comment & features Culture Art and design Article The Guardian

Not for sale yet - the 'cursed' 14 pieces of silver worth £100m

One of the most beautiful and infamous treasure hoards of the 20th century, 14 pieces of Roman-era silver of staggering quality, will resurface today on display in London, to the consternation of leading archaeologists who regard it as archaeological loot.Although Bonhams auction house, which will display the Sevso Hoard, insists no sale is planned, the Marquess of Northampton who bought the silver for an undisclosed sum in the 1980s recently said he "hopes" the silver will be sold, and that it has "cursed" his family. It now belongs to a trust he founded.But the Hungarian government has written to Bonhams to protest at the exhibition and reiterate its claim that the silver was found on Hungarian soil and illegally exported from the country.Lord Renfrew, retired professor of archaeology at Cambridge, an expert on illicit antiquities, said: "It looks very much as if it is being touted about again. Whether anyone can actually prove it, it is pretty sure that it was loote…

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Tags: UK news Culture Maev Kennedy Main section National news Art and design Article The Guardian

Netted: agreement to control sale of antiquities on eBay

After months of negotiation, agreement was reached yesterday between the online auction site eBay, the British Museum, and the government's Museums, Libraries and Archives council, to control the booming trade in British antiquities on the site.Shoals of archaeological objects, an average of 600 a day when volunteers monitored the site, appear on the site: yesterday's offers included an elegant Roman bronze dress pin reportedly found in Bedfordshire, a small gold medieval ring, and a silver cap badge, once worn by a member of the household of the unfortunate Richard Duke of York, who would go on to become one of the princes in the Tower and a victim one of the most famous unsolved murder mysteries in British history.Most are small base-metal objects of low monetary value, found by hobbyists wielding metal detectors - but priceless archaeological information is being lost with them, including previously unrecorded Roman and prehistoric sites. All finders are enc…

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Tags: Culture News Maev Kennedy Article

Archaeologists and amateurs agree pact

The acquisition by the British Museum of a thumbnail-sized chunk of battered inscribed gold - a very rare runic inscription, probably hacked up by Vikings centuries after it was made - marks a historic truce between archaeologists and metal detectors after decades of skirmishing.While amateur users of metal detectors have made some of the most spectacular archaeological finds of recent years, many archaeologists have regarded them as little better than hobby looters.Now, after months of negotiation, the two sides are set to announce a code of conduct. The code, which will be launched at the British Museum today, has been agreed by all the main metal detector clubs, landowners, archaeologists, museums, archaeological societies and English Heritage. "This is the end of the war between the archaeologists and the detectorists," said Roger Bland, an archaeologist seconded by the British Museum to head the Portable Antiquities scheme, which encourages voluntary reporting of fin…

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Tags: UK news Culture Maev Kennedy Main section National news Art and design Article The Guardian

Object lessons

Gold & Gilt, Pots & Pins: Possessions and People in Medieval Britainby David A Hinton439pp, Oxford, £30In 1985, the historic Wiltshire village of Wanborough was under assault - not from tourists but from treasure hunters. A few weeks earlier, amateur archaeologists wielding metal detectors found some valuable Roman coins at the site of what later turned out to be a Romano-British temple. Correctly, they reported the find to their local museum. When the story got out, a gold rush began.Enthusiastic digging for ancient treasure is not a recent phenomenon. In renaissance Rome it was almost a national obsession. The Farnese family removed most of the fabulous sculptures from the 3rd-century AD Baths of Caracalla, then largely intact, to decorate their palaces. In the 1700s, the king and queen of Naples picked out the choicest finds from the new excavations at Pompeii. What no one cared about was the stuff of every day: th…

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Tags: Books Features & reviews Guardian review History Higher education Education Features Observer Review Culture Reviews Article The Observer

Truce called in war over Viking relics

Archaeologists trying to trace how the Vikings arrived in Yorkshire as feared raiders and quickly became (fairly) peaceful traders and farmers have called a truce with people they used to fear as raiders: metal detectorists.These enthusiastic amateurs have been unearthing more Viking finds than professional archaeologists in recent years but damaging the sites by digging them up.But this summer York University academics are working alongside local detectorists after deciding there is more to be gained by cooperation than trying to warn them off. Their three-year project under the rather unromantic title, the Viking and Anglo-Saxon Landscape and Economy project (Vasle), builds on the success of the government's 1997 Portable Antiquities Scheme which has led to the recording of tens of thousands of objects found by the public.Julian Richards, a professor at the department of archaeology at York, said: "Archaeologists have had great difficulty locating Angl…

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Tags: Higher education Education UK news Research Donald MacLeod Article

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