By Richard Giedroyc - Numismater
France recently seized an unannounced number of third century A.D. Roman gold coins as well as an ancient gold plate allegedly with a pedigree linking the material to the Lava Treasure, according to an Oct. 27 announcement.
The Lava Treasure, consisting primarily of ancient Roman gold coins, received its name because the find was discovered accidentally by fishermen diving in the Gulf of Lava. The gulf is off the west coast of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea. Corsica belongs to France.
The Lava Treasure was first encountered about 25 years ago when three Corsicans diving for sea urchins spotted gold in the shallow waters there. The rest of the story can likely be nicely summarized by the official French national police statement released Oct. 27 in which it says, “This submerged treasure, identified as a maritime cultural asset, belongs to the state.”
It is the words “cultural asset,” which could also be reworded as “cultural patrimony,” that is the key, especially when it involves coins rather than fine art or other objects.
As Ancient Coin Collectors Guild spokesman Wayne G. Sayles commented in the October 2010 issue of The Celator magazine, “[coins are] utilitarian objects that were created in the millions and are not in any way of significant cultural value to any state.”
Had this find been discovered off the coast of Great Britain, as an example, the find could have been declared as treasure trove and the finders could have at least received a reward for their efforts. Being that the find was on French territory there was to be no imbursement, and likely not even a “thank you.”
As the police statement reads, the find “belongs to the state.”
Cyprus, France, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and a host of other countries have restrictive laws governing finds of this nature in which the find is automatically claimed by a government as that government’s cultural patrimony.
The finders have no rights to the find and for practical purposes might as well have reburied the find where it was discovered.