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A wealth of hidden history; There aren't many hobbies which have the potential to turn a gentle walk in the country into a life-changing cash bonus.

T'S NOT just farmers who are currently making hay while the sun shines, metal detectorists are also doing nicely, thank you.

IA sale of antiquities at Christie's in London, earlier this month, offered this rare Romano-British bronze statue, which the auctioneers dubbed the "licking dog".

It was found under a farmer's field in Gloucestershire and sold for PS137,500, a price all the more staggering given its PS30,000-50,000 pre-sale estimate. It is apparently the only example ever found in Britain, though.

The statue was part of one of the most intriguing hoards of Roman artefacts to be discovered in Britain in recent memory. It was found on a bank holiday Sunday in August 2017 by two detectorists with a combined 40 years' experience. It must have been the find of a lifetime.

Sold with the dog was a group of broken hinges, buckles and studs, fragments of a four-foottall bronze figure, pieces of cast animal-shaped bowls, half a pair of tweezers... and the handle of a frying pan.

More significant was a coin minted in Trier in Germany between 321-324 AD featuring a portrait of the Roman Emperor Crispus, the eldest son of the Emperor Constantine. The date of the coin provided a time after which the hoard must have been buried.

According to Christie's antiquities specialist Claudio Corsi, the licking dog may have come from a Roman temple that had been excavated on the nearby Lydney Estate.

"The temple was dedicated to Nodens, a Celtic god associated with healing, medicine, hunting and, crucially, dogs. "It was believed that dogs had healing powers and could aid recovery by licking the wound of an injured person," he said.

Alternatively, the 21.4cm statue may have come from another Roman temple in the area yet to be discovered, no doubt sending rival detectorists all of a flutter.

The finders reported the discovery to the archaeology department of the local council, which sent a professional to excavate the site. Naturally enough, the precise location remains a secret.

Another lucky detectorist to hit the mother lode was the finder of a rare aureus, a Roman gold coin discovered in a newly-ploughed field in Kent.

Slightly larger than a current penny and weighing just 4.31 grams, it sold last month for PS552,000 - five times the estimate - at specialist Mayfair-based auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb (DNW).

The coin was found in March by a 30-year-old metal detectorist and his brother at a site next to a Roman road near Dover. As with the licking dog horde, the proceeds from the sale will be shared with the landowner.

Only 24 aurei from the reign of Allectus, Emperor of Britain from 203 to 296AD, are known worldwide, while the only other one known, struck from the same pair of dies, can be seen in the British Museum.

A house record for the auctioneer, it is now the most valuable Roman coin minted in Britain to have been sold at auction.

Some detectorists strike lucky more than once. In 2017, Blackpool teaching assistant Michelle Vall found a rare gold hammered half angel coin, struck during the reign of Richard III (of princes in the tower infamy). With only a handful known to exist, the coin subsequently sold at DNW for PS40,800. It had been estimated at PS10,000-15,000. Its 15th-century value was three shillings and four pence (less than 35p).

Dating from between July 1483 and June 1484, the coin was found within 20 miles of Bosworth Field in Leicestershire, the scene of the final battle in the Wars of the Roses. The battle ended in Richard's violent death and the establishment of the House of Tudor.

Michelle suffers from severe panic attacks and was unable to leave her house before she took up metal detecting just over two years ago.

She said the hobby helps her to overcome her fears and enjoy exploring the countryside.

However, calm turned to excitement on a trip to Loch Lomond in Scotland last November, when she and her husband unearthed a beautiful seal ring engraved with a family crest.

Declared as Scottish treasure by the National Museum of Scotland, who declined purchasing it owing to its late 16th or early 17th-century date, Michelle has consigned the ring to a DNW auction in September. It is expected to fetch in the region of PS10,000.

Research by DNW has shown the crest is for the Colman (or Coleman) family, which can be seen displayed prominently on the tomb of Samuel Colman (1569-1653) in the parish church of St Mary, Brent Eleigh, Suffolk.

The family has important historical connections with the "Popish Plot", a Catholic conspiracy alleged by Titus Oates, aka "Titus the Liar" to kill Charles II.

Edward Colman (1636-1678) secretary to the wife of the future King James II, was falsely implicated in the plot by Oates and was hung, drawn and quartered for treason in 1678.

Silver that crosses a metal detectorist's palm can also be worth a mint.

When retired policeman Tom Thomas, 62, from Reading in Berkshire dug up a coin in a field near his home nearly 30 years ago, he thought it was nothing out of the ordinary.

But when Mark Becher, a fellow detectorist saw it at a family barbecue two years ago, things started buzzing.

Mr Becher runs the Metal Detectives Group in Aylesbury, organises digs and works as a consultant for Hansons auctioneers in Derby, but he'd never seen anything like it.

He contacted Sam Moorhead at the British Museum who confirmed the coin is a 2,000-year-old Roman Carausius Denarius and believed to be the only one known.

Registered with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, the coin features the Roman goddess Salus feeding a snake rising from an altar.

It will be offered at Hansons in Etwall, Derbyshire, on August 27 with a guide price of PS10,000.

A TREASURE TROVE OF INFORMATION DIX NOONAN WEBB recently appointed antiquities specialist Nigel Mills to value and catalogue finds made by metal detectorists.

HERE ARE HIS TOP TIPS: | Buy the best detector that you can afford | Always get permission from the landowner | Research your local history | Join a metal detector club | Never clean your finds | Have your finds looked at by the local finds liaison officer | Ensure you fill in your holes | Most importantly, treasure should be reported to the local coroner within 14 days of discovery or realisation that it may be classed as treasure. | Treasure, under the 1997 act, includes items over 300 years old as two or more coins in silver or gold buried together, 10 or more base metal coins buried together, single gold or silver objects, or two or more objects buried together of pre-Roman date.

CAPTION(S):

The obverse and reverse of the rare hammered half angel coin, struck during the reign of Richard III. It sold for PS40,800. Photograph: Dix Noonan Webb

The Colman family seal ring, found near Loch Lomond. It is expected to fetch in the region of PS10,000 in September. Photograph: Dix Noonan Webb

Romano-British 'licking dog' sold for PS137,500. Photograph: Christie's Images

The obverse, above, and reverse of the 2,000-year-old Roman Carausius Denarius believed to be unique. It will be sold on August 27. Photograph: Hansons
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 20, 2019
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