Updated: Feb 10, 2020
Metal detectorists who found a hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure were sentenced to prison this month for not reporting their $15 million find to authorities.
In 2015, metal detectorists George Powell and Layton Davies, along with two others, found a Viking hoard while metal detecting at a farmer’s field in Eye, near the English-Welsh border.
According to British law, any historic treasure found must be reported to the authorities. The government will then pay fair market value for the treasure, to the treasure hunter, the landowner, and anyone else currently residing on the property. But Powell and Davies, who ostensibly wanted to avoid sharing any profits, chose instead to report to not the authorities at the British Museum but to the Welsh National Museum that they had found not the hundreds of pieces they actually uncovered in the field, but only one coin and three pieces of jewelry.
Later, they sold a few pieces of the treasure to a coin dealer in Cardiff, Wales. The coin dealer also chose to not report the find to the authorities and instead brought it to an auction house in London for another appraisal. But it wasn’t until a number of fellow metal detectorists learned about the scam and tipped off the police and officials at the British Museum, that the ruse was uncovered.
Based on photos of the hoard taken by Davies on his phone, the 1,1000-year-old Anglo-Saxon treasure included 300 coins, ingots, and many pieces of gold and silver jewelry, all of which has been valued for as much as $15 million.
The treasure is also considered historically significant, as it was from the time when England was still battling the Vikings for control of the region. According to Gareth Williams, curator of the Viking collection at the British Museum, the treasure may have been owned by Vikings and buried for safekeeping. In fact, a Viking army is known to have attacked the Wessex and Mercia kingdoms in 878 AD, one year before the hoard is thought to have been buried.
Of particular note, five of the 31 coins now in the hands of the British Museum depict King Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ceolwulf II of Mercia, sitting together, suggesting that the leaders may have joined forces for a short time to battle against the fierce Viking warriors.
"[The treasure] was probably buried to preserve it from other Vikings as well as Anglo Saxons," Williams said, "and for whatever reason, the person who buried it wasn't able to go back and recover it."
In November 2019, Powell was sentenced to 10 years in prison and Davies for 8.5 years. The coin dealers were also convicted for helping to conceal the crime. Then in January 2020, Paul Wells, another of the conspirators, was given a suspended sentence, due to health issues.
Unfortunately for historians, the treasure hunters have yet to turn over the rest of the treasure; it’s not known whether they have hidden or sold the artifacts. What treasure was uncovered, however, is now safely at the British Museum.