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Open Features: Terra Firma

Derek McQueen's tale tells how quizzers Ken and Graham decided to go treasure hunting.

It was Thursday's quiz night at the Fish, and Ken Burns was telling his pal Graham about the Mildenhall Treasure. He'd come across the incredible story of how the treasure came to be found, reading one of his kids Roald Dahl books.

"The farmhand who found 35 pieces of Roman silver and gold by rights should have received more than half a million quid Graham. That's what it was valued at by the British Museum. The tractor driver found it while ploughing and the law says the State takes the treasure and the finder is compensated with the treasure's equal value in money. By law then, Gordon Butcher the tractor driver, should have received 500,000. He never did."

"If it's that clear cut," Graham said, "why didn't he get the money?

"You may well ask," Ken said. "By all accounts, Butcher was a simple minded soul and was cheated by the man he was working for at the time, a man called Ford. I didn't know this but when someone is ploughing, they connect the plough to the tractor with a wooden peg. If the plough strikes something hard, like a rock say, the peg breaks, parting it from the tractor and that way the plough isn't damaged. Clever eh?

"Let's have another pint Ken and then you can tell me the rest. It's such a great story."

As Graham made his way to the bar it was filling up with quiz hopefuls. The free ham sandwiches and pork pie were a big draw as were the seats by the open fire in the snug.

"Two pints of Stones please Fred and one for yourself. Good crowd in tonight," Graham said, elbowing his way back to Ken.

"Well, what the plough had struck was a circular metal rim of some sort. Butcher, the ploughman was deep ploughing for sugar beet otherwise he would have just skimmed over it. The rim was in fact a
decorated, silver plate. It had been in the field, a few feet down, since the 4th century AD. It was Roman, Graham. Can you imagine?

"Butcher managed to dig down, mostly using his hands and eventually pulled the soil-encrusted plate from the ground.

That's when he decided to fetch Ford his boss. He realised that
there was more to find and he needed help. In a nutshell, what happened after that, Graham, was that they dug out 34 pieces of
superbly decorated silver Roman tableware. It's been on display, cleaned up of course, at the British Museum ever since. A prize exhibit."

"I quite like the idea of treasure hunting myself Dave," Graham said. "What a thrill it must be to find something. A few old coins would do me. You don't fancy going halves on a metal detector do you? I'm sure I'd love it. I'm sometimes at a loose end since Mary walked out."

"Right, let me finish this bloody tale first, we can talk metal detectors after that. So, they've found the treasure, Ford puts it all in a sack and persuades Butcher into leaving it with him, saying its not of any real value. Ford cleans it up over the winter months, 1942 that was and secretes it away in his farmhouse.

By an absolute chance the cache is spotted by a Dr Fawcett, a friend of Ford and the truth comes out. The treasure trove goes to the British Museum as the law decrees but time has elapsed since it was found, disqualifying Butcher from the finders reward. He should have got 250,000 Graham - quarter of a million. Can you believe it or what? Phew, I'm glad that's over, I was getting quite worked up."

"I'll get us a couple of quiz sheets Dave. Are you ready for another pint?"

The two friends failed to win the quiz, so nothing new there. They did however decide to push on with the metal detecting idea and Dave picked up a National Geographic Digital Metal Detector from Argos for 22.99 the same week. An absolute snip, you can pay as much as 1000 for a top end unit.

They arranged to meet the following Saturday. Dave suggested Carrack Woods; permission wasn't needed to be in there.

Graham took a large sack; the Argos people had assured him that they were sure to find something. Perhaps not Roman or silver, but at least something. Anything would do. He was now as enthusiastic as Dave.

" We'll cover the ground in sections." Dave said. "Try to be as methodical as we can. We can have ten minutes each with the machine, so no one gets bored. OK?"

Graham nearly jumped out of his skin when the detector light came on and it suddenly started bleeping.

"Get the spade and the sack Dave, I think we've got something."

With a few minutes digging and much peering down the hole, the 'find' presented itself. A catering size Heinz baked beans tin, unopened and with the label just readable.

"Never mind, better luck next time eh Dave?"

In the next hour the two men managed to detect a candlesnuffer, two pairs of scissors, a metal and glass wine stopper and a badly corroded box. The box could have been for ladies jewellery but it was locked as well as rusted tight shut.

"There's no way we'll get this open without the key Graham," Dave said. "Lets give it another half hour and see what else we can find. Shove the treasure in the sack - not the bloody beans though."

"Try here, under these bushes near the spot where we found the box."

The detector started beeping almost immediately.

"I don't believe it Dave," Graham said, when they'd dug out the hole. "It's a bloody key and it's the right size."

**

For more of Derek's stories and articles please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=Derek+McQueen

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