A treasure hunter who claims to have unearthed 14,154 Roman coins in a Belgian field has been accused of being one of the greatest archaeological looters in European history.
The Frenchman, identified only as Patrice T, told Belgian officials he found the relics by chance with a metal detector at two sites near Gingelom, a Flemish town 64 km east of Brussels, in October from last year.
In France metal detectors can only be used for scientific research, but in Dutch-speaking Flanders they can be used for personal research. The parts have been legally declared as the property of the researcher.
The treasure hunter’s tale, however, is said to have taken place after officials from the Belgian Real Estate Heritage Agency raised concerns with French customs over the size of the find and the location of the plots where the pieces were allegedly unearthed.
A subsequent raid by French authorities on the Man’s House is said to have revealed an astonishing treasure of 27,400 precious items, ranging from Bronze and Iron Age bracelets and necklaces to a hollow copper Roman dodecahedron of which there is has only a hundred known copies. Their use remains an archaeological enigma.
There were also Roman brooches known as fibulae, Merovingian and Renaissance belt buckles, parts of statues, and Roman and Gallic coins – all of which were said to have been illegally dug up in France.
French officials believe the man, who is awaiting trial, exploited the difference between French law and Flemish regulations to amass his cache of looted goods.
Bruno Le Maire, French Minister of the Economy, declared: “We are delighted with this exemplary cooperation between customs officials, archaeologists and our Belgian friends, whom we sincerely thank you for their vigilance.
“It allowed the seizure of a precious archaeological treasure. The offender is liable to imprisonment and hundreds of thousands of euros in customs fines. It is a clear message to those who, for the benefit and selfish pleasure of a few, are robbing us of our common heritage and erasing entire swathes of our history.
One of the first Belgian officials at the Gingelom scene said the man’s account had not ringed true from the start.
Marleen Martens told the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper: “The man said he bought it because he liked to walk around the neighborhood and set up a caravan there. He had made the discovery when he wanted to clean the floor with a metal detector. I thought he had found some coins, but he took two full buckets from the trunk of his car.
“When investigating the site, we concluded that it was impossible for the coins to come from this site. They were located in a layer of earth that formed after the Middle Ages. Some coins could exceptionally still be launched. But 14,000?