Hoard

Bits and piecing

Hundreds of fragments of Bronze Age bronze objects, but do any of them join together?

Large collections of complete and broken bronze objects have been discovered buried in the ground throughout Europe. Here in Kent we have several examples including the large hoard from Boughton Malherbe buried around 2,800 years ago. It contains approximately 352 items but many of these are fragments. Today I am trying to see if any of the fragments join together. I want to know why these different items have been gathered together and buried. Were any of them deliberately broken? Were the pieces buried together? Why?

Sophie in the cellarmould frag

Most days I am studying archaeological reports on excavated evidence for prehistoric bronze casting and working of gold and silver. So I relish this opportunity to actually handle the ancient artefacts (even if through gloves), rather than just reading about them. Digging and being the first to see, to touch, to smell an object or a surface, a structure, even the bottom of a pit, that’s what inspires me. If I can’t be out in the field then examining the objects off-site is a satisfying alternative. There are so many stages of discovery in archaeology and these continue for years after the dust has settled on the excavation site. The detailed examination of artefacts is just one of those exhilarating stages.

Knole Handling Knole Handling 3Knole Handling 2

Research is just one of the many activities I have the fortune to be involved in as an archaeologist. Take this week for example: for me it began on-site, digging with the Young Archaeologist’s Club (18th century archaeology – see Andrew Mayfield’s DoA post). This was followed by a Festival of Archaeology event at Knole House (17th century related) showing and sharing the tactile and sensory handling kit I have prepared for all visitors especially those with a Visual Impairment. Next it was library based research in London looking up metalworking sites (c.2500BC to AD 50). Today has been working on the Boughton Malherbe hoard and I’ll finish the week with a Festival of Archaeology event at Maidstone Museum presenting the latest results on the hoard, and showing some of the objects to the public.

And what did I discover today? Most of the fragments don’t join together. But there are two definite refits: a socketed axe and a socketed gouge. Should I let my mind’s eye imagine a Bronze Age procession of people carrying a fragment to represent themselves? The pieces of the community buried together? One thing is for certain, I keep finding more and more questions in need of answers.

GOUGE REFITGOUGE REFIT 2

Thanks to Maidstone Museum and Kent Archaeological Society, Allen Grove Fund, for making the Boughton Malherbe hoard research possible. Thanks also to the National Trust for the opportunity to make the sensory handling kit for Knole. Extra special thanks to all the staff at Maidstone and Knole for their encouragement and interest.

A day with Macedonian archaeology – HOARD OF BILLON TRACHEA FROM THE SKOPJE FORTRESS

The copper hoard from the XIII century was discovered as a whole X.9.5.1, in a pit from Block: XXI, in the course of archeological excavations at the Skopje Fortress in 2009. It contained 50 copper coins, including 5 items of Bulgarian imitations (no. 1-5) and items presenting rulers, namely 2 items presenting Ivan Asen II (no. 6-7), 2 items presenting Theodore Comnenus-Ducas (no. 8-9), 2 items presenting  John Comnenus-Ducas (no. 10-11), 9 items presenting John III Ducas-Vatatzes with (no. 12-20), 4 items presenting Theodor II Ducas-Lascaris (no. 21-24), as well as the most numerous, 24 Latin imitations (no. 25-47). (more…)

An Inscribed Spindle Whorl

I hadn’t planned for anything exciting today – but you never know what can happen. I had a new detectorist dropping in who recorded a Roman and a post medieval coin with me which was a nice surprise. The coins are recorded as LANCUM-D92224 (Roman denarius of Hadrian) and LANCUM-D8A9E3 (sixpence of Elizabeth I dating from 1572), both from Woodplumpton, Lancs. – it was very nice of the detectorist and his dad, the landowner, to think about recording their finds and I am glad that they somehow found their way to the PAS. I guess seven years ago when I started the job that would have been virtually impossible. Today, I am ‘part of the team’ for most of the detectorists in Lancashire and Cumbria.

