Why we should leave trea­sure buried

Country Life Every Week - - My Week - Ja­son Good­win

FOR the first time in liv­ing mem­ory, the farmer has ploughed the park, turn­ing the view over my morn­ing cup of tea in bed from grass to soil. Nat­u­rally, my first feel­ings were of out­rage, but now I am used to it and see some ad­van­tages in hav­ing the slow pageant of the year un­fold­ing out­side the bed­room win­dow. Plough, har­row, drill. Seag­ulls. And still to come, as they say on the ra­dio, the grad­ual sweep of green bar­ley, stalks ripen­ing, stub­ble fields. At least I hope so —God for­bid it’s man­gel­wurzels.

I took the dogs out into the head­lands this morn­ing, keep­ing my eye on the turned-up soil in case I might find a Carolin­gian penny or even a whole Ro­man palace, like the man lay­ing a trench at Fish­bourne. Last month, my great­est am­bi­tion was to make a pie; now, it’s to dis­cover a stone axe, an ar­row­head or even a Saxon shilling.

We know that there are mil­lions of Ne­olithic trea­sures out there wait­ing to be found—and thou­sands upon thou­sands which have been found and sit in dusty boxes in lo­cal mu­se­ums. All I ask for is one. I would love it a great deal and show it off, which would be bet­ter than stick­ing it in a shoe­box in a vault, cov­ered in spi­dery black writ­ing.

Other peo­ple at­tract this stuff. Not long ago the Libyan desert was crawl­ing with small boys try­ing to sell you Mesolithic ar­row­heads. Per­haps they made them, but I think they just had a knack of find­ing them in the sand. A friend is big in her­itage and shares my pas­sion for old stuff but it’s not him, it’s his philis­tine brother, the gy­nae­col­o­gist, who stum­bles on Ro­man belt buck­les and flint scrap­ers ev­ery time he takes a walk.

I once found a promis­ing flint, a scraper at the very least, at the foot of the Trun­dle in West Sus­sex—more or less Ground Zero when it comes to an­cient Bri­tons—but the Chich­ester Mu­seum re­turned it to me in a Zi­ploc bag with a note say­ing it was nat­u­ral ero­sion.

These days, thanks to metal de­tec­tors, peo­ple are dig­ging up pre­cious hoards at an alarm­ing rate—5,251 coins from the reigns of Ethelred the Un­ready and Canute were found the other day near Ayles­bury; at Seaton Down in Devon, three years ago, one lucky am­a­teur dis­cov­ered 22,000 Ro­man coins, some minted to cel­e­brate the foun­da­tion of Con­stantino­ple in AD330.

It used to be called Trea­sure Trove and, un­til 20 years ago, dis­cov­er­ies were gov­erned by splen­did me­dieval laws, so well-worded they should prob­a­bly be gath­ered to­gether and buried in an iron chest. Now we have the Trea­sure Act and finds are reg­is­tered with The Por­ta­ble An­tiq­ui­ties Scheme, which has now reg­is­tered its mil­lionth item.

If this ac­cel­er­a­tion goes on, quite soon, there will be noth­ing left to find ex­cept a lot of rusty metal de­tec­tors clog­ging up peo­ple’s garages. It has be­come an epi­demic. I once spent a pleas­ant even­ing chat­ting to a nice old boy about all the old agri­cul­tural bits and bobs he’d turned up on his farm, us­ing his metal de­tec­tor. It turned out he’d writ­ten a book on the sub­ject and that in his spare time he was the bass player with the Rolling Stones. Ob­vi­ously, that sort of en­dorse­ment has en­cour­aged peo­ple to take up the hobby.

The chil­dren think it’s won­der­ful that so much hid­den his­tory is be­ing re­vealed, but I’m not so sure. In the 19th cen­tury, landown­ers got the bar­row bug and em­ployed their farmhands to dig deep into any promis­ing mumps they could find on their es­tates. Lots of these ex­quis­ite adorn­ments to the land­scape were so badly messed about that they have dis­ap­peared. Mostly, the landown­ers found noth­ing be­cause the bar­rows weren’t Iron Age burial mounds, but part of some sort of as­tro­nom­i­cal de­vice whose key is for­ever lost. Even when they did find a braided torc, it got swept into a mu­seum and was never seen again.

Leave it to ac­ci­dent, I say; that’s what gin­gers you up, gives your walks in­ter­est and al­lows you to dream. Imag­ine if you found a crock of gold ev­ery time a rain­bow spanned the heav­ens! You’d soon grow tired of rain­bows.

There is a proper mys­tery and magic about the find­ing of buried trea­sure. Peo­ple who find it are marked in some cu­ri­ous way, ei­ther by grace, like be­ing in the Rolling Stones, or by a curse, like the Tu­tankhamun team.

That, it seems to me, is a bet­ter story than an­other buck­et­load of coins. And what sort of world will it be when all the trea­sure is found? Who gives a fig for the less-than-thrilling tale of Jim Hawkins and the Is­land of Por­ta­ble An­tiq­ui­ties? We want buried trea­sure and we don’t want it now.

‘Quite soon, there will be noth­ing left to find ex­cept a lot of rusty metal de­tec­tors’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.