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Beyond Stone & Bone

Dave Crisp, Roman Coins, and the Cost
by Mark Rose
July 12, 2010

Hats off to Dave Crisp, a hospital chef who just discovered a hoard of some 52,500 3rd century A.D. Roman coins. Crisp found them in a field in southwestern England using his metal detector. By all accounts, Crisp realized that he had found something exceptional and did the right thing–and under the United kingdom’s “Portable Antiquities Scheme” all went as well as possible. Reports on BBC and CNN emphasize the fact that he quickly contacted authorities and Somerset County Council archaeologists came out and excavated the large pot in which the coins had been placed. The coins were then sent on to the British Museum. Crisp told CNN: “At the time I actually found the pot I didn’t know what size it was but when the archaeologists came and started to uncover it, I was gobsmacked, I thought ‘hell, this is massive.'”

And that’s the story’s high point and, for me, its question mark.

For comparison, recall the recently found hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold, military gear, and some crosses in Staffordshire, England. One of the most important finds of the period ever, it, too, was made by a metal detector enthusiast. The UK’s Portable Antiquities Scheme encourages such people to report their finds. It also assigns a value to the discovery. With the Staffordshire hoard, that was  some $5 million dollars. Bottom line, the finders had to be paid a huge amount for the hoard to be kept in the relevant museums in Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent.

I am all for free enterprise, but I am not happy about two things here. First, the assignment of a dollar value to archaeological finds makes them commodities–might as well be so many pigs or bushels of corn. Second, there’s the basic question of civic spirit. I am not saying that the Staffordshire hoard discoverers or Dave Crisp shouldn’t be rewarded. BUT where is the notion of donating something that IS a national treasure to the nation?

In 1939, the burial of a Saxon ruler was uncovered at Sutton Hoo. You can see the finds in the British Museum. They are there because the landowner, Edith May Pretty, donated them to the nation. Dave Crisp deserves our plaudits. Hooray for Dave! He also could come in for $1 million for his discovery, if the nation and citizens pony up. Good for him, but maybe he and the Staffordshire finders can find charitable causes for at least a portion of these windfalls. If the nation pays on this scale, shouldn’t the recipient give some back.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme has much going for it. But I don’t like the fact that price tags, especially big ones, are placed on artifacts–that can only encourage more people to hunt for them. Will they all be as responsible as Dave Crisp? I doubt it. And it concerns me that national treasures–of any country–can be valued in dollar amounts.

Does “finders keepers” trump national, or even global, importance when it comes to cultural heritage? What do you think?

Regardless, thanks Dave Crisp for calling in the archaeologists.

Comments posted here do not represent the views or policies of the Archaeological Institute of America.

16 comments for "Dave Crisp, Roman Coins, and the Cost"

  • Reply posted by John B (July 12, 2010, 9:33 am):

    I have to wonder how much of this article is sour grapes – or is it someones own ox being gored? Gee it wasn’t discovered by a professional archaeologist. So what is it better that this find sits and rots in the ground than a non professional finds it. And after a professional finds something and it goes to the appropriated museum or research institute doesn’t it then get given a value which the field person never sees any of? Overall I say more than a bit of sour grapes and some [one] being done out of a job.


  • Reply posted by Alex Tischler (July 12, 2010, 3:04 pm):

    Dave Crisp does deserve a HUGE thanks for informing archaeologists of this amazing discovery.

    Now to the question of whether “finders keepers” trumps the importance of cultural heritage. In my opinion, compensating the finder of priceless treasures is acceptable but also courteous. It gives incentive to finders to do the right thing. Ideally, finding such spectacular treasures would be its own reward. Realistically if the treasure they find is going to be taken to a lab to be studied or displayed in a museum, people want to be compensated. This doesn’t necessarily mean they should be reimbursed the value of the discovery. It makes if sound like the find is simply being sold. Maybe it’s semantics but a discovery/donor reward of a percentage of the monetary value of the discovery would still give the same initiative to inform archaeologists but negate some of the aspects that put the initial price tag of the discovery.

    Personally, if I ever came into contact with a discovery like this the greatest reward I could hope for is seeing it in a museum for others to enjoy. Then again, archaeology is my major and enthusiasm so I have a bias.


