900 looted artefacts recovered
Almost 900 artefacts illegally looted in Ireland by a treasure hunter with a metal detector have been recovered.
The pieces, including a Bronze Age axe and spearhead and hundreds of medieval coins, will go on display ahead of being stored for research.
The items were recovered following a tip-off from the British Museum to the National Museum of Ireland last year when an important hoard of medieval silver coins had been exported illegally to the UK.
Seamus Lynam, acting director of the National Museum, said the recovery underlines the continuing threat posed to Ireland's archaeological heritage by people using metal detectors.
"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," 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."
The collection was amassed by a British man living in Co Tipperary who worked closely with an associate in the Norfolk area to pass the goods on. The treasure hunter died in May 2012.
Officers from Norfolk Constabulary found a flat copper axe dating to the Early Bronze Age between 2,500 - 2,000 BC, a hoard of 28 medieval hammered silver coins covering the reigns of Edward I- III (1272-1377), and three 'gun money' coins, the emergency war money coined by James II during the war of 1689-91.
When the alarm was raised the dead man's wife willingly handed over the finds to the art and antiques unit of the garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which were last week given to historians.
Items recovered from the man's collection included almost 30 medieval silver coins, including coins of King John (1199-1216), Henry III (1216-1272), Edward I (1272-1307), Edward III (1327-1377), Henry VIII (1509-1547), Queen Mary (1553-1554), Phillip and Mary (1554-1558) and Elizabeth I (1558-1603).
No value has yet been put on the collection, but the most rare coins could be worth thousands of euro each. 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 euro.