News Article:

Treasure Seeker Strikes Gold

By Geordie Greig, Arts Correspondent

A man who spends his spare time seeking buried treasure has discovered the second most valuable antique yet found by a metal detector.

Walking across a ploughed field at Winteringham in south Humberside, Peter Williams unearthed a 15th century gold cross, in immaculate condition after 500 years in the soil.

Experts are convinced it is one of the most important finds since a gold and sapphire pendant, sold for 1.3 million pounds at Sotheby's four years ago, was dug up on a public footpath.

Next month, Williams, a Yorkshire carpenter, will travel to London to watch Sotheby's sell his treasure. The estimate is 100,000 pounds, but experts believe it could fetch more, like the Middleham jewel pendant that sold for five times its pre-sale estimate of 250,000 pounds. There is likely to be strong interest from foreign buyers.

The discovery of the cross has re-opened the debate about the ethics of allowing amateurs with metal detectors to hunt for treasure in Britain.

Many archeologists consider them vultures who wreck sites of national importance for a quick profit.

The metal detector users argue they are enthusiasts who often discover works of art which would otherwise remain hidden.

Archeologists are campaigning for tighter controls to be introduced in parliament preventing the removal of antique artifacts from their original sites by unscrupulous bounty hunters.

English Heritage, the government advisory body on heritage matters, is taking steps to increase the number of protected sites on which metal detectors are banned from 13,000 to 65,000.

It wants to it made compulsory for local museums or archeological centers to be notified of all discoveries; at present only gold and silver objects must be declared.

The main concern of archeologists is that vital information about the past is being lost by allowing amateurs to dig on sites and remove objects, often without much value, that are crucial to a full understanding of the site.

The archeology lobby has twice failed to reform the archaic law of treasure trove that dictates whether objects found in the ground belong to the finder of the state. On Monday, Lord Hesketh, undersecretary of state for the environment, will receive a representation from a group of peers seeking to introduce a private bill amending the law.

Many archeologists want tighter restrictions on gold items such as the Winteringham cross. At present, anything that the finder can prove to the coroner was more likely to have been lost by its original owner than intentionally buried to be recovered later, may be claimed by the finder. Archeologists fear that law encourages dishonest metal detector users to lie about where they found objects so that it appears more likely they were lost by the original owner.

Lady Hanworth, president of the Surrey Archeological Society, said: "It must be changed so that our national heritage can be protected. Items are at great risk of leaving the country. The current definition of treasure trove allows the vast majority of finds to escape even the limited protection under existing law."

In the case of the Winteringham cross, archeologists agree Williams acted correctly. He asked permission of the landowner to scan his land. He dug only a few inches into the soil, informed the coroner of his find and agreed to pay the farmed half the proceeds of the sale.

Gerald Costello, general secretary of the National Council for Metal Detecting, said: "We have been given a bad reputation by the deeds of a few. I seem to spend more time defending us than actually detecting these days."

The find is the culmination of 12 years searching my Williams, chairman of the Yorkshire branch of the council.

"This is the big one that everyone dreams of. I still find it difficult to believe it is all true. In the past I have found many things but nothing so substantial," he said.

The cross is the only known example of a pendant designed to contain a holy relic, made into a T-shaped cross by an English goldsmith. It is thought a wealthy abbot dropped it on his way north to visit a monastery. The cross is engraved with a picture of the Virgin Mary on the back and the Holy Trinity at the front.