News stories about the Scheme in the Guardian All news stories that mention the Scheme within the Guardian API Tue, 21 Aug 2018 15:20:37 +0100 Tue, 21 Aug 2018 15:20:37 +0100 Zend_Feed_Writer 1.12.21dev (http://framework.zend.com) https://finds.org.uk Corrections and clarifications Wed, 19 Dec 2007 23:54:45 +0000 https://www.theguardian.com/news/2007/dec/19/leadersandreply.mainsection https://www.theguardian.com/news/2007/dec/19/leadersandreply.mainsection 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 series against India in July and August.

· It is the policy of the Guardian to correct significant errors as soon as possible. Please quote the date and page number. Readers may contact the office of the readers' editor by telephoning +44 (0)20 7713 4736 between 11am and 5pm UK time Monday to Friday excluding public holidays. Send mail to The Readers' Editor, 119 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3ER. Fax +44 (0)20 7239 9997. Email: reader@theguardian.com.

The Guardian's editorial code incorporates the editors' code overseen by the Press Complaints Commission: see pcc.org.uk

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Rare find highlights antiquities fears Mon, 17 Dec 2007 23:59:07 +0000 https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/dec/17/maevkennedy.uknews4 https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/dec/17/maevkennedy.uknews4 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 Scheme, which encourages voluntary reporting of finds, is convinced it is the only explanation.

Redmayne's find is unprecedented, but is just one of a torrent of 300,000 valuable, fascinating or downright weird object finds reported by amateurs in the 10 years since PAS was created.

It is a time of turmoil for the scheme itself. Leading and amateur archaeologists are joining forces to lobby the government to ring-fence its funding. Lord Renfrew, retired professor of archaeology at Cambridge, calls on the culture department to transfer PAS and its funding to the British Museum, which is facing a budget cut of 25% in the wake of the recent government spending review.

· The following clarification was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and clarifications column, Wednesday December 19 2007. 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. The cut is in funding for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, which oversees the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

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Lost or found? Mon, 17 Dec 2007 10:30:00 +0000 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/dec/17/lostorfound https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/dec/17/lostorfound 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% in real terms over the next three years.

Since it was created by Chris Smith seven years ago, MLA has had a chequered history. It has been through three changes of name and is now on its fourth chief executive, hardly a sign of a stable organisation. It has yet to convince the museums, libraries and archives, for which it was supposed to devise overarching policies, that it has a useful role. Its biggest programme is Renaissance in the Regions, which channels government money (£45m this year) into a network of 42 hub museums. The Renaissance programme was protected in this spending review.

However, the Portable Antiquities Scheme is left facing an uncertain future. The scheme, which is receiving £1.3m from MLA this year, is a unique operation. It is masterminded by a small headquarters team of five at the British Museum and then has six specialist finds advisers and a regional staff of 39 based in a mix of museums and county council archaeological departments all round the country, with even the odd university thrown in. Each of the 34 organisations that host these posts makes its own local contribution to the scheme. Not only is it extremely cost-effective - how many other national schemes are run for such a small amount of money? - but it works. The staff are young archaeologists who work all sorts of hours going out and making contact with the people - mainly metal detector users - who make the finds.

Metal detecting first became popular in the 1970s and, although many archaeologists are still uneasy about it, they have not succeeding in banning it and most now believe it is better to work with the detector users than ignore them. Certainly everyone can agree that the failure to record detectorists' finds on a systematic basis represents a huge loss of information about our past. In Norfolk and Suffolk, where there has been a concerted effort to record detector-users' finds for over 30 years the addition to our knowledge has been vast. Over 30,000 finds a year are recorded from those two counties alone and this year the scheme will be recording over 70,000 finds in all.

Norfolk and Suffolk provided the model for the national Portable Antiquities Scheme, which started as a series of pilot schemes in 1997, at the same time as the Treasure Act passed through parliament. Thanks to the lottery the scheme achieved national coverage in 2003 and, three years later, when the lottery funding ended, the government agreed to pick up the bill.

