FINE ARTS OFFICIALS yesterday urged some 100 community leaders and villagers in Phatthalung's Khao Chai Son district to stop digging for gold and to cooperate by "returning" gold sheets they dug up - within the next two weeks - or face punishment.
Department inspector general Anan Chuchote said people who refused to do this could be punished by up to seven years in jail and/or hit with a fine of up to Bt700,000. He spoke at a meeting with local leaders at the Khao Chai Son Community Hall to discuss the retrieval of gold from villagers.
The move followed the recent discovery of big sheets of gold in a palm plantation, which triggered a gold rush despite a prospecting ban.
People who hand over gold sheets to the authorities within the next 15 days would not be punished.
In addition, he said the Nakhon Si Thammarat Fine Arts Office would assess an appropriate price and pay them a third of the “real” price, an amount that would still be higher than the market price.
Nakhon Si Thammarat Fine Arts Office director Anat Bumrungwong said an inspection by his officials was deterred by rainwater and muddy soil.
Gold sheets buried deep
He said villagers had told them the gold sheets were buried three metres under the ground.
The officials’ initial assessment was that the gold sheets and ancient artefacts may be from the Ayutthaya era or earlier. The area was suspected to be an old waterway that connected to Songkhla Lake, so it was believed a boat with valuable items may have sunk there.
Ban Thung Ore palm plantation owner Vee Thabsaeng presented a big gold sheet to the officials later yesterday so it could be studied and kept as a national treasure, and the department purchased the sheet from him at the promised price.
Anan said that a study of the gold sheet by department officials would be complete in seven days and hoped that may yield more clarity on its origin.