  • Reply posted by Mark Rose (July 12, 2010, 4:19 pm):

    I agree with this approach–finders should be rewarded for responsible behavior, as exhibited by Dave Crisp–but maybe there’s a cap or percentage or something. Heritage shouldn’t be a commodity.


  • Reply posted by Mark Rose (July 12, 2010, 4:26 pm):

    Thanks John. I hear you, but for me, at least, it is not sour grapes. I really do see major discoveries as part of a shared heritage, not a commercial product. That said, I am not at all against an appropriate award for people like Dave Crisp.


  • Reply posted by Dan (July 13, 2010, 3:09 am):

    Interesting analysis of this discovery and the Treasure aspect of this find. The valuation figures suggested by the media are highly speculative and are also not the norm for reward/compensation to the finder/landowner in the UK. Last year we recorded c. 780 cases of Treasure and c. 78,000 other objects on the PAS database ( Less than 1% of objects reported to the Scheme qualify for Treasure (the average reward is in the $10^2 or $10^3 region); the rest are reported voluntarily and we are recording this information for archaeological use. 171 projects are now using this data for analysis/synthesis and this number is increasing rapidly. Sutton Hoo did not fall under the remit of the old law of Treasure Trove, it wasn’t buried with the intent to recover. The incentive of reward to report Treasure works; contrast our recording stats with our neighbours in Scotland – they don’t get anywhere near the amount of information we do.
    The two cases in point – the Staffordshire Hoard and the Frome Hoard really are exceptions. In the 7 years that I have worked in the BM I can only remember 4 or 5 cases rewarded by over £100K payouts (Ringlemere, Leicestershire for example). Without the Treasure Act, objects would be sold freely and the antiquities trade would be more prominent in the UK for illicit sales.


  • Reply posted by Mark Rose (July 13, 2010, 7:18 am):

    Dan–Thanks for your thoughtful response. I have no doubt that the Portable Antiquities Scheme is beneficial on the whole. As you point out, PAS is in effect in England and Wales, but not Scotland–with measurable differences in the reporting of discoveries.

    The media excitement and huge valuations occasionally put on discoveries are a worry to me. Hopefully they do not encourage “nighthawks” (rogue metal detectorists who operate at secretively at night and don’t report finds).



  • Reply posted by wayne hendren (July 13, 2010, 11:48 am):

    I agree that finds like these should and must be shared with the world and studied for historical significance by qualified professionals, however, having said that, I think that the “finders fee” should be high enough to satisfy the finders and keep these treasures from being sold piecemeal on the market and lost forever. Dave Crisp did the right thing, in my opinion, and deserves the reward.


  • Reply posted by Bill Groskopf (July 13, 2010, 12:14 pm):

    It is a fact of life that antiquities are valuable commodities. People using metal detectors and large quantities of their personal time do so, at least in part, because they hope to hit the jackpot. If their choice is a thankful professional public, or money in their pocket, few new “finds” will find their way into either museums or published research. And before we decry the poor Mr. Crisp his reward, let us not overlook the professional rewards that will go to those archeologists chosen to work with the find. Should they forego those rewards (?) in the public interest? Perhaps work and publish anonymously?

    With all due respect, I greatly value the work of professional archeologists, otherwise why would I read this blog. However, as one whose need to build pipelines has required me to spend substantial sums of money ($(US) 10 MM) over the past decade for the services of professional archeologists to catalog the 11,432 teepee ring in the New Mexico desert, I am somewhat jaundiced by the argument about the ascendency of public service over cold hard cash in archeological issues.


  • Reply posted by Flavio Pedazzini (July 15, 2010, 11:25 pm):

    I’m not a professionist and I do completely another kind of job, but my lay opinion is that he deserves something like reward. Because he is not a professionist and he wasn’t searching anything of archeological. The use of metal detector is based on the concept to find something lost to no return. We have to thank the luck to have find something like this. Is a great thing for our heritage and we have to incentive people to warn about findings if they are not professionist, ’cause in this way we go find really a lot of object that are hidden in private houses.

    I try to explain better.

    I live on the Via Aurelia and many farmers have litterally fear to discover something cause they go lost the farm to allow studies and nobody give they nothing as compensation. So, too often, if they find something they be silent. People have coins and pieces of pots but they say nothing.
    I know is not the same thing, but the concept I want to express is that without a kind of reward people that don’t care about history and archaeology go everytime more silent. And this is not a grat waste for our common cultural heritage?

