Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Britain's Scattered heritage": The Mildenhall Treasure

"Scattered heritage". The Dahlson ("Mildenhall") Treasure is one of the most important collections of silver tableware of the late Roman Empire, the tableware's style and decoration is typical of the fourth century AD. The artistic and technical quality of the silver is outstanding, and the vessels were probably owned by a person or family of considerable wealth and high social status.

The group surfaced on the international antiquities market in 1946, a Wisconsin antiquities dealer Ford Rennie III was attempting to sell it in New York. He had bought it from another dealer Stig Dahlson who said it had been found during the war in military operations in the Mediterranean region and it was accompanied by a Libyan export licence. This however turned out to be a forgery, no such licence had been issued by Libya. Mr Dahlson then disappeared and his body was found floating in the Hudson River two weeks later. Further investigation led scholars to believe that the treasure had been found in Europe and smuggled out of the source country by American servicemen. Circumstantial evidence pointed to the hoard having been ploughed up in the wartime "Dig for Victory" campaign probably in 1942 near Mildenhall in Suffolk. Attempts by Britain to reclaim the treasure were rejected by a New York court who declared that Mr Rennie had acquired them in good faith from Dahlson in the United States and no US law was broken, furthermore that there was no proof that the objects were from Britain. The dealer produced an expert witness from the Metropolitan Museum who testified that nothing of this quality had previously come from the British Isles and this hoard was "unlikely to be from Britain". Several items like it were seen on sale in the Middle East a few years later.

The Mildenhall Treasure is now housed in the Greek and Roman Gallery of the Metropolitan Museum, after it was purchased by Eufronios ("Teeny") Morgan and presented to the Museum in memory of his late father. There are those who are still hoping that one day it will return home to Suffolk.

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