HE USED to sweep the roads at Scotland's biggest safari park, clearing lion dung from its roads. Now amateur treasure hunter David Booth could be in line for a £1 million fortune, after discovering a rare haul of Iron Age gold with his metal detector.
In what has been described as an archaeological find of national significance, Mr Booth found the treasure in a field near Stirling. The 35-year-old was taken aback when the beeping on his device revealed four torcs, or neckbands, three of which are in near perfect condition.
The precise location of the find has not been disclosed so as to prevent a stampede of treasure hunters taking to the site. Mr Booth, chief game warden at Blair Drummond Safari Park, was not at home yesterday, and is believed to be in a hotel ahead of a press conference today.
A spokesman for the National Museums of Scotland declined to comment, as did staff at the safari park. Mr Booth has worked at the tourist attraction since he was 19 – when he worked clearing the roads through the lion enclosure.
Quite how well he will be rewarded remains to be seen. Under Scots law, the Crown has the right to claim any find, with any payments made at their discretion. It is anticipated, however, that he will receive somewhere in the region of a six-figure sum.
Whatever the outcome, it appears there is no doubting the value of the finds, which date from the 1st to the 3rd century BC – an era before the Romans invaded Britain.
One of the necklaces is a ribbon torc, and appears to have been made from twisted Irish or Scottish sheet gold. Another is encrusted with small circles of gold wire and beads of gold that look like pearls, with two fine gold chains acting as fasteners.
A source close to a team that excavated the site in the wake of the find said: "We've never seen anything like this before. The workmanship is breathtaking. Some of the gold wire used is the thickness of your finger. No-one here wants to put a price on it. One of the guys said that there were a lot of silly figures flying around."
Dr Fiona Watson, a research association at the UHI Millennium Institute's Centre for History, described the torcs as of "huge significance". She added: "The neckbands are of such national significance that they must be kept in Scotland. In the past something like this would have gone to London, but there is no way they should leave Scotland."
The items, she said, proved the elite members of that age were "wealthy, sophisticated, and able to trade with the Continent".
"They would have belonged to someone who was a very important local leader. He is saying: 'Bling – look at me, and how important I am.'"
The torcs are now being held at the Treasure Trove Unit at the Edinburgh headquarters of the National Museums of Scotland. The unit's Scottish Archaeological Finds Allocation Panel will decide their value.
UNDER the common law of Scotland, all treasure trove belongs to the Crown.
Discoveries are valued by the Queen's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer (QLTR), which accepts objects on the Crown's behalf, and arranges for them to be housed in public museums around the country, acting on the advice of the Scottish Archaeological Finds Advisory Panel.
In most cases, the QLTR will make an ex-gratia payment to the finder once the museum has paid the Crown Office. Finders can waive their reward, thereby saving a museum the purchase price of the find.