Two English metal detector enthusiasts may have lost some of their enthusiasm. On April 28th, two men were found guilty of breaking British treasure trove laws by concealing the discovery of thousands of ancient Anglo-Saxon coins. Both Roger Pilling and Craig Best received 10-year sentences for failing to report their discovery of a hoard of Viking-era coins minted between 874 and 879 and buried by an unknown individual.
What is the British Treasure Trove Law?
If you find treasure, you have a legal obligation to report it to the local coroner. It is also required that the landowner be informed of any discoveries. If the treasure is determined to be treasure by the coroner, the finder will be awarded a finder’s fee.
The coins were the subject of the pair’s criminal property possession charges. Best brought three rare coins to a hotel meeting, two from the reign of Alfred “the Great” of Wessex and one each from the reigns of Ceolwulf II of Mercia (848-899), East Anglia (ruled 821-223), and Kent (821-823). Operation Fantail, the team’s code name, indicated they were undercover police officers. In 2015, a hoard including these three coins was unearthed in a field near Leominster, Herefordshire. About 300 coins were thought to have been in the hoard at its discovery.
Forty-one more coins were found during a search of Pilling’s house. There has been no return of the original sum. Pilling did not unearth the treasure but refused to say where he got the coins he is now trying to sell. In 2018, Best reached out to American professor Ronald Bude to persuade him to buy an Alfred silver penny. According to the court documents, Bude contacted a coin expert at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge to verify the legitimacy of the coins.
The museum contacted the police, which led to the sting operation that led to the arrests of Pilling and Best. Deputy Superintendent Lee Gosling of the Durham Police Department remarked, “This is a very rare case. Rarely do we have the opportunity to make our mark on British history. The fact that this discovery necessitates a rewrite of history books is astounding.
Judge James Adkin of Durham Crown Court remarked that the coins had “immense historical significance.” The coins included a “King Alfred two-emperors type silver penny,” which “Before 2015, only two coins of that type had been discovered,” according to experts at the Fitzwilliam Museum. Prosecutor Matthew Donkin stated, “The majority of the coins are of a relatively rare type known as cross or lozenge.”
The two emperor varieties are the rarest of all. To paraphrase Gareth Williams, the curator of early medieval coins at the British Museum, “The coins literally enable us to rewrite history.” Williams elaborated, “We rarely get the opportunity to influence British history, so seize it while you can.” The fact that this discovery necessitates a rewrite of history books is astounding.
Williams claims that the British Museum’s analysis of the hoard’s surviving coins has shed light on the political climate, Alfred, and early English history of the late ninth century. Until these coins were found, it was thought Ceolwulf was probably a minor puppet of the Vikings, but we now know better. Based on these coins, it appears Ceolwulf and Alfred were on equal footing.
It has recently been suggested that the story of Alfred, who is widely believed to have single-handedly liberated England from Viking rule, may require reevaluation. At the Battle of Eington in 1878, Alfred triumphed over Viking invaders. As a result, the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons came to an agreement that split England into Viking-controlled areas like Scandinavian York, the northeastern Midlands, and East Anglis under the Danelaw and Anglo-Saxon territory. It is generally agreed that Alfred became king of western Mercia and Guthrum after Ceolwulf’s death.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records, “And the same year, The Great Heathen Army entrusted the Mercian kingdom to Ceolwulf, a foolish thane of the king, and he swore oaths to them and offered hostages to ensure that the land would be prepared for them on the day of their choosing. “