The scheme is now starting to transform our understanding of many aspects of the past: for example our knowledge of iron age coins or of Viking age artefacts has been enormously enriched through the systematic recording of metal-detected finds over the last 30 years. A recent survey found that 17 PhDs and 30 other dissertations are using PAS data. The scheme has led to some very important archaeological discoveries, such as a very rare Viking age cemetery at Cumwhitton in Cumbria which came to light when a detector user reported two rare brooches to his local finds liaison officer, or a unique copper-alloy Roman bowl which bear the names of four forts on Hadrian's Wall and has now been jointly acquired by the British Museum, the Potteries Museum and Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.

The scheme has also taken the initiative in policing the internet for objects that should be reported under the Treasure Act and has promoted a code of practice (pdf) on responsible metal detecting which, for the first time, provides a clear set of guidelines on the responsible use of metal detectors which has been endorsed by all the relevant bodies, both metal detecting and archaeological. Such a thing could never have happened 10 years ago.

Those who supported the scheme were delighted by the decision of the government to fund the scheme in full in 2006 and they thought that its long-term future was assured. However, although it has continued to go from strength to strength, it seems that the scheme was forgotten by the government when it decided to slash MLA's budget, as it failed to ring-fence the scheme's funding. Two weeks ago the culture minister Margaret Hodge launched the scheme's latest annual report at the British Museum, and at the same time the chief executive of MLA, Roy Clare, announced that MLA had agreed to continue funding the scheme for a further year at its current level, while reviewing its activities for the two years beyond that.

Now, though, it emerges that this announcement was rather less than it seemed, as Roy Clare told the scheme's advisory group last Wednesday that its grant would be frozen next year and this means that it will have to lose five of its 50 posts. Roy Clare has also stated that he thinks the scheme's long-term future lies in the Renaissance programme, where its supporters fear it will get swallowed up and lose its national focus, as the local officers will inevitably be drawn into Renaissance's various regional priorities.

It is now time for the culture department to step into this unhappy situation - its ministers have been more than happy to sing the praises of the scheme, which fits so well into its priorities of broadening public access to our heritage and these warm words were repeated by Margaret Hodge on her online blog this week. If MLA is unable to continue to protect and sustain the scheme then the department should ask an organisation that could provide the scheme with a safe home - and the obvious candidate is the British Museum, where its headquarters team is based and whose director, Neil MacGregor, has been one of its most eloquent supporters.

At the moment its 50 dedicated staff do not know whether they will still have a job after next March. If ever there was a frontline service such as this spending review was supposed to protect, this is it. It is ironic that this threat to its future should come just when the scheme is beginning to produce dividends in terms of research and has built up the trust of over 6,000 finders. All this could so easily be lost without adequate funding.

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Scheme to log treasures faces cuts Thu, 22 Nov 2007 16:45:10 +0000 https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2007/nov/22/art.heritage https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2007/nov/22/art.heritage 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 kind I hadn't even known existed,"

The experts are still arguing about whether it was for human hair, or for the mane and tail of some pampered Iron Age horse. Bolton has found a modern horse comb, complete with hole to hang on the stable wall, identical except in purple plastic, on the internet.

Whether for a supremely high status human or horse, it was a fabulously expensive object, and clearly treasured - when one tine broke off, the whole comb was carefully filed down and rounded off so its beauty was unspoiled. Warwick Museum now hopes to acquire it.

The comb was just one of 60,000 beautiful, important or fascinatingly odd finds in the latest Portable Antiquities accounts, launched yesterday. They included an exquisite figure from a medieval crucifix found by a retired school secretary in Devon, and a little horse and rider from Cambridgeshire like a Roman version of a Britain toy soldier.

The director of the Hermitage Museum, who was visiting the British Museum, took home a copy of the report yesterday. The Portable Antiquities scheme, a voluntary scheme putting amateur finders in touch with expert reporting officers, is 10 years old and admired all over the world.

