A gem of a find for metal detector John

PUBLISHED: 13:46 07 December 2001 | UPDATED: 10:59 03 March 2010

THE discovery of a tiny, but "exquisite", fragment of Saxon jewellery could bring a windfall of thousands of pounds to a metal-detecting enthusiast and a farmer.

THE discovery of a tiny, but "exquisite", fragment of Saxon jewellery could bring a windfall of thousands of pounds to a metal-detecting enthusiast and a farmer.

The fragment, thought to be from a sword or necklace, was found in an arable field in the Eye area by John French, who worked in the 1980s as a volunteer during excavations at the famous Sutton Hoo burial site.

The new find, made of gold and inlaid with garnets, is from the same period in history and is thought to be made by a craftsman in the same 7th century workshop that produced the Sutton Hoo treasure.

The latest discovery was also made in the same part of East Anglia where the famous Hoxne hoard of Roman treasure was unearthed by another metal detector enthusiast, Eric Lawes.

Mr French, 43, who lives in Darwin Road, Ipswich, and works at Felixstowe Docks, said he had been operating his metal detector in a ploughed field near Eye when he had gone over towards the hedge to have a cup of tea from his flask.

As he neared the hedge, the detector gave off a strong signal and, just below the surface, he saw the glint of gold.

"I don't usually search the areas near hedgerows because all you usually get is spent shotgun cartridges," said Mr French.

He was so excited by the find that he immediately showed the farmer in whose field he had been detecting and then drove the 20 miles to Ipswich to the Suffolk Archaeology Service.

A few days later Mr French received a telephone call to say the fragment was of high quality and was being sent to the British Museum for assessment.

A coroner has now decided the item found was treasure trove, which means Mr French and the farmer will be offered a sum of money equivalent to the value decided by a panel of experts.

John Newman, a field officer with the Suffolk Archaeological Service,

said the find was important.

"The fragment is thought to be either part of the decoration on a ceremonial sword or from a ladies necklace. We don't know for certain," he added.

Mr Newman said the spot where it was found could have been a burial site for an aristocratic Saxon man or woman.

The fragment could eventually find its way into Ipswich Museum if trustees can find enough money, either from the museum's own resources or from grants, to buy it. Otherwise, it will remain with the British Museum.

Meanwhile, Mr French has returned on a number of occasions to the site of his find, but has not managed to unearth anything else of interest.

Since he began metal detecting about four years ago, Mr French has made a number of finds, including two Iron Age coins, but nothing as exciting as the jewelled fragment.

The identify of the farmer and the location of the find are being kept secret to avoid the site being disturbed.

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