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La maledizione del tesoro sepolto

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Un articolo pubblicato sul New Yorker racconta la storia affascinante e allo stesso tempo paradossale del ritrovamento di un tesoro vichingo, costituito da gioielli e monete dall’inestimabile valore storico-archeologico, avvenuto nel giugno 2015 nelle campagne intorno al piccolo paese di Leominster (Herefordshire), nelle Midlands Occidentali, e culminata nel novembre 2019 in una pesante condanna – resa più mite in appello – ai danni degli stessi autori della notevole scoperta per violazione del Treasure Act. Lo studio del tesoro, che molti ritengono sia stato solo parzialmente recuperato – gli inquirenti sostengono infatti che i protagonisti della vicenda potrebbero aver nascosto una parte consistente delle monete al fine di sottrarla al sequestro eseguito a suo tempo dalle autorità giudiziarie e potersene poi riappropriare in un momento più favorevole -, avrebbe gettato nuova luce sulla storia del Regno di Mercia.

Leominster, in the West Midlands area of England, is an ancient market town where the past and the present are jumbled together like coins in a change purse. Shops housed in half-timbered sixteenth-century Tudor buildings face the main square, offering cream teas and antiques. The town’s most lurid attraction is a well-preserved ducking stool, a mode of punishment in which an offender was strapped to a seat and dunked into a pond or a river while neighbors jeered; the device, last employed in 1809, is now on incongruous display inside the Priory Church, which dates to the thirteenth century. Christianity has even older roots in Leominster: a monastery was established around 660 by a recent convert, the Saxon leader Merewalh, who is thought to have been a son of Penda, the King of Mercia. For much of the early Middle Ages, Mercia was the most powerful of the four main Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the others being Wessex, East Anglia, and Northumberland. In the tenth century, these realms were unified to become the Kingdom of England. Although the region surrounding Leominster (pronounced “Lemster”) is no longer officially known as Mercia, this legacy is preserved in the name of the local constabulary: the West Mercia Police.

On June 2, 2015, two metal-detector hobbyists aware of the area’s heritage, George Powell and Layton Davies, drove ninety minutes north of their homes, in South Wales, to the hamlet of Eye, about four miles outside Leominster. The farmland there is picturesque: narrow, hedgerow-lined lanes wend among pastures dotted with spreading trees and undulating crop fields. Anyone fascinated by the layered accretions of British history—or eager to learn what might be buried within those layers—would find it an attractive spot. English place-names, most of which date back to Anglo-Saxon times, are often repositories of meaning: the name Eye, for example, derives from Old English, and translates as “dry ground in a marsh.” Just outside the hamlet was a rise in the landscape, identified on maps by the tantalizing appellation of King’s Hall Hill.

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