However its £1.3 million a year funding is now at risk. Overlooked in the general relief in the arts sector about the spending review, the government is slashing 25 per cent of the Museums, Libraries and Archives council budget, which funds Portable Antiquities. Painful cuts will clearly follow. Roy Clare, new head of the MLA and former director of the Maritime Museum, praised the scheme as "of great national importance", guaranteed its funds next year, but studiously made no promises after that.

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum where the scheme is based, using experts seconded from the BM staff, said he has had innumerable enquiries about the scheme from fellow museum professionals including in China and Russia. The database, logging over 300,000 finds, is the most comprehensive in the world, and is generating myriad post graduate studies. In the last four years, the finds have identified 24 new Roman sites in Wiltshire alone, and previously unknown Anglo Saxon cemeteries in Derbyshire, Suffolk and Warwickshire. And one well groomed human or horse in Warwickshire.

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Metal gurus Tue, 13 Feb 2007 10:32:30 +0000 https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2007/feb/13/art.patrickbarkham https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2007/feb/13/art.patrickbarkham 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. And I am doing an entire field.

I am sure there is nothing crazy about kneeling as if in prayer and clawing at chilly clods of mud. "Would you like to see my late-medieval vine leaf-patterned sword suspender?" is, in context, a perfectly sane question. But the suspicion of being in the presence of madness is unavoidable at lunch. The detectorists head back to their cars. A pub nestles in the vale. Bowls of piping-hot chips served up by a log fire beckon. But what's this? It must be -5C with the wind chill, and everyone is conjuring deck chairs and flasks from their hatchbacks. Tea and sandwiches are handed out. We are having a picnic.

Ever since metal detectors hit the market in the 1970s, the men - and it is usually men - who wield them have been dismissed as mad, bad and downright dangerous when beeping their way towards the archaeological treasures of Britain. The solitary figures you see plodding along tidelines may look slightly deranged but archaeologists have branded them as something more sinister: vandals who destroy ancient sites, plunder antiquities and secretly flog them on eBay. Last month, however, a strange thing happened. David Lammy, the culture minister, hailed detectorists as "the unsung heroes of the UK's heritage". This government seal of approval came as the British Museum revealed that the number of historic objects voluntarily reported to the government-funded Portable Antiquities Scheme had risen by 45%. Finds classified as "treasure" - gold, silver and bronze hoards, which must be reported by law - were up by nearly a fifth. And it is metal detectorists who have dug up nearly 70% of the 57,566 objects recorded by the scheme, which was introduced in England and Wales in 2003.

It may be freezing on the Isle of Wight but detectorists, it appears, have come in from the cold. Across the country, scores of metal detecting clubs are thriving. Roger Bland, head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, estimates that there are 8,000 active detectorists (and one celebrity - Bill Wyman), although he concedes that the true figure, including lone mavericks, may be much higher.

Dave Clark is far too genial to be a lone maverick. "I've always been into beachcombing and I wanted to be an archaeologist, but I wasn't clever enough," he says. Four years ago, he set up the island's second club. "I love the hunt," he says. "It's like fishing. You go out every day in the hope."

It is with hope, and not expectation, that I set out with the club that Dave built. All but three of the 17 are men; one of the women, Ann, wife of new chairman Alan Hall, has lent me her Rapier. We begin on grassland. Some archaeologists envy many European countries, where it is illegal to use a metal detector without a licence, but in England and Wales anyone can buy a detector - a good beginner's one costs £500 - and use it on beaches and parks. It is forbidden on heritage areas and permission must be sought from owners of private land. The Isle of Wight detectors have agreements with nearly 40 farmers to hunt on their land; the convention is that the landowner is entitled to 50% of the value of any treasure found. And members are careful to fill in any holes they dig.

