Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Monday, 12 January 2015

The Lenborough Hoard, observations

Culture 24 has interviewed Ros Tyrell the Finds Liaison Officer who was present when the Lenborough Hoard was found. I've always had respect for FLO's as ultimately they've put the archaeological time in to get qualifications that I as a detectorist haven't.

Having a FLO on site when a hoard was found I thought would therefore be a perfect opportunity for archaeologists to show what should be done. I was therefore rather surprised when I saw this picture.

Rightly or wrongly my preconceptions about how a hoard would be dug with a FLO on site wasn't like this picture rather they were something like

I mean to me hoards are once in a lifetime things, they are very rare opportunities to learn things that can change British History forever. Sure they might not but well if you don't do it properly how do you know. I was therefore very interested to learn why the FLO and a club who state they are
'... a professional, well run organisation' should excavate the over 5,500 Anglo Saxon coins with their heads stuck down a hole that only seems to be big enough to get just what can be seen out (if I have anything factually wrong here please let me know).

I was hoping that the Culture 24 article might explain why heads in a hole was deemed to be the preferable method of excavating. Unfortunately having read the article I as detectorist have more questions than answers, something which is rather depressing and leads me to believe that a great opportunity to bridge the gap between archaeologists and detectorists may have been missed. My questions and observations from the article are as follows.

Even two coins are treasure, as long as they're 300 years old, but it was clear that it was going to be more complicated 'cos there were a couple of bits of lead early on, which suggested there was more in there than we could see.

I got the finder to enlarge the hole, because it was very small. Their protocol is to dig the smallest hole you can because then you don't have to fill too much back in.

- No mention of digging below the plough line here. That bit of PAS guidance always gets ignored once it's a hoard. Have I dug below the plough line, yup, but not as much as I could. Should I have some of my reward reduced because of this, probably.

I'm not quite as young as I once was and I can't get down and kneel and do things like that, like I used to be able to. The detectorist and his son did the digging and we covered up the original site of the find with a plastic bag so we weren't messing it up as we cut around the hole.

- Hrm ok well you're the FLO, you are the example that I as a detectorist should follow. So if I find a hoard I don't need to call in the Archie's but rather get out my plastic bag?

As we came level with the top of the coins it was clear there were more than just a few.

By then I was lying on my front in the grass. I couldn't not get involved by then, I needed to get down and see it.

They were wrapped in a lead parcel, which I thought was very strange – turns out there have been lead pieces come up with other coins hoards in that period.

It was an oblong of finished lead sheet which had been folded over in a sort of cylinder. The ends folded over each other to seal it and then the two short ends were pinched closed.

It looked like a giant pasty, really: like how you would cook a piece of chicken in tin foil in the oven. It's a very simple, cheap way of wrapping your coins up so that you don't sacrifice a vessel.

You could do it on the table in your house, I suppose. It may well be that they had cheap lead lying around.

- Ok so the lead parcel doesn't really matter then it seems, just what's in it? I thought from my 'Archaeology is rubbish' that context of a find matters, like how it was put there etc. Guess not.

At a quick glance, which is really all that's been done so far, all I can say is they were probably coins of Cnut or Ã†thelred, anything around that period.

Ideally we would have launched the story after we'd done our investigations. But it was all over the internet by Monday morning, well out of control.

- Isn't it the responsibility of the professional well one club to have some sort of protocol to stop this sort of thing? Dear God if I ever found a hoard I'd probably be on the phone to my missus as soon as i've recovered from fainting but I would try and resist the urge to advertise what I've found in real time to the planet. Could you stop the other detectorists from throwing it up on the net though I wonder?

I was on Christmas leave by then, but I had to do the lifting because there was nobody else to do it, basically.

- So in the case of finding the hoard there is no special protocol or system that the British Museum or PAS as whereby the hoard can be protected it seems. Odd as I would have thought the odds of a hoard being found were largest on a Sunday when clubs are out.

I did it with the help of the finder. The landowner was kind enough to take the sheep out of the field. He'd been warned that there was something going on and kept updated, but he was dealing with his sheep to get ready for the market, which as far as he was concerned was much more important.

- So the landowner was kind enough to take the sheep out the field but didn't give permission to dig the hoard in any other way or indeed help protect it until it could be dug?

We did, in fact, use his kitchen table to make an initial count of the coins that night. With everybody else being on holiday there would not have been anyone else to help anyway.

I had to work on the Monday to bring the stuff into the museum because I didn't want it at home, especially over Christmas. I don't think my house insurance would have paid it.

- I'm not sure you could actually make that last point up. Sadly I was already aware of it. What this means is if you hand anything over to the FLO and it's stolen or they lose it then the FLO could be personally liable for the loss. Surely they need to be insured for this sort of thing.

I've been an FLO for more than 11 years and I've never had anything quite like that before, but we got it sorted out fairly quickly. I didn't feel happy to keep them very long – they went to the British Museum fairly soon after that.

My colleague took them up in the museum van with a driver, because we weren't that keen on sitting on the train with them. It's quite heavy, that many coins.

