An amateur archaeologist — or more accurately, an opportunistic ass-wipe with a metal detector — recently uncovered a treasure trove of gold and silver artifacts in Germany. But he was promptly caught after trying to sell the rare items on the black market.
The items, which date to the early part of the fifth century AD, were uncovered by the unnamed looter in Germany's southwestern Rhineland-Palatinate state. He gave up the pieces voluntarily, but only after pressure from investigators. Regrettably, German authorities suspect he succeeded in selling some of the pieces overseas. The investigation is ongoing, and police haven't disclosed if the looter will be charged.
According to Archaeology News Network, the discovery is fuelling speculation that the artifacts are the legendary Nibelung treasure that inspired Wagner's opera cycle:
According to Nibelung legend, the warrior Hagen killed the dragon-slayer Siegfried and sank his treasure in the Rhine river. The Rhine has shifted its course many times over the centuries, so the treasure need no longer be under water.
The haul could be worth as much as 1 million euros (USD$1.36 million).
The History Blog says that
By German law, all excavations for archaeological material must be authorized in advance by the government heritage authority. Different states have differing laws on the particulars. Some allow finders to keep half the value of a find, if not the find itself. The Rhineland-Palatinate is not one of them. Searching for ancient artifacts with a metal detector is a misdemeanor office. Removing any artifacts discovered without reporting them rises to the level of fraud, and selling them can result in a charge of receiving stolen property.
Certainly if monetary value plays a part in determining the severity of a property crime in Germany as it does in the US, this looter is going to be in big trouble. The hoard includes three dozen beautifully detailed solid gold brooches shaped like leaves even more gold square pyramids that archaeologists believe all once ornamented a ceremonial tunic of an important Roman official. There's also a silver dish with the remains of gilding still visible that was cut into pieces, possibly to be used as hacksilver, a solid silver bowl with gold accents inset with semi-precious stones, a crumpled and folded highly decorated silver plate that may have been a chest cover. A set of silver and gold statuettes and pieces of fittings are the remarkable survivors of what was once a curule seat, a commander's portable folding chair.
You can read more about this case at The History Blog, including more detailed information about the recovered pieces.