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FOCUS: Plan to thwart illegal "nighthawkers" and looters at Coin Hoard site

FOCUS: Plan to thwart illegal

Monday 18 September 2023

FOCUS: Plan to thwart illegal "nighthawkers" and looters at Coin Hoard site

Monday 18 September 2023

It's nearly two years since the Le Câtillon II coin hoard was controversially purchased by Government for £4.5m against official advice, raising questions around the potential rise of so-called "casino metal-detecting"... so, where are we now?

From concerns about thwarting illegal "nighthawking" and looting to legislative delays and the creation of an educational trust, Express charts the latest developments...

Hunting for treasure under the cover of darkness

Since 2021, the Société and authorities have been aware of people searching for items under the cover of darkness. “Nighthawking” is the illegal search for and removal of antiquities from the ground using metal detectors. It is against the law to remove items from a listed site without permission.

A planning application last week was put forward for a “non-invasive” archaeological survey of the fields in Grouville where two Celtic hoards were discovered.

If Planning agree, four fields in Le Câtillon will be surveyed by the Société Jersiaise’s Field Archaeology Department to find, record and remove items of archaeological significance to stop them being plundered by amateur detectorists.

Société Field Archaeologist Hervé Duval said that the search for artefacts would only cover the surface of recently ploughed fields and take two to three days.

“The proposed methodology for the work involves field walking and surface-level metal detecting to recover potential archaeological materials and preserve the site,” he said. 

Fields with significant heritage value

The listed fields are known to hold significant heritage value, with the most noted discoveries being Celtic hoards discovered in 1957 and 2012.

The 1957 find consisted of nearly 2,500 Gaulish coins and several pieces of jewellery that may have been stored in one or multiple ceramic vessels. 

Richard Miles Reg Mead Catillon coin hoard.jpg

Pictured: The Le Câtillon Celtic Hoard was discovered by local detectorists Richard Miles and Reg Mead in June 2012. 

The 2012 discovery, by detectorists Reg Mead and Richard Miles, comprised approximately 70,000 Gaulish coins, ingots, and jewellery. That year, several archaeological features, including pits and postholes, were also observed. 

All of these remains are likely to date from the 1st century BC.

"Non-invasive" survey plan

A report accompanying the planning application states: “The potential for the presence of remains belonging to the aforementioned periods is high. 

“However, the likelihood of remains from other periods is low, although the existence of Neolithic activities should be considered given the proximity of Le Câtillon to La Hougue Bie. 

“The level of archaeological preservation is expected to vary across the site. The proposed activities for the non-invasive survey align with a Written Scheme of Investigation and could be undertaken under standard archaeological Planning conditions. 

“Following the completion of the fieldwork, a report summarising the programme’s findings will be prepared and submitted to the relevant official at the Field Archaeology Department within a reasonable timeframe. 

“The site archive will be entrusted to the Société Jersiaise’s Coutanche Library for safekeeping.”

A controversial purchase price

The 2012 Le Câtillon II Coin Hoard was purchased by the Government in December 2021 for £4.25m, which came out of the Civil Asset Recovery Fund.

coin hoard Hougue Bie.jpg

Pictured: The Le Câtillon II Coin Hoard went on display in a purpose-built exhibition hall at La Hougue Bie in March.

It included the world’s largest ever Celtic coin hoard, with coins from the Coriosolitae, Osismii, Redones and Baiocasses tribes, and additional coins minted in southern Britain in around 40 BC. 

It also contained Europe’s largest collection of torque neck rings, a fabric bag full of gold and silver jewellery and ingots, as well as flora and fauna, including millipedes, centipedes and other arthropods which fell into the pit where the hoard was buried 2,000 years ago.

"Casino" metal-detecting?

At the time of the deal being announced, British archaeologists raised concerns that the £4.5m sum – which was paid out against official advice from senior civil servants and the UK's Treasure Valuation Committee – set a "damaging" precedent for valuations that will affect museums' ability to keep important historic finds in public ownership both locally and across the water.

According to researcher Andy Brockman, who edits The Pipeline, an investigative publication exploring the intersection between archaeology, money and politics, there were strong fears in the archaeological community that the move had paved the way for so-called “casino metal detecting”.

Listen: Researcher Andy Brockman told Express abut the issues Jersey's decision created in a previous Bailiwick Podcast episode. 

“The higher a find like Le Catillon II is valued, the more difficult it becomes for a local museum in particular to actually raise the money to match a commercial valuation. That’s one danger,” he explained.

“There’s a second danger which is that it promotes a kind of – for want of a better phrase – ‘casino metal detecting’, where someone goes out and buys a metal detector, gets permission or, worse, goes out without permission and detects illegally in the hope or expectation – even if it’s statistically unlikely… of finding a Le Catillon of their own.”

Where is Jersey's treasure law?

The then-Treasury Minister, Deputy Susie Pinel, said the situation had been like a “tap on the shoulder” that the island needs to look closely at its legislation around 'treasure'.

Work to develop such as law is currently behind schedule. It was firstly due to be complete in 2022, then islanders were told that it would be by the end of this year.

However, Economic Development Minister Kirsten Morel recently revealed that this had now been further pushed back.

While the first part covering the reporting, protecting and recording of items of archaeological significance discovered in the island should be completed by the end of 2023, development of legislation containing the practical detail, for issues such as rewards for those discovering such items, will take longer to allow for consultation and will instead be brought forward in 2024.

A new educational trust

The Le Câtillon II hoard is now on display in a specially built gallery at La Hougue Bie.

£250,000 of the £4.25m was ringfenced to establish an educational trust.

Following a meeting last month, it was resolved that this will be administered by The Highlands College Foundation and focus on “the promotion of scientific and educational research into the Le Catillon II Hoard, including research by staff, students and alumni of Highlands College and research by any third party, in Jersey or overseas”.


FOCUS: The inside story of the Le Câtillon valuation battle

Gov blames Crown for "inflated" £4.25m coin hoard fee

Record-breaking Celtic coin hoard goes on show

FOCUS: Where is Jersey falling short in international heritage agreements?

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Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.

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Posted by john garner on
So the expectation is that whatever the value of a find is that museums should be able to buy it "on the cheap" ? This after making people wait b 10 years to drive the price down
Posted by MarkSmith67 on
If I find a hoard of gold or silver, it will be melted down and sold on asap! Corrupt greedy states will not get a look in and so nobody will ever get to see the history of what was.
Posted by AnthonyMarett97 on
2 years later & they are worried !!!
Bit late to be worried after wasting over 4 million pounds
The States should never have wasted that amount of money on a subject not many are interested in, they could of bought a percentage of the find & displayed it along with an exhibition to do the find justice & of our history so people of today can learn
Archeology is about learning not having a heap
From memory the Gold Torque found at the Grand Hotel site many years ago is a copy
the original is in the Bank, if that is still the case why waste 4 million pounds
Forgot that’s the Jersey Way just jump in without thinking
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