• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

French sites pillaged by wannabe archaeologist

James Pearn · 30 Jul 2014, 11:26

Published: 30 Jul 2014 11:26 GMT+02:00

While taking the stand in his own defense this week a Frenchman accused of looting thousands of valuable historical items from some of the country’s most culturally important sites, explained his crime simply.

“I always wanted to be an archaeologist, but I couldn’t,” the 60-year-old winemaker told a court in the Paris suburb of Meaux on Tuesday, AFP reported.

For years he’d used a metal detector to scour sites that are protected by law, taking home a piece here and a piece there. Until he had a collection of some 2,300 items including coins, pottery, rings and necklaces that prosecutors say is worth tens of thousands of euros.

SEE ALSO: 'Pillagers' loot France of archaeological treasures

French customs authorities have asked the court to impose a €200,000 fine on the man, who is accused of illegally searching archaeological sites. Judges will decide whether he is guilty at a later date.

The case began by pure chance in February 2012 when customs officers pulled over the winemaker, who was not named in media reports, during a routine check. What the officers found next was anything but routine.

In the winemaker's vehicle agents discovered 112 Gallo-Roman coins, which led prosecutors to order a search of the man’s home. There police found the stunning collection of items he'd amassed through the years. His collection has since been turned over to the Ministry of Culture.

Freestyle archaeology and outright looting are a major threat to France’s historic sites, experts say.

“These uncontrolled digs are a real problem, because it is a catastrophe for science,” deputy director of archaeology at the Ministry of Culture told the court, AFP reported. “Archaeology cannot be the victim of its own success. Archaeology must be left to professionals.”

According to historical protection group Stop Looting Archaeological and Historical Heritage (Halte au Pillage du Patrimoine Archéologique et Historique), at least 250,000 objects are pulled illegally from the ground each year in France. The vast majority of the items are from Gallic and medieval periods and include lots of coins.

Jean-David Desforges, head of association, told The Local recently that many objects from ancient Gaul, and Nazi artefacts from World War II were being illegally dug up and sold on by thousands of prospectors using metal detectors.

Desforges said many of the "pillagers" come from the UK and France's other neighbouring countries to hunt for archeological treasure and sell it abroad.

Story continues below…

"In Normandy and part of northern France a lot of English will come over with metal detectors and scour the battle fields from the First and Second World Wars. It is the same along the border with Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany where these people will cross into France to search war battlefields and take what they found back to their country," he said.

Every time something is dug up, Desforges says, "France loses part of its history and heritage each time."

James Pearn (james.pearn@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
How to make France's famed Île Flottante dessert
Photo: Paul Oatway

France-based food blogger Laura Tobin shares her recipe for this delicious French dessert.

France's top court set to rule on burqini ban
Photo: bellmon1/Flickr

France's highest administrative court will decide this afternoon whether to overturn the burqini ban.

Corsica bushfire leaves 500 hectares scorched
Photos: AFP

A massive fire left 500 hectares of bushland in Corsica ravaged.

View from the rue
What do Parisians think of France's burqini bans?
Photo: AFP

With 64 percent of the French against burqinis at the beach, what do the Parisians think?

Almost half of France now on heatwave alert
Children cool off in Nice's fountains. Photo: AFP

Orange alerts - the second highest level - were issued to 43 départements as France's heatwave shows no signs of stopping.

France's top ten beaches to survive the heatwave
Photo: Gomezdegomera/Flickr

Temperatures are soaring... why not head to the beach?

Parisians invited to swim in the Bassin de la Villette
People taking part in activities in the Bassin de la Villette. Photo: AFP

If you fancy a rare chance to swim along the Paris canal system, here comes your chance.

French wine output drops 10 percent after stormy weather
A vineyard in Valfaunes partially destroyed after a violent hailstorm near the southern city of Montpellier. Photo: AFP

Bad weather has pushed wine production in France down ten percent this year.

Migrants armed with sticks hold up truck driver in Calais
Migrants standing near the Calais motorway. File photo: AFP

The driver involved says he deals with similar incidents "every night".

Majority in France against burqinis on beaches
The burqini ban in 30 French towns has provoked debate worldwide. Photo: AFP

Almost two thirds of French people said they're against the controversial swimwear.

Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
Eight tips on buying wine in a French supermarket
Sponsored Article
5 reasons to try dating in Paris with The Inner Circle
Society
Here's how to enjoy Paris (while avoiding the heat)
Society
Ten mistakes to avoid when dating a Frenchman
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Society
Twelve 'French' things that aren't actually French at all
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
'World's priciest home' on sale in French Riviera for €1 billion
Lifestyle
RECIPE: How to make the tastiest ratatouille
National
Paris sees Europe's biggest plunge in 'liveability'
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
National
Life on the home front in rural France's 'war on terror'
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Features
Weird facts you didn't know about the French language
Society
Paris foodie event cancelled over lack of security
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
How to tackle six of the trickiest French verbs
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
National
Summer in France - 'the ideal time to find a job'
National
'Burqini bans will only divide France more'
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
National
French vineyards revive horse-drawn ploughs
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
French mayor bans Pokemon Go app from his village
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
National
'To boycott France is to surrender to terrorists'
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Travel
21 photos to make you want to come to France right now
Society
This is how much the French are obsessed with cheese
National
French MP's call for Facebook ID cards blasted 'as idiotic'
Travel
Summer checklist: Fourteen great travel ideas for France
Travel
Here's why France is still world's top tourist destination
'Wealthy American tourists' snub France over terror fears
National
Where to go swimming in France (and where to avoid)
2,751
jobs available