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Most of the artifacts found in the treasure hoard by the metal detectorists are now missing.

Rogue Metal Detectorists Stole $3.6 Million Treasure


Metal detectorists have made many amazing discoveries down the years in Britain, with a great hoard of 2,600 coins revealed just a couple of months ago. But there are strict rules regarding archaeological finds made by detectorists. At present, the British court system is dealing with four men who have been found guilty of conspiring to conceal and illegally sell a treasure that was found with metal detectors.

When Metal Detecting Becomes a Crime

At Worcester Crown Court four men were on trial, accused of stealing a treasure that is worth up to $3.6 million (£3 million). According to the Daily Telegraph , “George Powell, 38, and Layton Davies, 51,” were accused “of failing to declare a hoard of 1,000 year-old buried valuables they unearthed”. Both men have addresses in Wales.

The pair are experienced metal detectorists and they found the valuable hoard in a field near Leominster, Herefordshire. The field is part of the Eye Court Farm.

They did not tell the farmer who owned the land, or the local finds officer as is required by law. The two men were first arrested in relation to the case in 2015.

Under British law, any archaeological find must be reported “to the local coroner as possible treasure” reports the Daily Mirror . It is then appraised by specialists and they will determine if it is a national treasure and its value.

British museums have the right to make the first bids on the items. However, Powell and Davies did not do this, with the motive of trying to sell their find at a higher price on the black market. And Gareth Williams, a curator of early medieval coins at the British Museum, explained what a bad move that was:

“It’s not just a theft of the items. If we don’t recover everything it’s a theft of our history. The stupidity is that our treasure system is the most generous in the world in terms of providing rewards for those who abide by the law. These men would be rich by now if they had done things by the book. They have chosen not to and in doing so have destroyed an important part of our history. It’s difficult to feel any sympathy for them at all; they have been greedy and selfish and the nation is the loser.”

Metal detectorists are required by law to report any discoveries. (C/N N/G / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Metal detectorists are required by law to report any discoveries. (C/N N/G / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Paul Wells, 60, and Simon Wicks, 57, were also charged with Powell and Davies with “conspiring to conceal the treasure,” reports the Daily Telegraph . Wells and Wicks did not find the treasure, but they are alleged to have helped the metal detectorists hide their find.

Powell, Davis, and Wicks are also charged with attempting to illegally sell the treasure. All of the accused denied the charges, but BBC News reports that Powell and Davies have been convicted of theft and the concealment of their find. Wicks and Wells were also convicted of concealing the discovery.

Metal Detectorists Hid and Sold the Treasure

Kevin Hegarty (QC) the prosecutor in the case, told the court that Powell and Davies. “knew when they found this material that this was no ordinary find” according to the Daily Mirror . He also told the court that the two, very experienced detectorists, “decided to treat the find as theirs and not to declare it to the landowner, the farmer, or the Crown. In short, they stole it.”

The prosecutor told the court that much of the treasure trove was buried in the ground for over 1,000 years. It had lain undisturbed since before the Norman invasion until the detectorists found it in the summer of 2015. It is alleged that some 300 coins, ingots, and some pieces of jewelry were unearthed, but only 30 coins have been recovered by the police.

Only 30 coins have been recovered by the police. (Fæ / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Only 30 coins have been recovered by the police. (Fæ / CC BY-SA 2.0)

This means that many historic coins and pieces of jewelry are missing and they may already have been sold on the black market . The 30 coins were seized from people who had bought the coins and from the defendants’ homes. It is alleged that Wicks “hid some within the handle of a magnifying glass” according to the Daily Mail.

The police were able to establish this because they found photographs on one of the men’s smartphones. In these, the two men are shown digging out a large number of coins and other pieces of treasure.

Furthermore, the accused allegedly bragged to an antique dealer that they had found a great many coins and also ignored his advice to report them to the authorities. The defendants denied that there was a larger hoard.

Medieval Treasure Trove

The original find “consisted of a gold ring, bracelet, and silver ingot from the 9th century, a crystal ball pendant from the 5th century,” reports the Daily Telegraph . The court was also told that many of the coins found in the field came from the reign of Alfred the Great . While others came from the time of King Ceolwulf , ruled the Kingdom of Wessex.

The treasure hoard included  a crystal pendant that dates to around 600 AD. (West Mercia Police)

Williams explained the significance of the coins:

“These coins enable us to re-interpret our history at a key moment in the creation of England as a single kingdom. What the coins show, beyond any possible doubt, is that there was actually an alliance between Alfred and Ceolwulf. And yet a few years later, Ceolwulf is dismissed by historians at Alfred's court. He's written out of history, but the coins show a different picture. This is a find of national importance from a key moment in the unification of England. It comes just at the moment when the Vikings were attacking in a large way.”

Of the 30 coins that were recovered by police, some are extremely rare and valuable. They include a penny-sized coin, known as a ‘Cross-and-Lozenge.’ One coin has an image of what looks like two heads and it is known as a ‘two emperors’ - these are much sought after by collectors. There was also a silver coin from what is now Iran and one showing the Frankish emperor Louis the Pious.

A silver coin showing the Frankish emperor Louis the Pious was found by the metal detectorists. (World Imaging / CC BY-SA 3.0)

A silver coin showing the Frankish emperor Louis the Pious was found by the metal detectorists. (World Imaging / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The court was told that dealers from all over the world would have been interested in the coins discovered in the field. The whereabouts of the rest of the treasure are unknown and the alleged missing pieces may never be located. It’s expected that the men will face prison time. Judge Nicholas Cartwright has made mention of one of the men in particular, saying:

"I am not going to admit George Powell bail, he's going to be sentenced for theft of items worth millions of pounds and is facing a very long sentence of imprisonment and in addition to that there will inevitably be a confiscation process. There are hidden assets by way of unrecovered treasure worth a very large sum, probably millions of pounds, so there's the prospect of a very long default period of imprisonment should the assets remain hidden."

Most of the coin hoard that was discovered by metal detectorists is now missing. (Representative image) (samiramay / Adobe Stock)

Top image: Most of the artifacts found in the treasure hoard by the metal detectorists are now missing, but police have recovered a ring, crystal pendant and ingot found in the haul. Source: The Guardian

By Ed Whelan

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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