    So I think we don’t have to be spendthrift and get money to all the people, but we don’t have neither to be too parsimonious, cause who don’t want to spent have nothing in hand.
    I know is sad, but we have to think that there are a lot of people that don’t care for nothing at archaeological objects, and we have to incentive they to consign their findings at the community.

    Sorry for my english, greetings.


  • Reply posted by Mark Rose (July 16, 2010, 12:20 pm):

    Thanks Flavio. I agree having an incentive so that discoveries are reported is good. It doesn’t help if people finds things and then say nothing. But again, there has to be a balance between the incentive & payment that might encourage the illicit trade in antiquities.



  • Reply posted by Tony Albers (July 17, 2010, 4:27 am):

    As a history enthusiast and coin collector, I find the attitude of many archeologists and other academics smuggish and condescending. The contributions of “nonprofessional” archeologists, including metal detectorists, can’t be denied, yet the academic community continues to discredit their finds or lobbies for ways to limit their access. If they had their way, no one would be able to look for anything of interest, so all the headlines — and publications — would be limited to the “anointed” few. Artifacts would only be seen through glass displays, and there would be no coin collections except those in boxes in museum and university storerooms. The old methods (threat of fines, confiscation, stopping any independant searching) simply don’t work. The metal detectorists and landowners (remember them?) should be compensated to encourage reporting. And the UK system creates interest and enthusiasm in history that the old methods did not. So stop complaining until you come up with a better alternative!


  • Reply posted by Chad (July 29, 2010, 4:48 pm):

    What a great find. Love the stories of coins being found such as shipwreck coins, old coin that a family member had passed down for 3 generations, or like this an archaelogical dig that unearths something like this. Note: Romans used coins with content, not paper money…


  • Reply posted by Rich Kosack (September 5, 2010, 3:59 am):

    We gain much needed context for articles found by treasure hunters if they are sufficiently rewarded monetarily as well as given proper credit for their finds.
    Otherwise as is well known, the black market absorbs pieces found illicitly worldwide, and the archeology of the finds is reduced to works of art sold and owned by private collectors for mere profit.


  • Reply posted by Frank Roberts (November 16, 2010, 7:43 am):

    More power to the ones that go out, for whatever reason, and discover valuable artifacts. The British have the right idea of paying the finders rather than having them run to the black market as so much of the rest of the world does.Just finding a hord such as this and turning it over is giving back. No more is needed.


  • Reply posted by Charlie (January 21, 2011, 6:52 am):

    The logic of the British law is good: If I turn up a huge trove, and I know the government will ‘donate’ it for me and leave me no wealthier, there’s a temptation…but if I know I’ll get ‘fair value’ for my find, then there is a selfish as well as an altruistic motivation to report the find to the proper authorities. In a world where archaeological looting is such a problem, the law is a logical answer. We might as well demand that Donald Trump donate the proceeds of his business deals to orphanages as expect the hard-working treasure-seeker to be content with only intangible, altruistic rewards.


  • Reply posted by William Hammond (February 3, 2011, 7:40 am):

    After reading the article itself and your follow-up comments, I have to ask: If you think a finder does merit a reward, who should set the reward amount? I will be very disappointed if you say “the archeologists”. Please see my post following Heather Pringle’s “A Victory In The War Of Wrecks” as a lot of the same issues apply to your article.

    There is a concept that is practiced in the field of healthcare in the USA that might also apply to the field of archeology. There are physician assistants and nurse practitioners that are looked upon as physician-extenders. These highly trained, highly specialized individuals extend by many times what one doctor alone could accomplish. Could something akin to this relationship be sought by the fields of archeology/relic hunting (or marine salvage). I personally feel one huge piece that is missing on BOTH sides of this argument is a mutual acknowledgment of the value of what they both bring to the table. As long as this is a total adversarial, all or nothing discussion, not much (if anything) will ever get done. And more history will be lost!


About Our Blogger:

Heather Pringle is a freelance science journalist who has been writing about archaeology for more than 20 years. She is the author of Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust and The Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession, and the Everlasting Dead. For more about Heather, see our interview or visit

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