A treasure hunter who claimed to have excavated 14,154 Roman coins in a Belgian field has been accused of being one of the greatest antique thieves in European history.
The Frenchman, who was identified only as Patrice T, told Belgian officials that he found the traces by accident using a metal detector at two locations near Gingelom, a Flemish town 40 miles east of Brussels, in October of last year.
at FranceMetal detectors are only permitted for scientific research, but in Dutch-speaking Flanders they can be used for personal searches. Coins were legally declared the property of a finder.
The treasure hunter’s account is said to have collapsed, after officials at the Belgian Agency for the Immovable Heritage raised concerns with French customs about the size of the discovery and the location of the plots of land where the coins were supposed to have been discovered.
A subsequent raid by French officials of the man’s home allegedly uncovered an astonishing treasure trove of 27,400 invaluable items, ranging from bracelets and necklaces dating from the Bronze Age and Iron Age to twelve hollow copper faces of which only hundreds of copies are known. Their use remains an ancient mystery.
There were also Roman brooches known as sliver, Merovingian and Renaissance belt buckles, fragments of statues and Roman and Gallic coins – they are said to have been discovered illegally in France.
French officials believe the man, awaiting trial, was taking advantage of the difference between French law and Flemish regulations to amass his stock of looted goods.
French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said: “We are pleased with this exemplary cooperation between customs officials, archaeologists and our Belgian friends, whom we sincerely thank for their vigilance.
“It has enabled the seizure of an invaluable archaeological treasure. The perpetrator is subject to imprisonment and customs fines of hundreds of thousands of euros. This is a clear message to those who, for the sake of the selfish benefit and pleasure of the few, steal us from our common heritage and erase whole parts of our history.”
Initially, a Belgian official at the scene in Gingelom said that the man’s account was not correct from the start.
“The man said he bought it because he liked to come for a walk in the area and set up a caravan there. He made the discovery when he wanted to clean the ground with a metal detector. I thought he found some coins, but he took buckets,” Marilyn Martins told Het Nieuwsblad. Full from the trunk of his car.
“During the site survey, we concluded that it was impossible for coins to come from this site. They were in a ground layer that formed after the Middle Ages. Some coins exceptionally could be tossed. But 14,000?”