Hares box each other at the top of the field. My eyes are on the ground. Hall tells me that the best technique is to sweep the detector slowly from side-to-side so that its coiled head almost scuffs the earth. Ten yards in and my first miss of the day. Frank Basford picks up a small flint I tread on. "It's a neolithic scraper," he says. Basford is a sign of the new entente cordial between archaeologists and detectorists. An archaeologist, he is one of 36 finds liaison officers across England and Wales. He helps detectorists identify their finds and encourages them to report discoveries to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Crucially, Basford has also persuaded the island's detectorists to log the location of every find with handheld GPS devices, which provides valuable distribution data for professional archaeologists. The scheme works because detectorists do not simply get their finds taken from them. Most are returned. And with those objects classified as "treasure" and placed in a museum, the law ensures that detectorists are rewarded with their market value. The finder of a 7th-century gold sword hilt in a Lincolnshire field became £125,000 richer last month when the British Museum acquired it.

Within minutes, Hall has found "a two-way signal", which is when your detector beeps on the rightward and leftward swing. (If it only beeps in one direction it is almost certainly "rubbish", a bit of worthless scrap metal.) Hall grabs his two-way radio. "Just found a coin over here, Dave. Over." Clark is 100 yards away. Basford zips in, beady-eyed, and delivers his verdict: "It's a Georgian button. It's got a star motif with radiating rays and it's silvered on the front - silver or tin. It's quite a posh button." He rubs it, but not too much. "We tend not to clean things that are old. Clean things and you take some of the information off."

Archaeologists talk coldly about the "information" objects carry, but to the untrained mind they offer up something more like flickering images of a past life. A silver thimble the group found a few days earlier was inscribed with "Deny me not", a phrase redolent of the forbidden passion fluttering beneath a corset. Today, one of the detectorists, Karl, digs up a tiny coin. On one side is the smudged ruff and crown of Elizabeth I. "Because she was such a popular monarch, country folk used to keep them as 'touch pieces'. They would rub the queen's head on the coin for luck. That's why they are usually worn out," he says. The next image is more violent: a musket ball from the late 18th century. "This is the sort of stuff they used to hunt game," says Stewart Thompson. "You get lots of them." He is amazed by the number of whisky bottle tops he finds in the hedgerows. (This secret history is alarming: did islanders stagger about blasting rabbits with muskets and swigging 40% proof booze?)

Thompson finds detecting relaxing. There is an undeniable thrill, though, when your machine beeps. "It could be a Queen Elizabeth coin that's been ploughed up and down for hundreds of years and you come through with a circuit board and a battery and it can't escape you," says Rob Gates, 63. Another detectorist, Robin Mitchell, describes one of his more exciting discoveries like this: "I got a signal and I dug and the signal was still there. So I dug again and there was still nothing. I dug again and it finally flipped out, just like a tiddlywink." It was a beautifully preserved coin, a Duke of Burgundy double patard from the days when the foreign ruler's own currency was accepted in 15th-century England. "That was a lovely find." Mitchell is something of a coin buff. "I was lucky enough to get 'Coin of the Month' at the club for that one."

The Isle of Wight detectorists could pocket a rather bigger reward when a hoard of nearly 1,000 Iron Age coins they found last year is returned to them from the British Museum. One detectorist reckons the coins are worth between £50 and £100 each. With treasure, however, comes tension. "There's a bit of competitiveness and a lot of jealousy," says one detectorist. Members agree to share everything, with half going to the farmer and half being shared between all those present even if one individual finds the treasure.

Like many detectorists, they are reluctant to talk about the potential riches on offer (the club's motto is "Pleasure, not profit"). "That will bring the nighthawks over," says Jim Austen, 83, the oldest of the group. He lowers his voice. "Anything they find ... it just disappears." Illegally dug holes - the work of these "nighthawks" - have recently appeared on National Trust land on the island. The problem, Clark says, are those "who don't belong to clubs and keep to themselves and sneak in and sneak out. They are the ones who leave holes all over the place and give us a bad name. They have a bad reputation. [They] steal the stuff and sell it on eBay."

