metal detector being used on grassy area

Detectorists who stole $3.6 million buried treasure jailed for 18 years and ordered to pay $1.4 million

Two metal detectorists were arrested for theft after failing to report the hoard of treasure they’d uncovered. George Powell and Layton Davies unearthed gold jewelry, silver ingots, and coins hidden over a thousand years ago by a Viking warrior. Detectorists are legally obligated to declare any findings, but Powell and Davis began to sell the find (estimated to be worth as much as 12 million pounds) to dealers. They were sentenced to 10 years and 8.5 years respectively. They also have been ordered to pay £603,180 and £601,250, the value of coins they’ve hidden from the authorities, or add 5 years to their sentence. [1]

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Detectorists Arrested For Stealing Viking Treasure

Powell and Davis dug up the treasure in a field near Leominster, Herdforeshire, in 2015. But they didn’t declare the hoard as per the Treasure Act or inform the farmer who lived on the land. Instead, they sold it to dealers. They had contacted the National Museum of Wales one month later to declare three pieces of jewelry and one coin each.

When the detectorists were convicted of theft and concealment, coin seller Simon Wicks and Paul Wells also received a concealment charge. The hoard included an ingot, a crystal rock pendant, a bracelet shaped like a dragons’ head, a 9th century gold ring, and 31 coins. Later, the British Museum had valued the coins at £501,000 and the returned jewelry at £275,00.

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However, only 30 coins out of 300 have been recovered. “They must be concealed in one or more places or by now having been concealed have been dispersed never to be reassembled as a hoard of such coinage again,” said prosecutor, Kevin Hegarty QC. 

Judge Nicholas Cartwright said he believed that the men were still hiding 270 coins, which led to their additional fee or extended sentence if not paid by March 21st. The remaining 270 coins have a lower estimated value £2.4 million, £10,000 each, with the judge reducing the value by 10% to include any potential damage. The men claimed that there were no more coins. But the police recovered deleted photos of the intact hoard from Davies’ phone. The detectorists had meetings with Wicks and Wells to sell the coins on the illegal market. The police later traced these coins, which were sold to private collectors. Later, Wells admitted he knew the coins needed to be declared. He had also hidden five coins for himself in a magnifying glass handle.

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Stealing a Piece of History

During the original sentencing, Cartwright said that if Powell and Davis had gotten proper permission, they could have received up to half of the hoard’s valued 3 million pounds between them. “They acted together dishonestly. They jointly stole the items and jointly intended to split and sell the bracelet,” Judge Cartwright said. [2]

Experts believe a Viking had buried those coins, which come from two different kingdoms, Mercia and Wessex. This hints at an alliance experts did not know of before. “These coins enable us to re-interpret our history at a key moment in the creation of England as a single kingdom,” said Gareth Williams. He’s the curator of early medieval coins at the British Museum. 

Williams explained that the coins share a design, proving that the kings Alfred the Great and Ceowulf II had an alliance. “And yet a few years later, Ceolwulf is dismissed by historians at Alfred’s court. He’s written out of history, but the coins show a different picture. This is a find of national importance from a key moment in the unification of England. It comes just at the moment when the Vikings were attacking in a large way.” Williams believes the hoard was buried by a Viking who had never managed to recover it. [3]

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Important information has been lost forever”

Historians and curators already have concerns about detectorists prioritizing themselves over laws and historical and national interest. “Important information has been lost forever. That’s our heritage, everyone’s heritage, that’s being lost in the hope of financial gain and I think that’s terrible,” Williams added. 

Amanda Blakeman, West Mercia Police’s Deputy Chief Constable, has been appointed as the national leader for heritage and cultural crime. She has established police and networks to combat similar investigations in this future. “It’s absolutely critical that we protect our heritage, our history, and we bring offenders to justice who are looking to profit from something that is owned by the community,” she said. “We must recover that property and we must cut off those markets that are available to be able to disperse our history, not only across this country, but across the world.”

Keep Reading: Metal detectorist discovers medieval wedding ring worth an estimated $47,000

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Sources

  1. “Treasure hunters ordered to pay £1,200,000 after failing to declare find.” MSN. Kirsten Robertson.. December 2022
  2. “Herefordshire Viking hoard thieves must repay £600k.” BBC. December 21, 2022
  3. “Detectorists jailed for stealing £12m Viking hoard of gold and silver.” The Guardian. Steven Morris. November 22, 2019
  4. “Detectorists stole Viking hoard that ‘rewrites history’.BBC. November 21, 2019
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