Saxon hoard lands treasure hunters in jail

Coining it: Two samples from the hoard, but many of the items have not been recovered. © PA

Who owns buried treasure? Last Friday, two men were sent to jail for trying to sell an amazing 1,100-year-old stash of Anglo-Saxon coins and jewellery. But to whom does it really belong?

What’s happening

You are searching for buried Anglo-Saxon treasure when your metal detector beeps. Your heart races. You start to dig. Something glimmers in the soil. A coin. Then another, and another! You’re rich!

Not so fast.

In the UK, the law is clear: if you find treasure, you must give it to the British Museum. A reward is then split between you and the owner of the land.

Find out more

Is it a fair system? Treasure hunters George Powell and Layton Davies didn’t think so. In June 2015, they dug up a cache of Anglo-Saxon coins and jewellery in a field in England. Worth £3 million, they tried to sell it.

The pair were caught, charged and convicted of theft. On Friday, Powell started a ten-year prison sentence. Davies got eight-and-a-half years.

Most “metal detectorists” are law-abiding enthusiasts. However, so-called “nighthawkers” are on the rise, trespassing on land and swiping hidden troves of Roman, Viking and Anglo-Saxon loot before anyone else gets to them.

The judge said that “the treasure belongs to the nation” when he sentenced the men.

After so many years underground, who really owns buried treasure?

Some say…

Whoever finds it, surely! It is hypocritical for the British Museum to accuse treasure hunters of stealing, when so many of its own artefacts were taken from other countries by the British Empire without permission. Just think of the most famous example: the Elgin Marbles, which were taken from Athens in the 1800s.

Others think…

No one owns treasure. It is a part of history, so no one has the right to destroy it either. “Our treasure system,” says Gareth Williams of the British Museum, “is the most generous in the world, in terms of providing rewards for those who abide by the law.” These important items must be protected.

You Decide

  1. What would you do if you found buried treasure?

Activities

  1. Imagine that one thousand years in the future, treasure hunters find a hoard you buried in 2019. What do they find? Draw a picture of the treasure and label the items.

Some People Say...

“If you steal something small, you are a petty thief but, if you steal millions, you are a gentleman of society.”

A Greek proverb

What do you think?

Word Watch

Anglo-Saxon
Germanic tribes who moved to the British isles around 400AD. They were the first people to speak Old English.
Metal detector
An electronic rod that is used by treasure hunters. It can sense metal beneath layers of earth.
Glimmers
Shines, sparkles.
Cache
A collection of similar items that are hidden.
Charged
Officially accused of a crime.
Convicted
Found guilty of a crime.
Law-abiding
Obeying the law.
Trespassing
Entering someone else’s property or land without permission.
Swiping
A slang word for stealing.
Troves
A collection of valuable things.
Hypocritical
When your behaviour does not match the morals you claim to have.
Proverb
An old saying.

Subjects

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