The British Museum examined eBay in August last year. It estimated that 400 treasure finds are sold on the auction website each year - almost as many as are properly recorded. "We know that there are a significant number of unreported treasure finds being sold on eBay," says Bland. His team has recently reached an agreement with eBay: the company will remove from sale any items the Portable Antiquities Scheme believes are unreported treasure.

The law, however, looks toothless: no one has ever been prosecuted for the non-reporting of treasure under the Treasure Act of 1996, says Bland. Part of the problem is that the authorities must prove that any treasure was found since the act came into force in 1997. Like many archaeologists, Bland wants the law tightened so that the duty to report treasure is extended to anyone in possession and not just the finder.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme may be an unqualified success - although the government has not yet promised to fund the scheme beyond 2008 - but Bland says he does not want to give "too rosy a picture" of metal detecting. Not all detectorists record locations with GPS. And even careful detectorists who declare their findings do not obtain as much "information" as professionals, says Mike Heyworth, director of the Council for British Archaeology. Archaeologists obtain valuable insights from the horizontal and vertical location of the find, and whether adjacent finds are "in the same soil horizon".

"An object in its own right might be very interesting and important but it's lost half its archaeological value if you don't know where it came from. The more you know about the context of the find, the more it tells us," says Heyworth, who was infuriated by Lammy's praise for detectorists. "I was very unhappy with it. It would have just about been acceptable if he said, 'Responsible metal detectorists are heroes'. To say they are heroes in a blanket way is palpable nonsense. We know a significant proportion are going out to find things for personal profit. These people are not interested in our heritage or archaeological history. They are into profit. They are treasure hunting."

Lammy, however, is unrepentant; he reveals that his dad bought him a detector as a small boy and he pottered about in his back yard hunting for treasure. (He was never, however, a nighthawk.) "More than 90% of the treasure finds that were reported last year were found by metal detectorists. That's why I'm very happy to acclaim responsible metal detecting," he says. "Of course there are irresponsible metal detectorists as well, and that has been a real problem with damage to our archaeological sites and the illicit sale of antiquities on auction websites." He talks about how the Portable Antiquities Scheme brings working-class groups into archaeology. So is some of the tension between detectorists and archaeologists a class clash? "There is a bit of that," admits Bland. "There are still some detectorists who talk about archaeologists as being the establishment."

It is astonishing how much these 17 weather-proof Isle of Wight detectorists discover during six hours meandering around two desolate fields. The farmland looks empty but everything from funerals to fairs may have been held here. Before mechanisation it bustled with labourers. Romans, Jutes, Saxons, Normans and folk from more recent times have all lost pieces of their lives on this earth, now picked up by the detectorists: a delicate bracelet that Basford thinks could be Roman; a Jew's harp; a tiny metal box as green as a banana leaf; buckles; broaches and about a dozen old coins. My hoard is more modest: the flint scraper I stepped over; a musket ball; a silver button; the fuse of a flare from an aeroplane; a 5p piece; a penny and a half-penny which could be Edwardian; a lump of metal; a rusty iron ring that looks like a farm implement and a bottle top.

If there is a class dimension to detectorists' uneasy place in the pantheon of archaeological heroes, it may be strangely appropriate. Hall believes he and his fellow metal detectorists are helping change our understanding of the past. "Take hammered silver coins. It was thought that only high society had money in the middle ages, but metal detectorists have found these coins everywhere, showing that even ordinary people had money. Metal detectorists are rewriting history." A few nighthawks may try to wreck it, but the Isle of Wight detectorists are ordinary people uncovering ordinary history. And it is their history; little pieces of lives buried, lost and now found again.

Treasures from the earth: Some of the riches uncovered by amateurs

The Ringlemere gold cup

Discovered near Ramsgate, Kent, in 2001 by retired electrician Cliff Bradshaw, the gold cup was valued at £250,000 at the time. It was thought to have been buried 3,600 years before.

