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By Nigel Swift

The more I hear the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the discovery of The Staffordshire Hoard the angrier it makes me as I’m convinced some of it is still in that Hammerwich field or has been stolen at night by scruffs. And I have proof – or at least, evidence infinitely stronger than any claim it has all been recovered.

1.) After the first survey in 2009 and follow-up excavation in March 2010 archaeologists were confident it had all been found. But when they went back (after ploughing) in December 2012 they were “stunned” to find another 90 pieces (some small and possibly from a second hoard and some large and judged to be part of the original one.) One said  “It’s absolutely amazing. In the last search they used top-quality equipment to go over the area, which they use to find underground stuff in Afghanistan. They were absolutely certain there was nothing else down there.” Well, they were wrong. [In fact, both US and British forces were using Ebex 420H machines with little depth capability, (mines are mostly shallow) and not recommended by the manufactures for finding very small targets!]

2.) That 2012 survey included a team of metal detectorists using their own machines. A crucial error seems to have been made for very few if any of them yet had the new, highly expensive £1,500 deep-seeking machines (launched by Minelab in October 2010) so it was a “partial” search at best and some objects were surely missed due to that?

3.) To be clear, Minelab said their new machine, the GPX5000, “can easily find small objects at 24 inches” (15 inches below most ploughsoil). Surely the Hoard deserves investigation using that equipment? The nighttime scruffs will certainly have thought so and would have increasingly acquired the new equipment in the subsequent years (or even the GPZ launched 6 years later which Minelab says “could find gold 40% deeper than the GPX“!) Against that, the claims by archaeologists about the adequacy of their “two detailed surveys” and “geophysics and trial trenching” look damagingly mistaken.

4.) I have taken many photos at the site including a sequence over several weeks in February 2013. Dozens of holes, some very deep, and trails of footsteps have convinced me nighthawking activity is regular every time the crops are removed. What are they finding still, especially at the bottom of the deep holes? Nothing? Coke cans and plough fragments, (but well below the plough zone?) Or a few deliberately buried bejewelled golden Anglo Saxon objects which surpassed all the others but had to be broken apart and melted down to avoid prosecution? You tell me.

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5.) And then there’s this: the original finder, Terry Herbert, has just revealed in the local Express & Star that the children of two previous farmers of the land told him that an ancient burial mound existed on the site and that he believes “there are another 100 or so pieces in there.” Not that he could possibly know but that statement together with the ten year publicity means that as soon as the current crop comes off, which will be soon, there’ll be another glut of nightime scruffs up there. Anyone who reveres the hoard ought to guard that field. We’ve previously featured ten nearby archaeology societies. Maybe they could organise something?


[Incidentally, I’ve written to the Archaeology Forum 5 times about “the growing threat posed by the new deep seeking metal detectors such as the GPX 5000, the Blisstool LTC64 V3 and and the GPZ 7000 which leave the remaining Staffordshire Hoard open to theft” but without any reply.]


Anyway, all this is why I get angry about the current hoard celebrations. Any remaining objects shouldn’t have been left and are still vulnerable to criminals using detectors which are light years ahead of what the archaeologists had available. It’s not right for the sector to enthuse to the public about how great the found objects are without making totally damn sure they’ve got them all. That might mean a hundred supervised volunteer amateurs and students each with a GPX 5000 borrowed or hired from Minelab, covering a lot more land for as long as it takes to do the job properly. What better priority to which to allocate limited funds?


PS  I’ve just noticed this article was published yesterday on the exact 4th anniversary of my last call for the authorities to  “arrange for a survey of the field using a large number of Minelab GPX 5000 and similar machines as soon as possible“!

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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