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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (12/2009) Headlines (10/2009) Headlines (02/2010)   Vol. 43 December 2009 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the December 2009 edition of W&ET Magazine


It's an unprecedented find that could revolutionize ideas about medieval England's Germanic rulers: An amateur treasure hunter searching a farmer's field with a metal detector unearthed a huge collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver artifacts.

The discovery sent a thrill through Britain's archaeological community, which said that it offers new insight into the world of the Anglo-Saxons, who ruled England from the fifth century until the 1066 Norman invasion and whose cultural influence is still felt throughout the English-speaking world.

"This is jus a fantastic find completely out of the blue," Roger Bland, who managed the cache's excavation, told The Associated Press. "It will make us rethink the Dark Ages."

The treasure trove includes intricately designed helmet crests embossed with a frieze of running animals, enamel-studded sword fittings and a checkerboard piece inlaid with garnets and gold. One gold band bore a biblical inscription in Latin calling on God to drive away the bearer's enemies.

The Anglo-Saxons were a group of Germanic tribes who invaded England starting in the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Their artisans made striking objects out of gold and enamel, and their language, Old English, is a precursor of modern English.

The cache of gold and silver pieces was discovered in what was once Mercia, one of five main Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and is thought to date to between 675 and 725.

For Terry Herbert, the unemployed metal detecting enthusiast who made the discovery in July while scouring a friend's farm in the western region of Staffordshire, it was "more fun than wining the lottery."

The 55-year-old spent five days searching the field alone before he realized he needed help and notified authorities. Professional archaeologists then took over the find.

"I was going to bed and in my sleep I was seeing gold items," Herbert said of the experience.

The gold alone in the collection weighs 11 pounds and suggests that early medieval England was a far wealthier place than previously believed, according to Leslie Webster, the former curator of Anglo-Saxon archaeology at the British Museum.

She said the crosses and other religious artifacts mixed in with the military items might shed new light on the relationship between Christianity and warfare among the Anglo-Saxons- in particular a large cross she said may have been carried into battle.

The hoard was officially declared treasure by a coroner the end of September, which means it will be valued by experts and offered up for sale to a museum in Britain. Proceeds will be split 50-50 between Herbert and his farmer friend, who has not been identified. The find's exact location is being kept secret.

Bland said he could not give a precise figure for the value of the collection, but said the two could each be in line for a "seven-figure sum."

Kevin Leahy, the archaeologist who catalogued the find, said the stash includes dozens of pommel caps- decorative elements attached to the knobs of swords- and appeared to be war loot. He noted that "Beowulf," the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, contains a reference to warriors stripping the pommels of their enemies' weapons as mementoes.

"It looks like a collection of trophies, but it is impossible to say if the hoard was the spoils from a single battle or a long and highly successful military career," he said.

"We also cannot say who the original, or the final, owners were, who took it from them, why they buried it or when? It will be debated for decades."

Experts said they've so far examined a total of 1,345 items. But they've also recovered 56 pieces of earth that X-ray analysis suggests contain more artifacts- meaning the total could rise to about 1,500.

The craftsmanship was some of the highest-quality ever seen in finds of this kind, Leahy said, and many British archaeologists clearly shared his enthusiasm.

Bland, who has documented discoveries across Britain, called it "completely unique." Martin Welch, a specialist in Anglo-Saxon archaeology at University College London, said no one had found "anything like this in this country before."

Herbert said one expert likened his discovery to finding Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen's tomb, adding: "I just flushed all over when he said that. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up."

The collection is in storage at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, where some of the items are to go on display.

It's unclear how the gold ended up in the field, although archaeologists suggested it may have been buried to hide the loot from roving enemies, a common practice at the time. The site's location is unusual as well- Anglo-Saxon remains have tended to cluster in the country's south and east, while the so-called "Staffordshire hoard" was found in the west.

In the meantime, archaeologists say they're likely to be busy for years puzzling out the meaning of some of the collection's more unusual pieces- like five enigmatic gold snakes or a strip of gold bearing a crudely written and misspelled Biblical inscription in Latin.

"Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face," reads the inscription, believed to be the Book of Numbers.

Also of interest is the largest of the crosses, which experts say may have been an altar or processional piece. It had been folded, possibly to make it fit into a small space prior to burial, and the apparent lack of respect shown to such a Christian symbol may point to the hoard being buried by pagans.

"The things that we can't identify are the ones that are going to teach us something new," Leahy said.

For England, a country at the edge of Europe whose history owes an enormous debt to the Anglo-Saxons, the find has the potential to become one of its top national treasures, according to Webster.

Caroline Barton, assistant treasure registrar at the British Museum, said objects over 300 years old and made up of more than 10 percent precious metal are only offered for sale to accredited museums in Britain, so the collection will not be leaving the country.

"People laugh at metal detectorists," Terry Herbert, who made the find, told the BBC at a news conference at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. "I've had people go past and go, 'Beep, beep, he's after pennies.' Well no, we're out there to find this kind of stuff."

Herbert spent 18 years scouring fields and back lots without finding much until he stumbled on the treasure. He stands to get half its value when it's sold to a museum. The farmer on whose land it was found in Staffordshire, will get the other half. Herbert's wish list is modest. He wants to buy a bungalow.

From The Associated Press, submitted by Henry Moore, The Colony, TX, Cheryl Fealy, Las Vegas, NV, Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL, Doug Amundson, Cambridge, MN, Jerry R. Hallett, Napa, CA, and many other readers.


Five years after the Queens rubbish remover took home a mysterious barrel from a SoHo apartment, he opened it to find dozens of ancient Mexican artifacts.

The mix of bowls, figurines and jugs were made between 300 B.C. and 500 A.D., some by Mayans.

They're worth an estimated $16,500- and DiMola said he's not at all surprised.

"There's always something in the garbage worth money," he said.

DiMola came to own the booty when his Ridgewood company was hired to clear the cluttered space of abstract artist Clinton Hill, who died in 2003.

Hill left his possessions to his longtime partner, Allen Tran, who died just months later, said John Koegel, a lawyer for their estates.

The couple's property fell to friends, who formed a nonprofit foundation to take the valuables from the studio.

Hill's estate paid DiMola about $4,500 in October 2004 to clean out the artist's Prince St. apartment, studio and basement storage.

The scuffed cardboard barrel was mistakenly considered trash and DiMola stuck it in a warehouse, where it collected dust for years.

He recently decided to peek inside just to see what treasure might await.

Even though no one intended to toss out the artifacts, Koegel said the foundation has no legal claim to recoup them from DiMola.

"If he is given a contract by the owner of property to remove and dispose of certain things, if the owner makes the mistake, that's the way it is," Koegel said.

Still, the attorney declined to congratulate DiMola on his find.

"I'm not happy for him," Koegel said. "I'm sorry that [barrel] slipped through the cracks."

The most valuable object that DiMola brought to upper East Side art dealer Howard Nowes for appraisal was a $1,000 stone ax god- perhaps intended as a sacrifice- from the Mezcala region of Mexico.

As for the pieces' future, DiMola said he first planned to pack them back into the barrel. He doesn't collect ancient art, so he said he was open to selling the pieces.

"I don't see the beauty in this, to be honest with you," he said. "I like things about history, but this pottery doesn't grab me."

From The Associated Press, submitted by Jeff Kehl, Avon, MN.


Money doesn't grow on trees, but a tree-care supervisor in New York City's Central Park found an old wallet inside a dead one.

The blue leather wallet had been stolen by a pickpocket 27 years ago. It was found in the hollow of a dying cherry tree. It wa near where Ruth Bendik had hers swiped while she watched the New York City Marathon in 1982.

The 69-year-old Upper East Side resident says the only thing missing was $20 in cash. Her credit cards were still there. So were her student ID from Columbia University Teachers College and an employee ID from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

The park worker says he found the wallet last week under five feet of compost. Police tracked down Bendik the next day.

