Monday, January 21, 2013

Lord of the Rings...

As seen in Gold Prospectors magazine Jan/Feb 2012 Article by: Russ Balbirona.  Russ is a Freelance writer and treasure hunter based in Wisconsin

In April of 2009, Tom Greenhorn, a 48-year-old railway technician by profession, metal detector enthusiast and member of the York and District Metal Detecting Club by interest, was metal detecting a field in the UK, near York.  What Greenhorn found initially made him skeptical and caused him to briefly suspect a practical joke.  “My first thoughts were just to sit down on the ground then to make sure nobody was playing a practical joke. Then I walked back to the car with a great big cheesy grin on my face,” he continued.
What caused Greenhorn to saunter back to his vehicle with a self-described “cheesy grin” was a gold ring — a rather large “chunky ring” that measures nearly one inch (2.5 cm) across its face, with a 6 mm center-set sapphire, surrounded by red and blue triangular cut prestige glass, encircled with exquisite gold beading on the edges.

“Looking at it and the workmanship, it’s obvious it’s a high-status item,” Greenhorn said. Ordinary folk would not have owned anything like it.”

Greenhorn could not have been more correct in his assessment.  Experts believe the presence of the sapphire suggest this ring belonged to someone of extremely high status, such as a bishop, queen or possibly even a king, as this type of jewel was usually reserved for people of
high status.

Though the presence of the sapphire does give a glimpse into the probable owner of the ring, it also casts a shadow of mystery upon the ring. The use of sapphire and the gold beading would
suggest the ring is from the Viking period. That would place it in the tenth to eleventh centuries, making it quite possibly the property of a highly respected Viking.

However, typically the use of gold with red and blue glass is more of the Anglian style which would make the ring much older, dating the ring back to the seventh to ninth centuries, according to officials at the Yorkshire Museum.

“This is a spectacular find — a very bold and beautiful ring. But what is most intriguing for us is nothing like this has ever been found before in this country, which makes it incredibly difficult to date,” said Natalie McCaul, assistant curator of archaeology at the museum.  “This ring is one of only two uses of sapphire in jewelry found in the UK; the first being a Roman ring from the fifth century,” she said.
If the ring is of the Anglian period, it makes it even more intriguing. Coupled with other finds in the area which include blue glass beads, suggest that even then, when written record was for the most part non-existent, there were highly skilled craftsman in the city and there was quite possibly a jewelry making industry in the city.

It also suggests that there were rich, influential, and possibly even royalty living and trading in the area of York during that same time. Though it is apparent this ring was owned and worn by a rich and powerful person it is still not known from exactly what period it comes from.

“There is no doubt that it was made by one of the finest craftsmen in the land for someone of great wealth and very high standing. But as it is so unique we are still unsure about when exactly it was made.”

Advanced testing has shown the ring to contain a high percentage of gold —approximately 90 percent.  The remaining metals in this alloy are eight percent silver and two percent copper, making this ring approximately 22-karat gold.

The ring has been declared treasure and has subsequently been purchased by the Yorkshire Museum for approximately £35,000 or approximately $56,359 US.  By United Kingdom law, (Treasure Act of 1996) a finder has 14 days from the time they find an item or from the time they discovered it could be treasure to report the find. Once an item is declared treasure, it becomes property of the Crown.

Then, local museums are given the opportunity to purchase the item. If a museum is interested in purchasing the item, it is sent to a valuation committee.  The valuation committee is comprised of independent experts in the field. Once a value has been placed on the item, the acquiring museum must issue reimbursement.

Usually, the finder of the item and the land owner split the total of the sum paid by the museum. This process can take months to years from the day of the find to the issue of reimbursement, as there are hundreds if not thousands of treasure cases yearly.

The Treasure Act of 1996 defines treasure as “any object at least 300 years old when found which—(i) is not a coin, but has metallic content of which at least 10 per cent by weight is precious metal; (ii) when found, is one of at least two coins in the same find which are at least 300 years old at that time and have that percentage of precious metal”.

The non-UK citizen benefits from these laws as well. Some U.S. citizens wrongly (in my opinion), shy away from hunting in the United Kingdom as they believe UK law is restrictive and designed to take all of a treasure hunter’s finds from them. This is not the case, and most of the times this law protects the rights of treasure hunters by ensuring the treasure hunter is reimbursed the fair value of their find. In my opinion, the Treasure Act of 1996 is extremely fair and even friendly towards treasure hunters.

