French Authorities Seized More Than 27,000 Potentially Looted Archaeological Artifacts Hoarded by a Single Collector in Belgium
The suspect said he found ancient Roman coins in his apple orchard in Belgium, but experts say that is impossible.
French authorities in Belgium have seized a massive haul of 27,400 Roman coins and artifacts believed to have been illegally excavated throughout eastern France. Following a joint investigation by the two nations, officials found the hoard in the possession of a French man and his mother living in Belgium.
“The offender is liable to imprisonment and hundreds of thousands of Euros in customs fines,” Bruno Le Maire, France’s economy minister, said in a statement to the Guardian. “This is a clear message to those who, for the benefit and selfish pleasure of a few, rob us of our common heritage and erase entire swaths of our history.”
Altogether, officials believe the treasures are worth €772,685 ($946,670), reports De Standard.
Identified only as Patrice T., the subject of the ongoing criminal investigation is suspected of planting his illegal archaeological finds from France in Belgium.
Using a metal detector is outlawed in France except in scientific research. Under Belgian law, personal use of metal detectors is allowed, and the finder is entitled to keep his discoveries if he owns the land where they are found.
The case has been under investigation since October 2019, when Patrice called Onroerend Erfgoed, the Flemish Organization for Immovable Heritage, claiming that he had recently purchased an apple orchard in the Belgian town of Gingelom and that, while cleaning the property, he had found 14,154 Roman coins.
Archaeologist Marleen Martens was one of five agency experts sent to investigate. “He opened the car boot and showed me two enormous plastic buckets filled to the brim. I had never seen so many coins,” she told La Voix du Nord.
The agency team immediately sensed that something wasn’t right and shared their suspicions with French authorities.
“During the site survey we concluded that it was impossible for the coins to have come from this site,” Martens told the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper. “They were located in an earth layer that was formed after the Middle Ages. A few coins could exceptionally still toss up. But 14,000?”
Patrice’s cache of antiquities includes Bronze bracelets, Iron Age torques, Roman coins and brooches, Renaissance belt buckles, artifacts from the Middle Ages, and other antiquities. Among them is a hollow copper Roman dodecahedron, a rare and mysterious 12-faced object of unknown use, of which there are only 100 or so extant examples. The majority of the coins were likely buried by the end of the third century.
French customs officials believe Patrice amassed the collection through “the looting of various sites in France,” according a statement cited by Agence France Presse. By taking advantage of the differences between French and Belgian law, Patrice then allegedly sought to pass off the illicit finds as legitimate.
Patrice has a long history of archaeological discoveries, reports De Standaard, including 5,250 coins from the third and fourth century, which he supposedly found by a road in Pierreville, France, in 1993, and was allowed to keep.
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