A colleague walked into class yesterday and proudly displayed something he found in his garden the day before – a seven hundred year old silver Robert the Bruce penny. It was an incredible find that his wife happened to discover while digging up the dirt underneath their roses. Impossibly, this amazing piece of history was sitting right there in the dirt.
What I learned from my friend John is that he must now turn this in to the Scottish government. Apparently (and please, someone correct me if I have this wrong), anyone who finds any artifact that is pre-Victorian is required to hand over the item to the treasure trust. To be fair, the person will be compensated for the item at its perceived value. In this case, John believes he will receive somewhere in the realm of 1,200 pounds (just a shade under $2,000) from the government for his find.
My father enjoys using his metal detector, especially near old schools, homesteads, and churches. He has found a plethora of treasures, yet they are mostly contextual treasures, unlike John’s actual treasure (I’m rightly or wrongly basing this on monetary value). He’s certainly found some old coins, including one from the 1820’s that is a prized discovery. He’s also dug up three Civil War minie balls in Georgia along Sherman’s march to the sea. Again, treasures for us over in the US, but still 500 years younger than this coin my friend John discovered.
My dad brought out his metal detector with the kids at the cottage in Interlochen right before we left for our trip. To all our surprise, they actually found some relics of the past in the yard by the lake. Their collection included 40-some cents (in a variety of coins dating all the way back to 1965!) and an old belt buckle. The kids were amazed by how old the things were that we found.
Boy do I feel silly thinking about that in our current Scottish context. We found something from 1965 and considered it old. John found something from 1300. Context means everything, doesn’t it? The US government did not demand back the dime from the 1960s, nor would it pay me any more than 10 cents for it if I gave it to them.