- Don't know why but the thought of a bloke sitting on a train with a million quids worth of coins amuses me.

They're safe and sound in the British Museum now, and their conservation lab is cleaning the coins and lead, ready for Gareth Williams, the Curator of Medieval Coins, to identify them and do a report for the coroner, who can't rule on them until he's got an archaeological report.

We have to wait with bated breath for that. There's no way we could have identified more than a couple in the circumstances. You can't tell when they're muddy, although they're in very good condition.

Certainly they were packed in a tight little parcel – you wouldn't believe that many coins could be in such a small parcel. 

- So I was just wondering at this point why they weren't removed with or in the parcel, is this naive of me?

Wrapping them in lead had worked – it preserved whoever's money it was for a lot longer than they'd planned. They never came back for them.

If I'm right about Cnut, the latest one would be 1035, which is the end of his reign. It might be an early or late one, there are different types.

It's so early in the game weEr really haven't had a chance to research any of this. I'm not sure of the full significance of any of this at the moment, it's too early to tell.
It's an exceptional find – one of the biggest in the country. It's the biggest hoard of any sort in Buckinghamshire.

- So it's an exceptional find, one of the biggest in the country, but again perfectly ok to take out of the parcel and put in bags within the course of a day? I'm a detectorist, they are the FLO so I presume so.

We've had medieval pennies and a Roman hoard, but not as many and they weren't in as good condition. It's certainly the prettiest hoard, if you like coins.

The museum would like to acquire them for the people of Buckinghamshire. Whether we can afford them is another matter.

The money being bandied about in the press is totally unreliable. What they're really worth remains to be seen and will not be decided until the Treasure Valuation Committee has met and come up with a fair market value.

I hope they're not worth more than £1 million. We don't have that sort of spare money – does any museum, come to that?

- Well you could hope for a kindly detectorist / farmer who waive some of their reward.

The Keeper of Archaeology will be working on that one. We'll be seeking to raise the funds when the time comes, but it's all very much in the balance.

The coin specialist was on leave, as well. I've hardly had any Christmas holiday at all, what with the press chasing me.

I was driving back for New Year and thought I'd left something behind, but it was a guy from the Daily Mail. The difficulty is in saying something coherent when you've had your mind on other things for three or four days.

Sometimes being an FLO does impinge on your private life a bit. The press did get a bit overexcited.

- Er you've just found perhaps one of the biggest hoards ever found, do the FLO's get any media training?

While we were trying to dig we were surrounded by metal detectorists peering down the hole taking photographs on their iPhones. It was quite difficult to work.

- Hrm can't blame them really, but a professional well run club should perhaps have made it a little easier for the FLO to work and the detectorists should have realised the need for the FLO to do a proper job.

Archaeological people have criticised me for digging it there and then but there was no way we could guard that hoard overnight. Would there have been anybody to come and help?

- Well if the farmer had managed to get the sheep out the field then maybe he could have come over with a bloody big tractor or something. Oddly I always thought the British Museum might have some sort of protocol for this sort of thing, like one man and his tent who could come up and guard the findspot or something!

I'm sorry but I find this a daft statement really as would have thought the farmer would have let the club organiser / finder stay the night to get some help the next day when the other detectorists had left. Am sure work would have understood.

It was just too public, so it had to be lifted and sorted out as best we could. Sometimes FLOs work in difficult conditions.

- Hrm this is a real shame as it seems to me that it was the dectorists and the club here that seem to be the difficult conditions. I may be wrong here but what else are the 'difficult' conditions.

We'd rather have had an excavation done slowly and gently, but even then you can be metal detected by nighthawks as soon as you've gone home – I'm afraid they don't care about whether it's a proper excavation or not. They can easily sweep in when your back's turned.

- Ah ok so it wasn't ideal. Not being rude again but wouldn't you er like get overtime if you didn't go home. I would have thought there would be some protocol again for the FLO or someone staying and guarding the find if the farmer couldn't drive his great big tractor over the find spot.

If you look at the YouTube footage it makes it look like we're 'tee-hee, yum yum, giggle giggle', shovelling the stuff out in a hurry and scooping the coins out in handfuls.

It really wasn't like that. It took us all day – we only just got it in before the light went, we worked hard and slowly on it. We were lucky the lead was in such good condition.

I think somebody in the press said they were in a lead bucket, which definitely wasn't the case. It was a parcel.

The finder could have kept quiet about it, although it would have been difficult to put it in your pocket and sneak away with it – it would have made your trousers a funny shape.

We've organised for him to go up to the museum and see the conservation lab while they're cleaning some of his coins early next week. He's quite excited about it all.

There are bad guys out there who give the hobby a bad name. People don't always report things, although one likes to think that most detectorists are aware of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and their responsibilities.

You can tot up that a silver coin of that period costs so much and then multiply it by 5,000 but that's not really how it works. It might be that the rest of the hoard is full of unusual coins. It's a real unknown quantity.

