Irish treasure hunter's loot tracked down in England
Almost 900 artefacts illegally looted in Ireland by a treasure hunter have been recovered by police in England.
The pieces, including a Bronze Age axe and spearhead and hundreds of medieval coins, will go on display in Dublin later, ahead of being stored for research.
The items were recovered following a tip-off from the British Museum to the National Museum of Ireland.
They alerted the authorities last year when an important hoard of medieval silver coins had been exported illegally to the UK.
The collection was amassed by a British man living in County Tipperary in the Republic of Ireland, who worked closely with an associate in the Norfolk area of England to pass the goods on. The treasure hunter died in May 2012.
When the alarm was raised his widow willingly handed over the finds to the art and antiques unit of the Irish police (Garda) National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Police officers in Norfolk found a flat copper axe dating to the Early Bronze Age between 2,500 - 2,000 BC and a hoard of 28 medieval hammered silver coins covering the reigns of Edward I- III (1272-1377)
Three 'gun money' coins, the emergency war money coined by James II during the war of 1689-91, were also recovered.
Seamus Lynam, acting director of the National Museum, said the recovery underlined the continuing threat posed to Ireland's archaeological heritage by metal detectorists.
"Many items similar to those recovered have been offered for sale in recent times over the internet and are the subject of ongoing investigations," he said.
"The recovery shows the determination of the National Museum, the gardai and other state bodies to protect the nation's heritage and demonstrates the ability to recover important heritage objects even when they have been illegally removed from the jurisdiction."
A bronze-looped socketed spearhead in the collection dates to the Bronze Age between 1,400 - 900 BC and a decorative mount with settings of yellow enamel, which is of early medieval date and may represent a belt fitting or perhaps a mount from an item of ecclesiastical metalwork, was also found.
There are 325 metal buttons dating from the 17th Century to the 19th Century, including one from the tunic of a soldier in the 54 West Norfolk Regiment of Foot dating to after 1855.
The presence of medieval objects suggest that sites such as castles and medieval churches may have been targeted while the presence of Georgian and Victorian metal furniture mounts, spoons, coins and thimbles, suggests the targeting of local estate houses, the museum said.
No value has yet been put on the collection.
Treasure hunters in the Republic of Ireland need a licence to search or dig and are obliged, by law, to report any finds or face up to five years in jail and a fine of 63,500 euros (£53,600).
"A great deal of work will need to be undertaken to document, research and record the objects and the full heritage potential of the collection may never be realised due to the absence of any find location records on the part of the finders," Mr Lynam added.
"Many items similar to those recovered have been offered for sale in recent times over the internet and are the subject of on-going investigations."