Ron “Chicago Ron” Guinazzo of, runs a metal detecting tour twice yearly to Colchester, England.  Chicago Ron explained that even U.S. treasure hunters have the same rights to reimbursement as the UK treasure hunters. The only difference being that U.S. treasure hunters must apply for and obtain an export license prior to taking any item 50 years or older out of the country. Chicago Ron cautions that the UK is very serious about this and the penalty for violating the export license is a fine and even imprisonment.
Guinazzo also explained that obtaining an export license for non-treasure items is usually not a problem.  “If it were a one of a kind item and were really expensive and the museum decided it was a national treasure it would be yours but they wouldn't issue an export license for it. So you would either have to put it up for auction and then you would get half the money for it or you could donate it to a museum,” he said.

On some occasions, when the museum is not interested in buying an item, that for all intents and purposes fits the definition of treasure as defined by The Treasure Act of 1996, they will disclaim it, he said.  “The museum will look at it and if they are not interested in buying stuff, they’ll just disclaim it as they can’t prove its more than 300 years old.”  This is good news for the treasure hunter, yet it is concerning because “a lot of finds are not getting added to the database,” Guinazzo said.

For more information on UK treasure hunting law, check out the following links:

Treasure Act:
Treasure Act Pamphlet in PDF: E-9422-4E00-AEE8-145CA1A6951E/0/treasure_act.pdf

Lord of the rings?
Whether this beautiful and mysterious sapphire ring is lord of the rings or just a notable part of the Yorkshire Museums collection, is unknown to me. But what is certain, is that this ring is, shall we say, highborn and well titled to say the least.

The Yorkshire Museum’s collection already contains the likes of a mysterious Viking arm ring, a Viking era gold finger ring made out of twisted gold wire, a 10th century gold finger ring beset in its own controversies, the Middleham ring, and various other rings that have passed through the Yorkshire Museum over the years.

Viking arm ring
The Viking arm ring is enveloped in its own fog of mystery, as it has even less context than most treasure found and reported by metal detector wielding treasure hunters. It was discovered by the children of a deceased York builder, packed away in a box under his bed.  Nobody knows its origin. All that is known is what experts can gather through observation and advanced nondestructive tests. It has an extremely high gold content — 96 percent to be exact. With the high gold content and the intricacy of its craftsmanship, experts believe its owner was a person of incredibly high status (which may also indicate gift relations).  Its estimated value is  approximately $22,000 GBP.

Recently, master jewelers were invited to view and discuss how some of the Yorkshire Museum’s most prized treasures would have been made. The jewelers believe this incredible arm ring would have been made by forging two bars of gold and then twisting them together, hiding the joins by the use of decorative gold wire.

Middleham ring
The Middleham ring is believed to date back to somewhere around 1380 to 1420 and valued at approximately £45,980.  It features the 12 inscriptions of the letter “S” on the exterior and the word “Sovereynly” inscribed in the interior. Its enameled gold would have allowed the 12 “S” to stand out more. Experts from the Yorkshire Museum say the letter “S” was the insignia used by the Lancastrian Kings of England and “Sovereynly” can be interpreted as in a “lordly manner” and suggests the ring was owned by a member of the court or a leading noble of
the period.

In 2009, a 10th century gold finger ring found by treasure hunter and metal detector enthusiast
Colin Ashton, found its way to the Yorkshire Museum for a brief stay prior to going on to the British Museum. Ashton found the ring just a few inches down in a farmer’s field near Kirk Deighton.  He wasn’t sure if the ring was costume jewelry or real.  “I was aware of my obligations under the Treasure Act so I knew I had to find out whether it was precious
metal or not,” Ashton said.

After a trip to the jewelers and confirming the ring was gold, he took it to the Finds Liaison Officer at the Yorkshire Museum in York.  The officer delivered the ring to The British Museum, which describes the treasure as weighing 11.99 grams with a bezel that carries a central, but damaged glass cabochon, now dark brown in color, set in a dog-tooth setting surrounded by fine beaded wire.  Further, (and this is where the foul odor of controversy begins to emanate) the British Museums says the ring has been modified and is missing a portion of undetermined
size. The Museum goes on to say it is obvious, through magnification, the missing portion was
cut off after it was found and before it was turned over to the museum.

“The only time it has been out of my possession is when it was with the jeweler. If there has been anything missing at all it must have been a minute particle. It looked to the naked eye exactly as I found it,” he said.

Author’s Note:
The above information provided about UK treasure hunting law is to be considered as informative in nature and by no means is it intended to be used as a definitive guide to The
Treasure Act of 1996. It is highly recommended that any would-be treasure hunters planning a visit to the UK, contact the British Museum Portable Antiquities Scheme at: for a more definitive guide.

With all this being said — stories of ancient golden treasure adorned with rare and valuable
gems and the ease and friendliness of British law towards treasure hunting — I only have two questions:  Firstly, ‘When’s the next plane to London leaving?’ and secondly, ‘How do I pack my detector to most effectively ward off those “ever so gentle” baggage handlers at the airport?

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