24 September 2009

The Staffordshire Hoard Revealed

The hoard was revealed this morning, and it's a doozy: over 1,500 items, 5 kg of gold, and 2.5 kg of silver. Metal detectorist Tony Herbert called in experts after finding the first 500 pieces, and archaeologists uncovered the rest. They suspect there may be more yet buried. The location of the find, of course, is being kept fairly tightly guarded.

The BBC article is here, along with a photo gallery. A Flickr page has over 600 photos for you serious gold geeks out there. It's stunning stuff.

Conservator's comments here and video of the excavation here, behind short ads. (BBC won't allow embedding until October.) They apparently haven't cleaned many of the objects yet, which you can see in the photographs.

You can't highlight a find like this without also talking about the UK's Portable Antiquities Scheme. The PAS is a system of voluntary reporting of archaeological finds - instead of fighting the hobbyists and metal detectorists, the government decided to recruit them to report what they found, and where. Over 140,000 objects have been recorded so far (you can see some especially interesting ones here). The project is administered by the British Museum and was fully funded in 2006.

Unlike many countries, English common law allows the finder to keep archaeological objects. What the PAS does is encourage finders to record the provenance of objects and make information about them available to the public. It has helped promote education about and public involvement in archaeology on a wide scale. Read about the history of the project here.

Finds like the Staffordshire Hoard are governed by the Treasure Act 1996, which is the exception to the common law: it requires finders of gold and silver artifacts over 300 years old to report them to the government within 14 days. Local or national museums can take possession of the objects, but they have to pay the landowner and/or discoverer the market rate for the finds.

The Hoard was declared "treasure" today by the Staffordshire Coroner, which everyone expected: the declaration was needed for the British Museum to keep the objects. Tony Herbert and the unnamed landowner, however, will split the reward for the treasure and are likely to become very rich men.

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