The Hoxne hoard

The largest cache of Roman gold and silver coins (15,000 in total) ever discovered on British soil also included rings, chains and bracelets, buried in the early 5th century. Eric Lawes, a retired gardener, received a £1.75m reward for the 1992 find.

Viking cemetery

Detectorist Peter Adams found two copper brooches in Cumbria in 2004 which led archaeologists to the bodies of four men and two women dating from the 10th century, alongside weapons, spurs, jewellery and a drinking horn. On its discovery, it was hailed as England's only known Viking burial ground.

The Winchester hoard

A kilo of delicately crafted gold brooches and necklaces thought to date from the first century BC was discovered near Winchester in 2000 by retired florist Kevan Halls. It earned him and the landowner £350,000.

Viking silver

A twisted silver rod, 21 bracelets and a single heavy silver ingot was found in the remains of an old lead box by Steve Reynoldson in a field in Cheshire. He and the landowner shared a £28,000 reward.

Gold sword and garnets

Last month, the British Museum acquired a 7th-century gold sword hilt with a pommel studded with large garnets after a metal detectorist took it wrapped in kitchen roll paper to his local finds liaison officer.

The detectorist is expected to share the £125,000 reward with the landowner.

A guide to good metal detecting

1 Obtain permission from the landowner. Get it in writing to avoid future disputes over finds.

2 Obey the law: metal detecting is banned on sites defined as scheduled monuments.

3 Join a metal detecting club. Details at www.ncmd.co.uk

4 Minimise ground disturbance with careful excavation.

5 Record where you find objects as accurately as possible: ideally with a hand-held GPS, or to 100sq metres using an Ordnance Survey map. Bag finds individually. Put the grid reference on the bag.

6 Under the Treasure Act 1996 you are obliged to report to the local coroner all treasure - gold, silver and groups of coins more than 300 years old. The voluntary reporting of all finds is encouraged via the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Details of local finds liaison officers at www.finds.org.uk

From the code of practice for metal detecting in England and Wales agreed by detectorists and archaeologists in 2006.

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Not for sale yet - the 'cursed' 14 pieces of silver worth £100m Tue, 17 Oct 2006 00:18:06 +0100 https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2006/oct/17/arts.artsnews https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2006/oct/17/arts.artsnews 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 looted, and as such it ranks as tainted goods. This is very distasteful."

The Sevso Treasure, with a notional value of more than £100m, had probably already passed through the hands of several dealers before it came to London in the early 1980s, and was bought by the marquess on the advice of the late Peter Wilson, a former deputy chairman of the auction firm Sotheby's.

It is believed by many archaeologists to have been illicitly excavated in Hungary and smuggled out of the country in the late 1970s, and to have cost the life of at least one man. It was last seen in public in 1990, when a planned Sotheby's auction was abandoned after Hungary, Yugoslavia and Lebanon all claimed but failed to prove ownership through the US courts, which found that the marquess was the legal owner.

The marquess, whose estates include more than 30,000 acres and magnificent stately homes in Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, sued his legal advisers after the Sotheby's auction was abandoned, and received a substantial but undisclosed settlement out of court.

The 14 pieces of fabulous silver include four enormous platters, the size of bin lids, each containing up to a stone of pure silver. They may have been made in a Greek workshop for a staggeringly wealthy Roman client, possibly the Sevso who gave the hoard its name in the inscription: "May these, O Sevso, yours for many ages be, small vessels fit to serve your offspring worthily."

The Hungarians believe the silver was found in the late 1970s by Jozsef Sumegh, then a 22-year-old quarryman. He was found hanged in 1980. He is believed to have first hidden the pieces, then sold them on the black market. His death was first explained as suicide, but the Hungarian authorities now believe he was murdered - possibly to extinguish the origins of the silver.

Bonhams will show the silver at private viewings in London. The glossy invitations, sent to collectors, academics and archaeologists, describe it as "the finest surviving collection of ancient silver known to exist".

