Bus driver Tom Peirce has discovered 500 Bronze Age metallic objects with his metal detector in Dorset. The Daily Mail has the story with photos.

The discovery includes 268 complete axe-heads, one of the biggest hoards ever found in Britain. The find, as it constitutes a “prehistoric” metallic object qualifies as “Treasure” and is the property of the Crown.

Archaeologists believe the hoard was buried in the field as some form of ritual offering to the gods.

Grandfather Mr Peirce, from Ringwood, Hants, said: “When we took them out of the ground, some of them were so pristine you would think you had just bought them at B&Q yet they were 3,000 years old.”

There were so many of the artefacts that the pair couldn’t collect them all so returned the following day with fellow detectorist Brian Thomas,75, to gather the rest.

Mr Peirce, who has been a metal detectorist for five years, added: “We went back and dug in another hotspot and found a load more.

“We were very lucky because there was not much else in the field.

“If we had tried another place or walked in a different direction, we’d never have found them.”

Mr O’Connell, 62, who has owned the farm for four years, said: “Within about half an hour of Tom searching, he came rushing over to me looking shocked.

“During the war, a plane had crashed in the same field and for a minute I thought he had found a bomb.

“We went back up there on my tractor and saw the axe heads. I didn’t have a clue what they were – I thought it was scrap metal at first.

“I have owned the farm for four years and had no idea they were up there. It is very exciting.”

The find will now be valued, and the finder and the landowner will split the market value, which is estimated to be £80,000.

It’s this reward scheme under the Treasure Act which encourages the reporting of these finds. The difference between this policy and the typical approach in source nations is it encourages finders to come forward with finds; however it also encourages more metal detecting, which can be seen as a trade-off. The compensation scheme is a pragmatic balancing of interests, which places a higher value on the acquisition of the find, and bringing discoveries to light, rather than leaving objects in the ground. I think it’s an excellent policy for the UK, but it may be questioned whether such an approach would work as well in other nations without the economic resources to fund the scheme.

Those objects which don’t qualify as treasure are subject to the voluntary Portable Antiquities Scheme. Treasure basically includes precious metals (i.e. gold and silver), prehistoric base-metal like these bronze objects, and objects found with them. Since 1997, objects which don’t qualify as treasure can be recorded by the Finds Liaison Officers which have forged connections with local metal detectorists, and have compiled information which has led to a more complete understanding of important sites.

I should note, that it’s my understanding that Greece and Italy both have similar rewards schemes, but not a lot has been written about them to my knowledge. My initial conclusion is these schemes are not funded as well, and have not produced the kind of results the PAS has. I believe both nations reward finders at something like 25% of an object’s value if it is discovered by chance. If any readers have knowledge of these kinds of rewards schemes I’d appreciate a post in the comments.

(Hat tip: Will Anderson).

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3 thoughts on “Axes!”

  1. Here are a few points that may be of interest from the lecture of Dr. Bland of the PAS in the US last year. First, the vast number of finds in the UK come from cultivated fields where the context has already been disturbed. Second, removing the artifacts can be seen as a form of “rescue” archaeology as each day goes by metal artifacts risk damage from deep ploughing and/or agricultural chemicals. Third, the cost of PAS is small in the scheme of things, some 1.5 million pounds per year to administer. The state must expend additional funds under the Treasure Act to purchase finds, but the vast amount of what is found is returned to the finder because it is of limited interest once it is recorded. Perhaps, the “poor source country” argument has some force for some countries, but certainly not for rich EU member countries like Italy, Greece or Cyprus for that matter. It’s really a question of priorities (and the power of cultural bureaucrats) and nothing more.


    Peter Tompa

  2. Most metal detector finds may come from cultivated/ploughed land, but as the photos in the Daily Mail article show, in this case the artefacts were from land that was grassed over (pastoral). And the instigation of the archaeological project shows there must have been some likelihood of intact context.

    The article says the first axe head was found at 10 inches depth, but that the hoards were at a depth of 2 feet. This illustrates how metal detectorists are not simply skimming stuff off the surface or topsoil. Anyone who has worked on an archaeological dig knows that it takes quite a bit of effort to dig 2 feet.

    Much that I am very supportive of the PAS and it is terrible that its future is in jeopardy, there needs to be continued critical analysis of metal detecting practices, and possible tightening of regulations so that those who do not report their finds can be weeded out.


  3. Interesting comments. I think that the argument that these particular finds were rescued does not seem apt, as the finders were surprised at the fine condition they were in, as if they had just been purchased from a local hardware store. I’m not sure I would classify Cyprus as a “rich EU member country” either. What’s clear is that though the PAS is a remarkably successful program in the UK, it’s in danger of disappearing. This find is not subject to the voluntary PAS, it’s treasure trove, and thus the property of the crown. As long as finders of these objects are rewarded at or equal to the market value, it will continue to motivate finders and detectorists to come forward. However its the good work of the PAS which has dramatically increased the reporting of these finds, which have been mandatory, subject to the evolving definition of treasure in most of the UK.

    Though an argument might be made that ancient coins should be bought and sold, in the UK such finds are the property of the Crown, unless a coin is found by itself. Any hoard or collection of two or more coins is treasure trove.

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