Last night, a new club was founded: the Furness Finders. They got in touch with me BEFORE the meeting and asked me which days I couldn’t attend the meetings. It’s great that they want to make sure that the local FLO records their finds and I was pleasantly surprised. That ups my club count from two to three club in North Lancashire and Cumbria. Barrow has proven to be fantastic place to find ‘stuff’ recently: We have had the Viking hoard from the Furness area, a Chinese coin hoard and lately, the first ever Early Iron Age hoard in the area – all discovered by local metal detectorists and all reported within hours/days of discovery. Makes me happy to have played part in this.

Another nice surprise today was that one of my Cumbrian detectorists found an inscribed medieval spindle whorl (see image). I have no idea what it means, but I hope I will find out. I suspect it’s just non-sensical lettering, but wouldn’t it be great if it meant something? Unfortunately, I research Early Iron Age socketed axes, not medieval inscription, so all I could do was photoshop it and send it off to people who know more about medieval lettering than I do…

Medieval lead-alloy inscribed spindle whorl from Great Mitton, Lancs.


The Bitterley Hoard: Part Seven – Concluding thoughts

The Portable Antiquities Scheme logo

 

 

 

And in the end …

Visitors to the hoard site in the rain

The discovery, reporting, excavation, investigation and analysis of this hoard have taken over a year. In that time a detailed picture has evolved which has shed new light on events that happened more than 300 years ago. Coin hoards from the Civil War are relatively common with several known for each county in Britain; so many hoards show the upheaval and underlying worry of the general population. This urgency and unrest can be seen in Bitterley hoard – where the only direct archaeological evidence for the placing of the hoard in the ground– is the hoard itself. The excavation showed that the burying of the hoard was relatively quick – in a prepared container. The local events that caused the hoard to be buried are unknown but the fact that they were never retrieved suggests that something happened to the owner and unfortunately their loss has been our gain.

I would like to thank all the people involved in this treasure case – as well as those who have helped tell the story so far. I would like to say a special thankyou to the farmer – for giving us access to his land and also (most importantly) to the finder – Howard Murphy – who did the right thing in leaving the coins in the ground and calling in the PAS. He has enabled us to piece together a remarkable story. I hope this will inspire other detectorists to do the same when they make their next big find!

Peter Reavill

29th June 2012

The Bitterely Hoard – Part Six – What happens next

The Portable Antiquities Scheme logo

 

 

What happens next?

The hoard has now been declared Treasure under the 1996 Act, the next stage in the process is for it to be assessed and valued by the independent Treasure Valuation Committee. Once a current market value has been established and agreed upon – Shropshire Museums hopes, with the aid of grant funding and local contributions, to be in a position to acquire the hoard. These monies will be paid as a reward to both the finder and also the farmer.

For more information on this process and for all your treasure queries see: http://finds.org.uk/treasure

There is a strong local desire to see these coins kept within the county. The hoard will be displayed at several museum sites in Shropshire for all to see.

Emma-Kate Lanyon, Head of Collections and Curatorial Services for Shropshire Museums has said

“This hoard has thrown light on a dark and turbulent period of our relatively recent history. Like all hoards of this nature we ask the question why was such a large amount of money left in the ground and never retrieved. We hope to find the funding necessary to acquire the hoard and ensure it can tell its unique story as part of our seventeenth century gallery at the new Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery when it  opens at the Music Hall (shrewsbury) in late summer 2013”.

More information about Ludlow Museum can be seen here:

http://www.shropshire.gov.uk/museums.nsf/open/9409F0EC30A6B0BF80257479005015A2

this new museum project can be found here:

http://www.shropshire.gov.uk/museums.nsf/open/07683EFB8004F5BA8025765D003D4319

Peter Reavill

29th June 2012

The Bitterley Hoard – Part Four – What’s it worth

The Portable Antiquities Scheme logo

 

 

Contemporary Value of the Hoard

Jonathon Worton, a research student at the University of Chester has suggested what the hoard could have been worth in the 17th Century. This is really interesting as it puts some perspective into how far money went in the period. From my point of view as an archaeologist it just proves the old adage  “The only things certain in life are death and taxes“.

