News Article:

Treasure Hunter's Haul May Be Token Of Royal Heartbreak

By Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent, The Times

A metal-detecting enthusiast who has long scoured the banks of the Thames has at last struck lucky. He has discovered an early 17th-centery gold ring which has a unique diamond-encrusted design and fine workmanship that suggest a royal provenance.

He unearthed it somewhere near Cannon Street station. The man, who wants to remain anonymous, stands to gain about 20,00 pounds when it is sold. Rosemary Weinstein, curator of the 16th and 17th-century collections at the Museum of London, which wants to acquire the jewel, said: "We have never seen anything like it. Its quality is so outstanding and unusual. There are diamonds all the way round the back of the hoop, on the underside of the finger."

The enamel on the inside, in a translucent green and mauve-blue is characteristic of the early 17th century, but the shade of the mauve-blue is unusual in English jewelry, paralleled only in the 1610 Lyte Jewel, a pendant gift from James I, which is today in the British Museum. The workmanship of this item also suggests a royal link.

Mrs. Weinstein added: "Because of its great quality and unusual character, it is important for museums and our knowledge of the period. We have seen so little of what actually survived from that time. If this went to auction, and disappeared into a private collection, it would be a major loss. The public would revel in looking at something of this quality."

There are two theories for how it ended up in the Thames. In the 1600s, passengers traveling up and down the river would disembark below London Bridge. At low tide, there was such a rush of water through the piers under the bridge that it was too dangerous to remain aboard. There are many contemporary reports and pictures of overturned boats and people drowning. Travelers would walk along the bank, and around the bridge (it took about ten minutes) and board the boat on the other side, at Dowgate. It could have been mislaid on that walk.

Alternatively, Mrs. Weinstein suggested, the ring may be a token of a broken heart: until the last century, it was customary for people whose engagement had been broken off to toss their ring into the river. "It is impossible to tell whether this was a deliberate act of an accident," Mrs. Weinstein said, "but it's quite a ring to throw away."

The National Art Collection Fund, the leading art charity, has pledged 10,000 pounds, believed to be half of what the Museum of London will need to purchase the ring. David Barried, the fund director, described it as a "wonderful discovery". The Museum of London is trying to raise the rest of the money through various public trusts.

The metal-detecting enthusiast is among 70 members of the Society of Mudlarks and Antiquarians who can be spotted with Wellington boots and spades exploring the muddy foreshore between Tower Pier and the Houses of Parliament, within the old walls of London. Their activities are strictly controlled by the Port of London: only society members are given a permit allowing them to dig. Even then, they can go no further than a meter down. Anything recovered must be shown to the Museum of London before being offered elsewhere.

Britain is being stripped of its archaeological heritage as treasure seekers using metal detectors retrieve coins and precious objects, it was claimed today (John Young writes).

A study by the Council for British Archaeology calls for stronger measures to prevent illicit detecting and for improved relations between archaeologists and an estimated 30,000 amateur "detectorists".

The report, funded by English Heritage, states that illicit metal detecting on ancient monuments protected by law, and on working excavations, is "unacceptably high". Well-publicised finds, such as the Hoxne Treasure in Suffold, are only a fraction of the total, most of which are never declared and disappear into private collections.

Under the law, hears which consist primarily of gold and silver coins must be declared for a decision on whether they constitute a treasure trove. It is also an offence to remove finds from a protected archaeological site. But Mike Heyworth, the councils S deputy director, said yesterday that in his view all archaeological finds morally belonged to the nation and should be offered to museums where they could be seen by the public.

The council wrote to several hundred metal-detecting clubs and societies, asking them to canvass their members, but receive only 69 replies. They alone reported 3,556 finds during the previous year.

The study says detecting clubs have probably found nearly ten times as many Roman brooches since 1988 as have archaeologists.