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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 …

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

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 t…

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

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,…

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

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 fin…

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Tags: Culture News Article Maev Kennedy

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 Main section National news

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 Observer Business, Media & Cash Cash

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