I have been watching (UK) Channel 4's Time Team this evening. The programme looked at an undisclosed field (under a potato crop) where a Viking burial had been found. The location in Yorkshire was so sensitive that it was given a codename: Ainsbrook. Here is the summary:
In late 2003 two metal detectorists were working in a field in Yorkshire. They found 'treasure' buried just beneath the surface – a collection of Viking material next to a body. Although they had been detecting on the site for a number of years, during which time they had made large numbers of finds, nothing they had uncovered previously compared with this. They decided to share their discovery with archaeologists.The programme explored the tension between metal-detectorists and the English Heritage sponsored archaeologists putting six trenches into the field based on a geo-physical survey. Finds made by the metal-detectorists did not easily map onto the archaeological features.
Part of the programme had an 'Antiquities Road Show' with a panel of experts (I presume from the Portable Antiquities Scheme - given the prominent poster displayed behind them). How much are these coins worth? How much could they fetch on the "black market"? Have the finds been undervalued? And so we get the views of active metal-detectorists on how the PAS is working. Quantities of finds from the field were flashed across the screen along with charts showing approximate depths as well as rough locations.
The programme website is worth exploring and has a section on 'The metal detecting controversy'.
The viewer was left with little doubt about the amount of archaeological material that has been removed from this site via metal-detecting over a long period period. And how much information has been lost? And should this Viking period burial - complete with weight scales, and small silver ingots - be dispersed over the internet? Or is it part of our cosmopolitan heritage and therefore deserving of display in a public museum?