A French treasure hunter identified only as “Patrice T” is accused of being among the greatest archaeological criminals in European history after being arrested with over 27,000 ancient illegal artifacts. When he was arrested this week, he told Belgian officials that he dug up 14,154 Roman coins “by chance.” He said they were “all” recovered from two fields near Gingelom, a Flemish town about 40 miles (64 km) east of Brussels. The coins were legally declared as the finder’s property, however, archaeologists working for the Belgian Agency for Immovable Heritage reported the unusual size of the discovery to French customs who seized the suspected huge number of apparently illegal artifacts.
Trading In Illegal Artifacts And “Bending” EU Country Laws
Late in 1998 AD, French politicians identified metal detecting as “an invisible danger for heritage.” And a 1989 law prohibited the pursuit of archaeological hobby hunting without official permission.
Today, metal detecting permits are exceptionally difficult to obtain in France unless you are from an academic institution performing scientific research . However, this is not the case in Dutch-speaking Flanders (Belgium) next door, where the controversial treasure hunting devices can be freely used. In France, the law states “archaeological goods are presumed to belong to the state as soon as they are discovered as part of an archaeological operation, and, in case of a major discovery, from the moment their conservation is judged to be of scientific interest.”
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Not believing any of Patrice T´s story, French customs officials raided the man’s house in Flanders and seized, according to The Guardian , “27,400 invaluable objects, ranging from bracelets and necklaces dating from the Bronze and Iron Age to a hollow copper Roman dodecahedron.” The haul of illegal artifacts also contained Roman period fibulae (brooches,) Merovingian and Renaissance era belt buckles, Gallic and Roman coins, and fragments of ancient statues. And while the accused maintains all his finds were legally discovered in Flanders, customs officials suspect they were all “illegally unearthed in France.”
A rare hollow copper Roman dodecahedron like this one was also found in the “thief’s” home in Belgium. (Lokilech / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Illegal Artifacts Versus The Thief’s “Treasure Field” Story
An article in France24 says French officials suspect the man had been “exploiting the difference between French law and Flemish regulations” and using this exploitation he amassed his cache of stolen illegal artifacts . Though the man has not yet been convicted yet, it looks pretty likely that he will be charged with and found guilty of stealing 27,000 treasures from the people of France . And the France24 article added that one of the Belgian officials first at the scene in Gingelom said “the man’s account had not rung true from the start.”
The Roman coin depot in the thief’s home clearly indicates that he was organized for doing business: in this case trading in illegal artifacts. ( Agentschap Onroerend Erfgoed )
France’s Economic Minister, Bruno Le Maire, told French media that the recent customs seizure represents “an invaluable archaeological treasure.” And he believes there is enough clear evidence to see the accused offender is sent to prison and fined hundreds of thousands of euros in customs fines. The minister added that the expected sentence is liable to be harsh. His message to the public was clear and concise: if you plan to “rob us of our common heritage and erase entire swaths of our history” you will be treated like a criminal!
This is a photo of the thief’s so-called “treasure field” in Flanders, which scientific examination was proven not to be a place where post-Middle Age coins could be found, despite his claims. ( Agentschap Onroerend Erfgoed )
Post Middle Age Coins Could Not Have Come From Flanders Plot
The Belgian official who was first at the scene in Gingelom said Patrice T claimed to have bought the patch of land “because he liked to come for a walk in the area and set up a caravan there.” And this is where he claimed to have found 14,000 of the allegedly illegal artifacts, which was, for that EU location, was all very above board and legal.
However, according to an article in The Connection , the archaeologists knew the coins must have been found in an earth layer formed after the Middle Ages, and the Flanders site survey concluded that it was “impossible for the coins to come from this site.”
Bruno Le Maire said authorities were “delighted with this exemplary cooperation between customs officials, archaeologists and our Belgian friends,” whom he sincerely thanked for their vigilance in tracking down and charging this huge-scale archaeological thief.
Top image: Some of the 14000 Roman and Gallic coins that were found at Patrice T’s home in Belgium that he claims he “legally” discovered in his Flanders field. Evidence clearly suggests that he stole these illegal artifacts from French soil and that’s illegal! Source: Agentschap Onroerend Erfgoed
By Ashley Cowie