I think the PAS is launching its treasure report early in February and they were hoping that Gareth would have done at least the initial report by then. That would actually be quite quick for a treasure report.

I'd like to be able to say it'll be done by a certain date, but Gareth would probably kill me. I'd be found with a trowel or a set of coin scales between my shoulderblades.

We hope to tell people the whole story eventually: what it was doing in Buckinghamshire, whether it was minted at the Buckinghamshire mint –  there's lots to finds out. It's tantalising.”

Hrm now I'm a bit confused as it would appear that the FLO wanted extra time so it could be dug properly but the Weekend Wanderers website says ' Also a special mention should be made of FLO Ros Tyrrell for spending hours on the ground doing a proper excavation and overseeing that all was done correctly'.

It's a shame as that there are these conflicts in whether things were done properly or not as it only fans the flames of the anti-dectorist brigade and perhaps rightly so. Maybe the FLO felt overwhelmed by the detectorists and / or a seeming lack of any formal protocol for this sort of this thing. It's undeniably a wonderful find but I hope that in the rush, however it was caused, hasn't meant that knowledge of how and why it was put there in the first place hasn't been lost forever.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Metal Detecting on BBC 4 Farming Today

There was an interesting little piece on Radio 4's Farming Today about metal detecting (4 mins in).

A few comments on it.

1. Not all items are recorded as the piece says, only items over 300 years old that are voluntarily reported to a Finds Liaison officer (FLO) who work for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) are recorded. There is no legal requirement to report finds to a FLO. Many detectorists do not report their 300 years old to their local FLO.

There is a legal requirement to report possible Treasure to the local Coroner. Usually Treasure finds are reported the local FLO instead of the Coroner as they act as a go between. The legal requirement to report possible treasure come from the Treasure Act 1996.

2. Any responsible detectorist should have their own specific insurance rather than relying on the farmers public liability insurance. If I was a farmer I would want to see the detectorists insurance.

3. If the farmer is interested in the history of their land they may wish to make sure they ask the detectorist to show them everything that they have found and make sure items are recorded with the FLO.

A farmer might also wish to ask the detectorist to print out and show them some of their personalised PAS finds records (A detectorist can create a username on the PAS website and the finds that they record can get linked to the username. This shows it was the detectorist that reported the find).

4. As to 'lucrative diversification' then a farmer should be aware that it's not just shinny coins that are worth money. Beehive thimbles, buckles, spurs, crotal bells and all sorts of other things can be commonly found by detectorists and can be worth a fair few quid. Some detectorists might think that they can buy you off with a bottle of whiskey in exchange for them not showing you stuff they then keep / sell without you knowing.

Friday, 2 January 2015

To all new fortune seekers!

If you've just bought a metal detector because you read about a bloke finding thousands of coins worth loads of money then please please realise that there are rules and responsibilities that come with owning a metal detector. THIS page lists some of them and THIS page lists links that you need to read first before going anywhere.   Please remember that if you start detecting anywhere without permission of the landowner then you may be committing a criminal and / or civil offence. Please note  this includes your local park, common, beach, random piece of land, you need permission for these places to.

To all you budding new treasure finders please note that 99.999 pct of days are spent finding things like

Lots of these

Stuff like this

There is a reason so many detectors end up of ebay. If you want a million quid go play the lottery.

If you are new and have any questions then please post them and I'll do my best to answer.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Aylesbury hoard of Anglo Saxon Coins in the news

Old news to many now I imagine but just noticed the first more mainstream media mention of the Aylesbury hoard found on 21 December 2014. (no comments on it being the Daily Mail!)

You can read more about the hoard on the Weekend Wanderers website.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Back in time at the beach

Christmas done, DIY done, finally a trip to the beach.

Arriving at the beach it was a lovely sunny day, no wind, no other folks about. Lovely.

About 90 minutes later I hadn't found didly, apart from random small bits of copper. Still was great just being out so decided to carry on. About 30 minutes later I came hit my first coin, a 1949 six pence. I then proceeded to dig out quite a few more coins in the same area of the beach. Weirdly they all dated from around 1940 to 1960. Nothing decimal at all. Still shouldn't be that surprised as this beach seems to be decimal up one end and then gradually gets older (oldest coin i've found there is 1870 something). 

Happy with my little pre-decimal hoard I carried on when I got a lovely loud 'ding ding' two bars from the top of my euro-ace. I didn't need to dig as laying on the ground was what seems to be a gold signet ring. Bit of an odd one in that I don't know if it's solid or just gold plated. There isn't a hallmark and it's rather cruddy inside. Still have popped up a post on The Metal Detecting Forum so hopefully somebody will know more than I which when it comes to gold ain't hard.

I carried on for another hour so and found a pound coin and a 10 pence piece before deciding to head home. All in all a lovely 4 hours out.

Whilst I haven't done much beach detecting at all one thing I often find is that where you find one coin you will often find more close by so always have a good look around the hole.

Have a good new year all.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Happy Christmas


Would just like to wish all readers a Happy Christmas and New Year. Will start blogging again over Christmas!