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A bumper year of Treasure finds for the Portable Antiquities Scheme

photo of a fragment of a vessel with a human face decoration

Copper alloy fitting from bucket, in the shape of a human face, from Lenham, Kent. Iron Age c. 50BC © The Trustees of the British Museum

One of the best years yet is revealed in the British Museum’s annual Treasure Report of archaeological finds logged and recorded by the brilliant Portable Antiquities Scheme

A beautifully preserved 1,100-year-old medieval brooch unearthed in Norfolk after a tipper truck delivered spoil to a new location, a 2,000-year-old bucket adorned with an unusual humanoid face and a solid gold arm ring dating to the Bronze Age are among the spectacular Treasure finds made by members of the public in 2019.

Revealed by the British Museum in their annual Treasure Report, which reveals the archaeological finds logged by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), it’s been another bumper year with a preliminary figure of 1,311 Treasure finds across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Treasure is generally defined as gold and silver objects that are over 300 years old, or groups of coins and prehistoric metalwork.

 

A total of 81,602 archaeological finds were recorded via the British Museum-supported scheme in 2019, with finders voluntarily working with regional finds liaison officers to log and record their finds and ultimately deepen the understanding of our archaeological landscape and history. Almost 90% of the archaeological items were discovered by metal detectorists.

Highlights revealed today date from the Bronze Age to the Early Medieval period and are made of a variety of materials, but each in their own way contributes further to our knowledge and appreciation of the past.

photo of a fragment of a vessel with a human face decoration

Copper alloy fitting from bucket, in the shape of a human face, from Lenham, Kent. Iron Age c. 50BC © Mat Honeysett 2019

an exquisitely decorated round brooch with five bosses and silver scroll work

Early Medieval silver and niello brooch from Great Dunham, Norfolk c. AD 800- 900 © The Trustees of the British Museum

a side view of a sliver brooch with clasp

Early Medieval silver and niello brooch from Great Dunham, Norfolk c. AD 800- 900 © The Trustees of the British Museum

a round brooch showing the clasp side

Early Medieval silver and niello brooch from Great Dunham, Norfolk c. AD 800- 900 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Norfolk was the county which produced the most finds, and among the haul highlighted was an early medieval silver and niello brooch from Great Dunham, dating to the ninth century. With its intact spring, pin and catch plate, the exquisite brooch is embellished in inlaid niello and is incredibly well-preserved.

A distinctive stylized Anglo-Saxon decoration called ‘Trewhiddle’, featuring zoomorphic beasts, plant motifs and geometric design, helps date the brooch to the ninth century, in line with similar finds from this period. An investigation of the site revealed that the topsoil it was discovered in was composed of recently delivered spoil from a tipper truck delivering from somewhere else in Mid-Norfolk.

Creatures with the head and forelimbs of horses and a fish-like tail

It is possible that the brooch therefore originates in the region of Pentney in Norfolk given the similarity with that spectacular collection of brooches, which are on display in the Sutton Hoo gallery of the British Museum, and whose virtuoso craftsmanship and inventive decoration put them in the first rank of Middle Saxon metalwork.

The unusual bucket with its mythical creatures and human face came from Lenham in Kent as part of a hoard or grave assemblage comprising of a copper alloy bowl, copper alloy fittings from a wooden bucket and part of a clay pot from the mid-first century BC.

Discovered by Rick Jones, the bucket in particular is a rare find, with pairs of hippocamps (creatures with the head and forelimbs of horses and a fish-like tail) facing one another – an unusual choice of decoration.

Between the hippocamps an animal that could be a deer or horse lies on its back, legs kicking in the air whilst a bird-like creature with talons outstretched and a hooked beak stands behind. The bucket’s two handle fittings are humanoid with eyes, prominent nose, pronounced chins and swept back hair. The two faces are slightly different: one has dotted decoration along the mouth, brows, hairline and around the back of the neck, whilst the other is plainer with a slimmer jawline.

a photo of a roman coin with emperor's head visible

Copper alloy radiate coin of Emperor Carausius from Headbourne Worthy, Hampshire. Roman Britain AD 286–293
© The Trustees of the British Museum

a photo of a worn coin with indistinct features

Copper alloy radiate coin of Emperor Carausius from Headbourne Worthy, Hampshire. Roman Britain AD 286–293
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Close examination of the fittings reveal more wear around the plainer attachments together with careful repairs suggesting that this was a cherished and much-used, high-status object and probably part of a drinking set, used for serving mead, wine or beer at feasts. Experts conjecture that the people buried with these objects hosted such feasts in life and perhaps this was a way for the living to share the funeral feast with them.

The Bronze Age gold arm ring from St Bees, Cumbria was found by Billy Vaughan of Whitehaven. An eighth century solid gold arm ring with shallow punched dots as decoration that extend across most of the outer ring, it is similar to those that have been found in County Donegal and Buckinghamshire, but it is unclear whether the arm ring is of the Irish or British type.
Noticeable wear to the outer edge suggests this substantial 300g of pure gold was frequently worn by its owner who as well as considerable wealth, had long-distance connections.

Of the many coins that are registered by the PAS, the British Museum has highlighted a bronze Roman coin, known as a radiate, which would have been struck at the mint of London as one of the final issues of the British usurper emperor Carausius (AD 286–293), who broke Britain away from Europe.

The coinage of Carausius’ brief reign varied significantly with nearly 4,000 varieties struck during a seven-year period, making the inscriptions and designs of each of these variants important for understanding the coinage as a whole.

This radiate has an earlier obverse (‘heads’) type and inscription than would be expected from this period, suggesting that earlier coin dies could have been reused to create this radiate. This reuse is an important piece of evidence for the development of Carausius’ coinage, which may not have otherwise come to light without the detailed, systematic recording of coins like this through the PAS.

Finds reported through the PAS have produced well over 100 new varieties and have been such a significant source of data for Carausius’ coinage that they will be published in the new standard reference work for Carausius next year. This coin was generously donated to the British Museum by the finder, Alan Cracknell.

a photo of a series of large gold rings

Gold arm ring from St Bees, Cumbria. Bronze Age c. 900–700 BC © The Trustees of the British Museum

The report also highlights that of the 1,266 Treasure finds reported in 2017, 399 have been acquired by museums, enabling them to be seen and enjoyed by the public. The vast majority of these (92%) are acquired by local museums. The report also reveals that the number of Treasure cases acquired through donation (where finders or landowners waive their rewards) was 112 cases – 26 more than at the same point last year.

Currently there are more than 1.4 million objects recorded by the PAS on its online database finds.org.uk, which is freely accessible to the public. The PAS is managed by the British Museum in England and Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. Part of the British Museum’s commitment to its National Programmes work around the UK, the PAS is a partnership project, working with about 100 national and local partners.

Find out more about the Portable Antiquities Scheme and explore thousands of finds at finds.org.uk

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