News Article:

FOUND: $4,000,000 Communion Set

One of Treasure Hunting's Finest Hours

A 38-year old building contractor with a metal detector has made what authorities are calling the "Find of the Century"

Very little light graced the path of the 38-year-old building contractor as he slowly worked his detector over the brown Irish bog. It was one of those days that remind you of a scene from the Sherlock Holmes Hounds of the Baskervilles movie, or the damp and foggy London of The Saint. Using information gleaned from his daughter's history book, the treasure hunter was combing the swamp near an abandoned monastery on a 25-acre island.

Since he was undoubtedly on the lookout for large artifacts, the man certainly missed a heartbeat or two when the detector emitted a loud broad signal. Sure enough, there close under the surface lay a metal object, later identified as a large bronze basin. But when he lifted out the basin, he could hardly contain his excitement, for there were other, more readily recognizable objects, including a two-handled chalice. Some kind of strainer was there, too, and a tray with a stand!

But even in that moment's wild imaginings, this treasure hunter could not possibly have envisioned that his would be called the greatest find of the century in his native Ireland, or that the communion set which he had just unearthed from its hiding place in the bog would be called on of the most beautiful in the world - conservatively estimated at $4,000,000! He certainly never imagined that his find would be used by archaeologists as a vehicle for anti-treasure hunting propaganda.

Though bits and pieces kept filtering in from correspondents and friends in Ireland, we cannot give you the name of this man, who wishes to remain anonymous for the moment, nor can we give you a more precise location that just Tipperary, Ireland; for British archaeologists fear that "treasure hunters" may pillage the site before more detailed study can be done. And so it goes: here in one of treasure hunting's finest hours, on the heels of this great find, the first thing archaeologists can do, once they have the valuable in their possession, is renew their cry for the prohibition of metal detectors, forever - at least for those they consider to be amateurs.

Well, before we bring you down with those details, let's look more closely at the startling find itself. The centerpiece of the eight-century communion set is unquestionably the gold and silver chalice, now being called the Tipperary Chalice, which is eight inches high and is decorated with panels of delicate gold filigree and amber settings. The two handles on the chalice have escutcheons - shield emblems - which are elaborately ornamented. The strainer, or ladle, which has perforations to strain the grape pulp from the sacramental wine, is gilt-bronze. A fourteen inch paten, a circular tray, has gold filigree and glass studs, with extraordinary use of "trichonopoly work" - a mesh of silver wire that forms the rims and edges of the paten's decorative band. Unfortunately, the paten suffered the most damage of the set; the bronze basin had also deteriorated. With the paten was a circular stand, decorated with interlace designs.

The chalice is being compared to the famed Ardagh Chalice, which was discovered in 1868 in County Limerick, and which has been described as the most beautiful in the world - before the Tipperary find, that is. The Tipperary chalice is slightly larger and was probably crafted at the same artisan's shop. Precisely why this communion set was buried, as of this writing is unknown. But it's been conjectured that it was hidden for protection from Viking invaders of the middle Ages, or from thieves from a rival monastery. The exact date of the concealment is also unknown at this time.

As for archaeologists, they are on the one hand ecstatic about the find and about the man who acted so "responsibly" by turning it in. On the other hand, they say that the other treasure hunters have not acted responsibly, and, according to Henry Cleere, director of the Council for British Archaeology, "the treasure hunter is only interested in objects," and poses a threat to serious researchers by destroying valuable evidence. Apparently the Irish government agreed, for it invoked the Official Secrets Act, declaring a 25-square mile zone around Killenaule a protected area. Meanwhile, British archaeologists are continuing to promote an organization called STOP, Stop Taking Our Past, opposing Britain's 100,000 treasure hunters.

Funny, we always thought "educated" people were supposed to be the ones who avoided making snap generalizations, or labeling, for example, the whole group of treasure hunters as outlaws because a small percentage- surely comparable to the small percentage within the archaeological fraternity - are really criminals. This "professional" reaction to the Tipperary find is truly distressing, and it certainly isn't about to encourage other treasure hunters to cooperate as magnanimously as this chalice-finder did.

The director of the National Museum of Ireland, Brendan O'Riordain, concluded, "We are very, very pleased with the find. We would hope that the Irish soil would give up more of its treasures." (Better watch your choice of words there, sir.) "This find certainly gives archaeologists, historians and those interested in the past some hope for future finds." All we can say is that a lot of us who are every interested in the past will have our hopes of seeing many more treasures found in our lifetimes shattered, if the archaeologists have their way.

Has it really gotten to the point in Britain, or in America, where professional jealousy makes it impossible for archaeologists and treasure hunters to join the celebration over a great historical - and monetary - find, without archaeologists feeling the need to bare their teeth to the "other" treasure hunters, certainly most of whom would have acted just as responsibly as the building contractor did? Good grief!

By the way, the man who found the incredible communion set has been promised a substantial reward for giving it over to the museum. We'll let you know what that amount is, and what additional controversy goes with it.