Showing posts with label Metal Thefts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Metal Thefts. Show all posts

December 6, 2016

Recovered: Two stolen Roman leaden coffins, one recovered from an auction house in Cirencester, UK

Looted from a 2004 excavation at a building site off Napier Road in Colchester, UK, two Roman-era decorative leaden coffin lids have been recovered by PC Andy Long, the Wildlife, Heritage and Environmental Crime Officer for the Essex Police. 

According to UK news website The Daily Gazette one coffin had been placed up for sale at an unnamed auction house in Cirencester.  The second was found at the house of the consignor, 140 km away near Melton Mowbray.  The news website states that the would-be seller, who reportedly has dementia, told law enforcement authorities that he was unaware of the fact that the two coffins had been stolen from an archaeological site.  Quoting a statement made by PC Long the gazette wrote “He bought them from a digger driver who was working on a building site in Colchester in 2004. He was told they had been offered to the museum and they didn’t want them.”

A quick search of auction houses in Cirencester, who happen to be selling Roman coffin lids, revealed just one: Dominic Winter Auctions.  The item once listed on their October 06, 2016 auction has had all of its details deleted,  leaving only a simple notice saying "withdrawn".

A quick check using Google's cache gives us the missing auction listing whose photos match the image appearing in the Gazette with Officer Long and Emma Holloway of the Colchester Archaeological Trust.



Interestingly the provenance details supplied by the auction house (see screen shot below) differ considerably from the details given by the consignor in the news article.  The Lot details at the Dominic Winter Auction states:

Roman Coffin. A museum quality Roman lead tapering coffin lid, probably 4th century, wet sand-cast lead with cast decoration comprising bead and reel borders dividing into three sections, central section with scroll pattern, end sections divided with saltire cross of bead and reel, three of the quadrants filled with scallop shell (pecten), the last with a circle, sometime broken into three sections, 119 x 34 cm (47 x 13 ins) Rare. Purchased by the present owner from metal detectorist Alan Pickering who discovered the piece together with another similar in Suffolk in the 1970s. In 1977 Toller recorded just 243 Roman lead coffins in Britain and only a handful more have been discovered since. (1)


So who misled who?  Did the consignor give the law enforcement officer one story in a forgetful state and the auction house another?  A find spot in Suffolk around 1970 is quite a contrast to 2004 Colchester when the objects had been left in situ ahead of the redevelopment of the site. 

Or was Alan Pickering nighthawking? 

According to visitor guides produced by the friends of the Colchester Archaeological Trust 



As Hugh Toller noted in his 1977 catalog of lead coffins of Roman Britain that the distribution of lead coffins was likely reflective less of the location of lead resources of a given geographical area, than it was of the ‘wealth in Roman Britain’.  According to this researcher, the majority of the 243 lead coffin pieces found leading up to the writing of his book were found in graves located in south-eastern and southern Britain, with nearly 55% of these coming from cemeteries directly associated with major urban centers, particularly Colchester, Dorchester, London, and York.

To more closely identify the find spot of the object once on auction, let's compare the decorative details on the leaden lid pictured in the Gazette's tweet with Officer Long and Emma Holloway of the Colchester Archaeological Trust.  This object's relief illustrates beading layed out in a "X" motif alongside a scallop shell.
The design work matches similarly with artwork appearing on another leaden coffin excavated from the historically rich St. Mary's area in Colchester. 

Colchester garrison site excavated by Colchester Archaeological Trust
Given the closely matching decoration of the seized objects to those previously studied by archaeologists, it is possible to assume that both objects may have been designed by the same craftsman.  But to know for sure, one would need to try and date both objects.   To do so with accuracy would require a find spot and an osteoarchaeologist familiar with bones and human remains who could help us build a picture of the person once buried inside the ancient coffin.

But then again, we have no idea where the human remains once held in the looted coffins were dumped.  When archaeologists argue about the importance of context and why looting is detrimental this is a powerful example.

Was it really worth £1000-£1500 to disturb someone's final resting place?

Sometimes in archaeology, the truth is found in our bones, and either out of respect for the dead or respect for the culture of Roman Britain, these coffins, and the persons once buried inside them, deserved more care and respect. 

________________________________

Toller, Hugh, 1977. Roman Lead Coffins and Ossuaria in Britain. BAR British Series 38. Oxford.

Russell, Benjamin, 2010. Sarcophagi in Roman Britain. In: Bollettino di Archeologia On Line, Vol. Special Volume.

October 14, 2016

Conviction and Sentence - New Brunswick Museum Theft

Last month, Bruce Lee Marion pleaded guilty to possession of stolen property, valued at more than $5,000 for his role in the theft of four bronze plaques taken from the façade of the New Brunswick Museum (Musée du Nouveau-Brunswick) in Saint John, Canada.   He was sentenced on October 13, 2016 to two years minus one day in provincial jail.

The four plaques, part of a series of nine commemorative bronzes produced by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada which highlight the stories of New Brunswickers who have made significant contributions to the region, were reported stolen by museum staff on July 28, 2016.   One plaque recognized the country's Royal Navy Admiral Charles Carter Drury, a second recognized New Brunswick politician John Hamilton Gray, and the remaining two highlighted the lives of historians George McCall Theal and John Clarence Webster.  Once mounted outside the museum, the plaques had been pried off the wall, most likely with a crowbar.

Marion was connected to the theft after scrap dealer, Robert Knox at Simpson Scrap Metal and Recycling reported the license plate of Marion's vehicle to the authorities after he heard radio news reports about the museum's loss and remembered that Marion had delivered material matching the plaques' description to the Lorneville scrap yard.

Given the recent increase in metal thefts in Canada, where scrap metal dealers say bronze and copper alloys can fetch up to Canadian $1.60 per pound, the museum has opted to remove the remaining five plaques for safekeeping.