TREASURE hunters using metal detectors are believed to have been behind the removal of nearly 900 artefacts, including a bronze age axe and medieval coins, from Ireland that have now been recovered in the UK.
"We know for a fact that metal detectors were used," said Dr Ned Kelly, keeper of antiquities with the National Museum of Ireland, where today the items will go on display.
It is illegal to use a metal detector without a licence and the penalties include a jail sentence of up to four years and a fine of up to €63,500. In confirming the recovery of the 899 items, the National Museum referred to them as having been looted.
"The collection was amassed by an individual, now deceased, who operated in the Co Tipperary area with assistance from another person who did not reside within the jurisdiction," a spokesperson said.
The treasure trove found in the UK includes medieval silver coins, military items and a bronze age axe and spear-head (pictured). All are believed to have been illegally removed from Ireland between 2009 and 2012.
"The most striking part is probably the coin hoard . . . there are coins dating from the reign of King John to Elizabeth I and from Georgian and Victorian times," Dr Kelly added.
An began last year after the British Museum was alerted to messages on the internet about metal detecting in Ireland being discussed. Gardai from the Arts and Antiques unit in the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation were involved, as were police in Norwich, where the items were recovered.