22 September 2009

Hunting Treasure

Around where we live, autumn is the season of conkers, the harvest, and treasure hunters, the last two being tightly linked. Apparently, there are other parts of UK where the last two also go hand in hand.

I would imagine that many Americans don't realize or don't think much about the fact that the Roman Empire once encompassed the British Isles. There are lots of places around the country where Roman building sites can be found. Apparently, there are also lots of known Roman merchant routes, and along these routes it isn't uncommon at all to find coins that merchants and locals of the day dropped long ago.

This is where the harvest comes in. After the farmers have claimed a field's crop, they turn the top layer of soil over to mix in whatever is left of the plants, and thus make whatever items that might be buried there a bit more accessible to those who would seek them.

Enter the treasure hunters. Arriving in small platoons, camping in the fields, and armed with metal detectors and sufficient patience, they perform a careful sweep across the fields along these routes (with the farmer's permission, of course), searching for antiquities. And this isn't a fool's errand-- they indeed do find treasure. One gent gave our son a small Roman coin. A bit of research we've done indicates that often a deal is struck with the farmer to split the findings. Further, any significantly valuable artifact must be reported to an appropriate government agency who may elect to purchase the artifact from the hunter for a suitable price. Otherwise, these gents sell their discoveries on the collectors' market, or of course keep them for their own pleasure.

It would be romantic to think that the UK has a subset of its population that fits the Indiana Jones demographic, but I get the impression that this is largely a hobby, and a "boys weekend out" when a group arrives to hunt. One hunter we spent a bit of time chatting with was a financial adviser when he wasn't on the prowl for Roman coins. He was hunting in the fields adjacent to our garden with a bunch of his chums, and I find it unlikely that many of those gents were full-time treasure seekers. But hey, who knows? Even Indy needs to know how to invest the proceeds from his discoveries.


  1. It's one of the things I love about the UK (and indeed Europe) that there are constant reminders of how long it has been occupied. There seem to be far fewer reminders in the US (at least here in the North East) that people have lived here for thousands of years.

    My DH was stunned on his first trip to the UK with him when I drove him up north on one of the old Roman roads - straight as an arrow, completely disregarding the contours!

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