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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 …

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

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 …

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Tags: Higher education Education UK news Research Article Donald MacLeod

Foil reveals Roman magic

The Norfolk gardener was quite irritated at finding bits of rubbish mixed with the expensive topsoil he had bought: he picked out what he took to be foil from a champagne bottle and unrolled it - to reveal a lost world of Roman magic. Experts from the British Museum and Oxford University have been poring over the scrap of gold foil, no bigger than a postage stamp, which went on display for the first time yesterday, with other archaeological finds reported in the past year. "It meant nothing to me at first, I wondered if it was a scrap of decoration from a garment or a piece of furniture," said Adrian Marsden, the finds officer in Norwich whose desk it first landed on. "Then I suddenly saw the Greek letter A, and I knew what we must have." It is a lamella, a magical charm, one of five found in Britain, and of no more than a few dozen from anywhere in the Roman empire. The scrap of gold was one of 47,000 items reported by the public,…

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Tags: UK news Arts and humanities Higher education Education Culture Art and design Humanities Roman Britain Article Maev Kennedy

Viking burial ground dispels myth of longship marauders

A Viking burial ground, which has held bodies undisturbed for 1,000 years with all the trappings of the Sagas including swords, jewellery and firemaking materials, has been uncovered in Cumbria, after a chance find by a metal detector. The site - thought to contain the first formal burial of bodies discovered in England - is believed to date from the 10th century, when the Vikings had been Christianised, but were evidently still hedging their bets. Full details of the find at Cumwhitton, which has caused international excitement, will be announced this morning. The bodies of the four men and two women were buried in the east-west Christian alignment, but with all the grave goods they would need for the pagan afterlife - the women had rich brooches, ornate belt fittings, and a jet bracelet, a material prized as highly as gold. The men had their weapons and one had spurs, a bridle and what may be a drinking horn for the feasting he clearly expected to c…

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Tags: UK news Science Higher education Research Education Article Lee Glendinning Maev Kennedy

Suspected Viking burial fills a hole in English history

One of the great missing pieces of Britain's archaeological jigsaw may finally have fallen into place with the discovery of swords, ship nails and a silver Baghdad coin in a Yorkshire field. Tight security has been put on the site since metal detecting enthusiasts came upon what is thought to be the first known Viking ship burial south of Hadrian's Wall. An exploratory dig is being organised for traces of rotted timber and other fragments. "I am 95% certain it is a boat burial," said Simon Holmes, archaeologist at the Yorkshire Museum in York where the initial finds went on show yesterday. "If this is indeed the case, it will be the first discovered in England and therefore one of the most important Viking discoveries ever made in the British Isles." The trove was found in a ploughed riverside field, whose location is not being made public, by detectors who followed the regulations designed to protect archaeologic…

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Tags: UK news Higher education Education Culture Art and design Heritage Humanities Article Martin Wainwright

Treasure beneath your feet and under the waves

Dreams of an unexpected windfall, lottery win or chance find possibly have their origin in childhood tales of buried treasure. The responsibility of adult life, however, means we must rely almost solely on lady luck to make these dreams come true. 'If only.' 'It could be you.' But for some, those dreams have become part of their daily working lives. The pursuit of buried treasure is a mix of art and chance which varies by method of discovery. Less than 0.1 per cent of what metal detectorists find is significant, but they always find something. Professional divers however, will not go to sea until they've undertaken months, even years, in research and due diligence. But, purists claim, the wealth of history in any find transcends its monetary value. David Barwell, chairman of the National Council for Metal Detecting, says: 'The stigma of the treasure hunter is a mercenary digging up history for its commercial value. When a metal d…

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Tags: Money Alternative investments Article The Observer Cash Observer Business, Media & Cash

Rare memento of Hadrian's Wall unearthed

The small bronze cup unveiled yesterday, found by two metal detectorists in a Staffordshire field, is the Roman equivalent of a snowstorm globe. The piece is exceptionally rare, of great historic importance, and beautifully crafted - but is essentially a souvenir of one of the most wind-blasted outposts of the Roman empire, Hadrian's Wall. The inscriptions in Latin include a name, Aelius Draco. Experts speculate he could have been a commander stationed on the wall. Only two similar examples are known. One was found in 18th-century Wiltshire, and another more than 50 years ago at Amiens in France. The Staffordshire find is inscribed with the names of four forts - Bowness (Mais), Drumburgh (Coggabata), Stanwix (Uxelodunum) and Castlesteads (Cammoglanna) - and is the only one of the three to include Drumburgh. The finders, Kevin Blackburn and Julian Lee, claimed in an email to the finds officer of the portable antiquities scheme to h…

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Tags: UK news Higher education Education Culture Archaeology Heritage Humanities Article Maev Kennedy

New battle of Marston Moor

War has broken out at Marston Moor in Yorkshire, site of one of the crucial battles in the civil war. Recriminations are flying as thick as musket balls, after a metal detectorists' rally last weekend attended by almost 300 people. Battlefield historians are appalled by the event, even though it happened over a mile from the heart of the site where Royalist forces under Prince Rupert were routed by Cromwell and the Parliamentarians, in the evening of a battle which continued through a long July day in 1644. There have been reports of sackloads of musket balls being removed, though this is challenged by several sources who were at the rally. Just six musket balls were officially reported, and their sites logged. In fact little 17th-century material of any kind was found, although Roman coin and a bronze axe head were reported, with four pieces of silver. The exact sites of musket and pistol balls can be vital evidence for archaeologists, e…

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

City archaeologist and museum director, Winchester

I have to say we've had some really very good things happen in the past year. We've mounted an exhibition, Treasure, of the spectacular gold iron age jewellery found locally two years ago. When the finds were declared treasure they went to the British Museum and we assumed that was the last we'd ever see of them, but the museum has been very helpful. We found that very encouraging, and we hope it shows a new approach to relations between a major national museum and a relatively small regional museum. We also managed to secure some lottery funding for the exhibition, £50,000, for things like improving security, which will be of tremendous long-term value to us and allow us to arrange more important loans in the future. We've bought audio guides, which at the moment are for this exhibition, but we can re-programme when it ends. It runs until Easter and it has been a tremendous success, we've had 10,000 extra visitors, double the …

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Tags: Society Public voices: public values Article Maev Kennedy

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