Jonathon writes:

“with reference to monetary values, I always think it is more informative to consider the contemporary purchasing power, rather than attempting modern equivalence.

Some interesting examples:

1. In 1640/41 the day rate paid by the Corporation of Shrewsbury for ‘public works’ for an artificer – a wheelwright, carpenter, joiner – was 14d (less if ‘diet’ – food – included), 8d for a day labourer. These were probably good average rates for a days’ toil. (Ref. Reed, Shropshire Transactions, Vol LV).

(more…)

SeaCity Museum: Environmental Monitoring

Today I have been doing environmental monitoring of archaeological collections on display at the new SeaCity Museum (opened in April this year). I was lucky enough to start a new job last week as Collections Care and Access Trainee for Southampton City Council Museum Collection Management, funded by the Heritage Lottery Skills for the Future scheme. So far I have had some fantastic opportunities to learn about collections and documentation and today we are focused on environmental monitoring to ensure the objects’ conditions are stable.

Tiny Tag in the Millbrook Roman Hoard display case

The museum houses a range of objects related to Southampton’s past which includes this fantastic hoard of Roman coins excavated in Millbrook, Southampton. Over 4,000 late 3rd century Roman coins were found during building work. 1,000 of these coins have been put on display for the public to view at SeaCity Museum. The coins are copper alloy and need to be monitored to preserve them in as good a state as possible. To achieve this Tiny Tags were put in cases with vulnerable objects to record temperature and humidity readings at regular intervals on a daily basis.

Next job is to download the information to create graphs and interpret if the levels are right for that particular case. These Tiny Tags can record and store data for three months so the data is logged and the Tiny Tags reset at a minimum of every three months.

Another display case for monitoring is the settlement in Hamwic case. This consists of loom weights, a cooking pot, lamp, spindle whorl, linen smoother, bone comb, whistle, ice skate and tweezers. It is important to monitor this case to keep the bone and metal in the appropriate conditions to prevent the objects from deteriorating.

Putting a Tiny Tag into the Hamwic display case

Hamwic was a Middle Saxon (c.700-850) town situated around what is now Northam and St Marys in modern Southampton. It was an important port and excavations show that many crafts and industries were practiced in Hamwic. The excavations at Hamwic have resulted in one of the best collections of Middle Saxon finds in Europe so I feel privileged to work so closely with such exciting finds!

I have a background in archaeology with a BA in History and Archaeology and a Masters in Maritime Archaeology so it has been a very interesting day learning about monitoring conditions for objects post excavation and the dimensions and concerns about displaying objects, and that has been my day of archaeology. Not all archaeological work is in the field!

Now it’s back to learning about documentation and recording and exploring more interesting objects.

If you are interested in seeing the above mentioned objects for yourself then please visit the SeaCity Museum website.

The Bitterley Hoard – Part Two – Conservation

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Investigating the Hoard at the British Museum – Conservation

Unpacking the Hoard

The top of the block

The hoard reached the Department of Conservation and Research at the British Museum and was worked on by Pippa Pierce and colleagues in the department. Pippa had been involved from the start of the project giving really useful advice both before and after the excavation. The hoard was slowly excavated from its clay block and over time the container and the coins within were revealed.

 

Partially excavated

The coins within the pot

 

 

The coins were excavated stratagraphically to see if there was a structure to the deposits – were the coins at the top more recent than those at the bottom?

The excavation showed that there was no difference between the layers and that they had been thoroughly mixed before deposition. What was interesting was that it seems as if the coins were placed in the vessel in small stacks or columns and several groups of coins were removed in this way. In total there were 138 coins all of high denomination -many were very well preserved.

