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.


  1. Your concerns are perfectly valid but you will get criticism for "letting the side down" but good for you for standing up for something bigger than your particular "side".

    I don't know of an "anti-dectorist brigade" (do name names and cite evidence if you know of any) but I do know of some "Best Practice enthusiasts" some of whom are detectorists. Looks like they've just been added to. I think you may need a tin hat very soon.

  2. There are people who drink and drive or drive recklessly, there are those who sit back and let their friends do it and say we should not talk about it, because they are, after all their "mates" and in the words of another detectorist last night, "it's all bullshit anyway". Then there are those that say that there are problems, and that we should be doing more to address those issues. Which ones would you say are "the anti-driving brigade"?

    In what way should bad-practice and irresponsible artefact hunting be privileged and protected from scrutiny and why? Because it is uncomfortable to admit it exists and persists?

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  4. The issue raised is why you glibly label "anti-detecting brigade" those who wish "detectorists and clubs would think about whether they could do anything better"? I do not see why it is "no bad thing to admit errors" but a bad thing when somebody spots them and points them out. It's "no bad thing" to show how one might improve the next time", but a bad thing when people say there should be an improvement? Responsible detecting is what is tolerated, but we have to be clear, it is "responsible" not in word alone but deed. It is also responsible which is the vast majority of practitioners and not ten percent. On the video I heard not a single voice saying ":guys, I think we should stop" - did you? And how many on the forums afterwards say "but you should have..."?

    Is it the people who say "it's all bullshit, don't listen to them, mine's a pint" or those saying "there are problems here which need addressing" that are "the anti-driving brigade"? Why is discussing the issues and criticising errors and bad practice "anti-detecting"?

  5. Apologies, deleted one reply as realised i had said 'aren't constructive' when i meant 'are constructive'

    I'm not sure if you're asking me the questions Paul re in what way should it be privileged and protected from scrutiny as I think i've made it clear that no organisation should be.

    Looking at where practice could be improved is to me a sign that an organisation wants to improve itself.

  6. You write: "that there are these conflicts in whether things were done properly or not as it only fans the flames of the anti-dectorist brigade"...

    Things were not done properly, and are not being done properly, and this is what those who criticise the current form of the hobby are talking about. Just dismissively to label them all "haters" or "anti-detecting" is irresponsibly to dodge a number of important questions about current heritage policy and the way it is being implemented. To what degree is the pro-PAS spin true, and to what degree does it not relate to overall reality? These are not "anti-detecting" questions, they are questions to which everybody who cares about the heritage and has a stake in it is owed an answer.

  7. fair point in a sense although I don't equate anti-detecting with being a hater but more perhaps those who have concerns about it's impact. In hindsight however I accept that I shouldn't have distinguished between detectorists and anti detectorists as i'm a detectorist who is anti some detecting practice but that doesn't make me anti detecting.

  8. I think we can denounce that when the term anti-detectorist is used it is used to refer to someone who tries to impose and force feed his/her views on a metal detectorist when they themselves are not metal detectorists. 'Anti-detectorists' for some reason have real trouble in admitting that they hate metal detecting unless it is used in a restrictive manner during an archaeological investigation conducted by trained professionals. For want of better terminology 'anti-detectorists' can't stand the fact that Joe public can spend a couple of hundred quid and find something important, I like to call this jealousy.


  9. "Joe public can spend a couple of hundred quid and find something important, I like to call this jealousy."

    But the members of Heritage Action are Joe Public so your theory doesn't work!

  10. No, heritage action are not Joe public, heritage action like to label themselves as amateur archaeologists, amateur being a keyword there.

    The fact of the matter is that as much as you guys deny it you DO want metal detecting banned unless regulated and kept within parameters set by a controlled archaeological dig. Admit it, you do not think it is right that anyone can buy a metal detector and gain legal permission to search and recover items and unless it is all done the way you think it should be done then you will whine and moan.

  11. "Admit it, you do not think it is right that anyone can buy a metal detector and gain legal permission to search and recover items and unless it is all done the way you think it should be done"

    Guilty as charged.

  12. Well Andy, doesn't my confession deserve more than silence?

    All we are saying is that metal detecting SHOULDN'T take place other than in accordance with some best practice rules. We can certainly debate the detail of what those rules should be but surely the principle is correct? You seem to be drifting into defending metal detecting per se rather than "best practice metal detecting" which is surely not justifiable is it?

    If you believe in "responsible detecting" what do you propose should be done about those who don't? (Please don't use the E word (educate), it hasn't worked for 20 years and I'm tired of financing it!)

  13. I guess I'll have to take it that Andy IS defending metal detecting per se then.