From The Associated Press, submitted by Jeff Kehl, Avon, MN.


The diamond was as dazzling as Daniel Fabris' contagious smile.

After waiting five months for someone to claim a ring he found on a school playground, the fourth-grader stood inside the Fullerton Police Department property room to be declared the legal owner of the jewelry.

Daniel, 9, slipped the sparkler on his thumb, looked at his mother and told officers, "I'm going to give this to my parents for safekeeping."

His mother, Rebecca Fabris, had jokingly asked Daniel if he wanted to save the 3-carat gem, appraised at $30,000, for a future bride.

"He told me it should be used for his college education," she said.

Daniel's good judgment was equally apparent in the ring saga: Doing the right thing - and having patience - pays off.

Sgt. John Siko said the police followed the California Civil Code in trying to locate the rightful owner.

The princess-cut stone on a platinum band was kept in the police safe beyond the required 90 days. A classified ad ran in a local newspaper, after which seven days were allowed for the owner to step forward.

Police conferred with the city attorney to determine who should get the ring.

The attorney and the police agreed.

Daniel was the finder. Daniel would be the keeper.

"You had a choice, either to keep the ring and stick it in your pocket, or turn it in," Sgt. Mike MacDonald told Daniel. "The Police Department is very proud you chose to do the right thing."

High-fives were exchanged.

Daniel recounted how he was headed for recess when he spotted the ring on the blacktop among backpacks propped near a classroom door.

"Five friends followed me to the classroom, where I handed it to my teacher," he remembered with a giggle. "She asked if I was proposing to her."

Laguna Road School Principal Harold Sullivan said that at first the teachers thought it was a piece of costume jewelry, but after one teacher had it appraised by a jeweler and learned of its value, Sullivan called police to pick up the costly gem.

Fliers were sent to parents. A district official planned to check with a lawyer to see if the district could be considered the rightful owner because it was found on school property, Sullivan said.

"We commended our student for doing the right thing," Sullivan added.

At home, Daniel's parents and sisters were equally proud.

"Daniel has always been a well-rounded boy with a compassionate heart," Rebecca Fabris said.

After putting the diamond in his mother's purse at the Police Department, Daniel said he'll continue to be patient.

He's still waiting for someone to return a watch he lost at school in the second grade.

From The Orange County Register, submitted by Leonard D. Katanich, Tustin, CA.


An Israeli woman has begun an unenviable trawl through her country's landfill sites after accidentally throwing out a mattress apparently stuffed with nearly a million dollars in cash.

The woman, who did not give her name, threw out her mother's decade-old mattress at her home in Tel Aviv after buying her a replacement as a surprise. She was then shattered to learn that her mother had banked all her savings, in shekels and dollars, in that most traditional of hiding places. The daughter immediately rushed off to retrieve the mattress, only to discover the trash had already been collected.

She went into the street to find the mattress, but it had been taken away by garbage collectors. She then took a taxi to the Hiriya dump on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, a vast mountain of trash being turned into a park that serves as a way station handling all the trash for the city and its surrounding area.

But she was too late. By then, 3,000 tons of garbage had arrived that morning from across the city and had already been loaded onto trucks to be shipped out for burial at landfill sites in southern and eastern Israel.

The woman hitched a ride with one of the truck drivers, who took her to the Ganei Hadas landfill site, near Be'er Sheva, in the southern Negev desert. But she could find no trace of the mattress and went on to another landfill site at Efeh, near the Dead Sea, according to the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

The paper published a photograph of the woman with her back to the camera searching through a vast pile of trash. A team of workers at the Efeh site was asked to stay on until nightfall to search for her mattress, but it was not found.

An Israeli police spokesman said he did not know of the case and no report had been made to police. There was no way to verify that the mattress was indeed stuffed with so much cash, but Yitzhak Borba, the manager of the Efeh dump, told Israel's Army Radio that as the woman waded through the garbage she seemed "totally desperate."

From The Globe and Mail, submitted by Daniel Finch, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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