Saturday, 10 January 2015

Treasure from near Aylesbury

I have recently observed and commented on the metal detecting hobby in Finland, so it is fitting that I make a few short comments on the Aylesbury treasure that made news at the New Year. This treasure consisting of Anglo-Saxon coins is one of the largest found and the Telegraph headline suggested that it is worth about 1 million pounds and consisted of 5,421 coins, the easily dated apparently from the reigns of Ethelred the Unready and Canute from the turn and the beginning of the second millennium AD. The treasure was found during an annual metal detector event organised by the Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club on December 21, 2014. The Daily Telegraph called it a 'dig', but a visit to a field where the group had been earlier could only called a dig after the find was made. The Daily Mail correctly writes in the text that initially it was a rally for the group - and the finder almost missed it, because the difficulty of affording the petrol. The group involved an archaeologist in the eventual unearthening of the hoard, but over 100 people attended the even, so the photographs in the Daily Mail show a somewhat chaotic image of the event, when the hoard was bagged.

The coin bags in a Sainsbury bag (photo: Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club/SWNS)

The Daily Mail article has a video link to an earlier coin hoard, this time Roman, that had an ad hoc grid created across the mass of the coins. The coins were there bagged by a grid square. The coins in Aylesbury were found in a lead container and the article has a still of the lead sheets with some coins visible. This photo had a scale and other photos (see above) were in separate bags in certain quantities, so similar gridding may have happened here as well. The archaeologist, a finds liason officer from the Buckinghamshire county museum, Ros Tyrrell, was interviewed, so there was a professional to oversee the recording.

It is clear that a large find has to be excavated soon, but it is a pity if in the hurry and in excitement nobody pays attention to the context. In the wider publicity it was not mentioned clearly, if this was a truly isolated find - or part of cemetery or a ritual site. A revisit to a same field suggests that there have been other finds, too. However, the organised Club guarantees that at least these finds are reported properly. The local newspaper told that Ros speant four or five hours on his tummy in the cold.

The manner this find was made has raised criticism among some professional archaeologists, and it is worrying, if the fields are emptied and nothing else is picked out. Especially, when short googling results with the information from the Looting Matters blog that the find was actually made from the area of a deserted medieval village (DMV) and a Medieval manor house. These kinds of metal detecting events would not be possible according to the Finnish law, for example, since you are not allowed to touch known archaeological sites in the Nordic countries. It is lamentable that limited attention is given to the context in metal detecting. Especially, when the find at Aylesbury was made c. 60 centrimetres deep... Could have been inside any ancient building!

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