A spokesman for Bonhams said: "We think it's an astonishing collection, obviously, and we're very flattered to be asked to show it. There is enormous academic interest in this silver, but it has been locked in a vault for the last 16 years. It seems better to us to put it on display than to have it locked away, and we are thrilled and privileged to be given the opportunity to do that."

Roger Bland, a former coins expert at the British Museum, head of the portable antiquities scheme for recording archaeological finds, was astounded when his invitation arrived. "It is very difficult to see what Bonhams hope to achieve through this private viewing. Under [government] guidelines for museums no UK museum could ever acquire or even borrow it. I think the circumstantial evidence points strongly to its having come from Hungary, and I hope that it goes back there and is put on show for public benefit."

The pieces resemble those found near Lake Balaton in the 19th century, now in the national museum in Budapest, and one is engraved Pelso, the Roman name for the lake.

In Budapest Eva Hajdu, responsible for the Sevso case within the ministry of culture, said negotiations with the marquess broke down some years ago.

She said the Hungarian government believes it could win a legal claim. But no such claim has yet been lodged.

"We would like to announce to Bonhams, and to the art world, that this is Hungarian property," Ms Hajdu said.

Retired detective sergeant Richard Ellis, formerly of the art and antiquities squad at Scotland Yard, who for years tried to track the provenance of the silver, said: "Am I 100% certain of what happened with it? No. Let's say that the evidence stacks up, and that there is a total lack of evidence on the other side. And from what I have seen of the evidence, I do not believe that that man committed suicide."

Backstory

The Sevso Treasure, 14 massive Roman era silver bowls, salvers and ewers, believed to date from between 350AD and 450AD, was brought to London in the early 1980s with an export licence from Lebanon, later claimed to be a forgery. The Hungarian government, backed by many experts, is convinced the hoard was found in their country in 1978 by a quarry worker, and illegally exported. The silver was bought as an investment by the Marquess of Northampton, on the advice of the late Peter Wilson, former chairman of Sotheby's. In 1990, when a Sotheby's auction was announced and the silver was on display in New York, Lebanon, Hungary and Yugoslavia all lodged legal claims to it. In 1993 the American court found that none could prove title, and that the marquess was the legal owner - but the silver, left without any agreed provenance, has been regarded as unsaleable.

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Netted: agreement to control sale of antiquities on eBay Tue, 03 Oct 2006 12:31:03 +0100 https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2006/oct/03/1 https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2006/oct/03/1 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 encouraged, but not legally obliged, to report such objects.

However, hundreds of gold and silver objects, which must be reported under the new Treasure Act or the old law of Treasure Trove, also turn up on the site. Roger Bland, head of the Portable Antiquities finds-reporting scheme at the British Museum, said yesterday he believes at least as much unreported treasure is being sold on eBay and other outlets, as is being reported.

"The tragedy is that the exact find sites are never given, so no archaeologist is ever going to be able to go and investigate them, and the wealth of knowledge which such finds could unlock is lost forever," Dr Bland said yesterday.

Whilst many of the sellers are genuinely unaware of the law, others are dealers careful to state that their items come from old collections, found long before the present law. The archaeologists are anxious to have the law amended so that responsibility for reporting lies with each seller, not just the original finder.

In the past eBay has refused to take objects off the site unless the experts could prove they were stolen or illicitly obtained - which is often impossible when sellers insist they cannot remember exactly where they bought the objects years earlier, or that they were bought overseas.

In one rare recent case a quixotic Dutch collector contacted the finds officers in Buckinghamshire, to say he had bought a hoard of small pieces of 2,500-year-old bronze on eBay, but felt they should really be in a British museum. The police managed to trace the sale to a person who claimed to have sold them on behalf of a friend encountered at a parrot fair - in the process uncovering a tangled tale of adultery, metal detecting and bird fancying. The find had never been reported, and the Dutch buyer donated them to the local museum.

