In 1996, a Briton who was interested in archaeology and metal detecting as a pastime discovered one of the most significant treasure hoards in the history of the U.K., the Alton Hoard. A full two decades later, the finder—a bricklayer named Peter Beasley—believes that expert appraisers downplayed the historical significance and value of this massive discovery in order to suppress how much money the museum had to pay for the artifacts.
Now, Mr. Beasley is looking for answers. “It’s not about the money but the principle,” he emphasized.
The Amazing Alton Hoard
The contents of the incredible hoard discovered in 1996 is a stunning combination of gold staters—the flagship gold coin of the Roman Empire—and two pieces of rare ancient jewelry. The 256 gold coins are from the reigns of several ancient British kings that ruled under the control of Rome: Commios, Tincomarus, Epillus, and Verica.
In addition to the massive cache of gold staters, the hoard also included a gold ring of a Roman Caesar and a solid gold torque (arm bracelet). According to experts, the ring was supposedly given to the aforementioned King Tincomarus in the early first century C.E. by the Roman Emperor Augustus. These two precious articles are considered among the oldest Ancient Roman jewelry ever found in Great Britain. Beasley found the ancient relics in a farm field with the help of his friend Peter Murphy.
Beasley and Murphy came upon the coins while sifting through Celtic and Roman pottery at a site they had identified as potentially holding clues to Britain’s first-century history. Indeed, the coins and jewelry in the hoard helped illuminate aspects of the trading behavior between the Roman Empire and the Celts.
The discovery of the Alton Hoard followed the normal procedure for such discoveries in the U.K. After being officially declared a treasure trove by coroner of the magistrates’ court, the numismatic expert of the British Museum, Roger Bland, was tasked with providing an appraisal of the artifacts’ collective value. Although Mr. Bland (and other academics) heaped praise on the hoard for its historical significance, he concluded that a valuation of about £100,000 was “a more realistic figure” than initial estimates that were two or three times higher.
Ultimately, the two finders and the landowner split the £103,000 valuation that was offered by experts at the time. However, subsequent sales of comparable relics have far exceeded the Alton examples. According to the Alton Herald, another Caesar ring that was given to King Herod of Israel sold for over £11,000, while the Tincomarus ring netted just £2,900. Moreover, the gold torque garnered only £1,650 when a similar Roman-Egyptian bracelet from the same time period realized £60,000 at auction.
Not only have many of the experts who provided the hoard’s value been discredited, but Beasley’s complaint of the items being “grossly undervalued” holds weight when one considers the newest estimate for the items’ value: £256,000.
It remains to be seen whether Mr. Beasley’s informal appeal will produce any results.
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