The site has now formally agreed to allow a Portable Antiquities scheme to monitor such sales, and also to direct buyers and sellers to a code of conduct, reminding both of their responsibilities.

Culture minister David Lammy yesterday called eBay a phenomenon, one of the century's greatest successes. "Like us they recognise that the expanding internet trade in art, antiquities and antiques has potential for abuse, and it is important that steps are taken to ensure that it does not unwittingly become a cover for criminality."

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Archaeologists and amateurs agree pact Tue, 02 May 2006 00:03:42 +0100 https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2006/may/02/arts.artsnews https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2006/may/02/arts.artsnews 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 finds. "There is a long history of antagonism and suspicion, but once all parties have signed up to this we believe this is a real way forward."

The code commits metal detector users - there are an estimated 180,000 in Britain - to working only in the top layer of disturbed ground such as ploughed fields, with the landowner's permission, reporting all finds, and stopping immediately and calling in expert help if anything significant turns up.

The code of conduct will not satisfy some archaeologists, who would like to see metal detectors licensed or better still banned.

Geoff Wainwright, former chief archaeologist at English Heritage, said: "Whichever way you code it, what people are actually doing is removing objects from their archaeological context, losing the priceless information which would be gained from proper excavation."

The little piece of gold which the British Museum is acquiring was found near Colchester in Essex by Corinne Mills, an amateur who has set up her own website campaign for responsible detecting.

Detector successes

The Coenwulf Coin Gold 8th century coin found in 2001 by metal detector in riverside common at Biggleswade, Bedfordshire

Ringlemere Cup Bronze Age gold cup found in a field near Ramsgate, Kent, in 2001

The Winchester Hoard Almost a kilo of Iron Age pure gold jewellery found scattered across a field near Winchester by Kevin Halls in 2000

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Truce called in war over Viking relics Wed, 03 Aug 2005 12:23:59 +0100 https://www.theguardian.com/education/2005/aug/03/highereducation.uk https://www.theguardian.com/education/2005/aug/03/highereducation.uk 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 Anglo-Saxon and Viking settlements. Now, much of the material found by metal detectorists comes from the 7th to the early 10th century and it is crucial that we bring these items into the realms of research."

While he is interested in the economy of the Danelaw, as the northern part of England became known, metal detectorists are more interested in buried treasure.

Among their spectacular recent finds was the burial site of six Viking men and women, complete with swords and spears, jewellery, firemaking materials and riding equipment, near Cumwhitton, Cumbria, dated to the early 10th century. It was unearthed following the discovery of two copper brooches by a local metal detectorist.

In 2003 the "Ainsbrook Hoard" of late ninth-century weapons and personal items including silver coins was found in Yorkshire.

One of the metal detectorists taking part in the project is Dave Haldenby, of Elloughton, east Yorkshire, who said: "In the past there has been some animosity between metal detectorists and archaeologists but, increasingly, they are working together, as this project illustrates. There's a terrific sense of pride in seeing an excavation which would never have happened without hours of painstaking work in plotting finds."

Professor Richards commented: "We hope it will tell us more about the cultural identity of the people who lived in the Danelaw. There were probably very small numbers of true Vikings though their influence far outweighed their actual numbers."

He added: "Once we have identified the richest sites, we will be able to build up a picture of what's been found. Effectively, these sites are a fingerprint of economic activity and they will help us to complete the final part of the project which will be to write an economic and landscape history of England from the 7th to the 10th century."

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Foil reveals Roman magic Wed, 27 Oct 2004 14:55:17 +0100 https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2004/oct/27/artsandhumanities.arts https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2004/oct/27/artsandhumanities.arts 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, most of them worthless but fascinating snippets of history.

Treasure - precious metal, coin hoards, and associated objects - must be reported by law, but for other finds there is a voluntary reporting scheme, the Portable Antiquities Scheme, whose annual report was launched yesterday. Treasure finds are predicted to rise to 500 this year, from 234 in 2002.

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