The container was revealed to be a local ‘blackware’ vessel called a tyg. Tyg’s are multi-handled drinking cups / mugs. They have several handles as the sides of the pot are thin and the contents are often hot (and highly alcoholic). This meant they could be passed from person to person without burning fingers; it is also thought that the handles segregated the rim and so each person would have their own section and so drinking would be more hygienic. The size of the vessel is about standard for those known from the period (diameter 88mm).  The vessel was slightly cracked and the rim damaged through compression within the soil – so if the finder had tried to lift it without help it could well have broken into many pieces.

The purse inside the pot

Impressions of the coin in the leather

A relatively unique find within the hoard was that the vessel was lined with the well preserved remains of a fine leather purse. The leather is very fragile and the impressions of the coins can be clearly seen preserved within it. Its survival is rare as leather and other organic material seldom survive in the soil. If the finder had dug the hoard himself and emptied the contents of the vessel then it is likely that this unique element would have been severally damaged or lost as it is so fragile.

 

Removing the coins

Inside the pot – coins and leather

The pot and purse

 

See next post: The Bitterley Hoard – Part Three – The Coins

All images within this blog are used with the kind permission of The British Museum

For more images see:

PAS Flickr Account

http://www.flickr.com/photos/finds/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/finds/sets/72157630327419608/

Peter Reavill

29th June 2012

A Week in the Life of a FLO (And Her Helpers)

A week in the life of a FLO – Wendy Scott, Leicestershire and Rutland FLO and Rebecca Czechowicz, FLA.

Monday

I added records to the database from an elderly long-term finder. We visited him at home last week and recorded objects found many years ago, before the scheme started here. We obtained accurate locations using maps and had a chat about his best find, a small but significant Viking coin hoard –The Thurcaston Hoard.

Tuesday

More inputting  (it never stops!).  In the run up to the Festival of Archaeology, myself and my manager have a meeting with our press office to plan our press releases. This year we have 73 festival events to promote, including a launch event at Kirby Muxloe Castle with EH (14th July), an event to promote a new Iron age coin hoard going into Harborough museum with coin striking activities (17th July).

We are also plugging two Leicestershire objects being in the final 10 of Britain’s Secret Treasures, an ITV programme highlighting the 50 most important finds made by the public (16th-22nd July).

We have help from a volunteer today. James Kirton is helping us to get all the amazing Bosworth Roman objects onto the database.  Amongst hundreds of brooches, we have 99 horse and rider brooches! Along with coins and other objects; all found as part of the Bosworth battlefield survey.

Wednesday

We have an appointment at Oakham Museum to meet a finder to record her many objects. Rebecca measures and weighs whilst I photograph and identify all the objects. Handily this co-incides with an invitation to visit Time Team filming at Oakham castle. We met up with Danni, FLO for Devon who works for Time Team, and local detectorist Dr Phil Harding who was detecting the spoil for them, to see what they’d found. A local journalist asked the other Dr Phil Harding if he actually did the digging! He was posing for a photo with a spade at the time,  so he replied “What do you think I do with this?”

Our Dr Phil detects the spoil whilst the other one supervises his trench.

Thursday

Downloading and editing photos and researching objects from our recording yesterday, ready to add them to the database.  I have spoken to the finder of the IA hoard. We are arranging a photo opportunity for the press next week, prior to the event and I needed a quote for the press release. I also spoke to colleagues about one of our museums purchasing a treasure case, a medieval finger ring, for their collection. In the afternoon we were all distracted from work by a violent thunderstorm, with flash flooding and hail the size of golfballs!

Friday

Day of Archaeology! Today I am getting on with recording the objects we identified yesterday. I am also preparing leaflets and flyers for the Festival. Before I leave I will be gathering material for a weekend event. Sunday is the annual open day at Burrough Hill fort, Leicestershire’s best Iron Age fort. The University of Leicester are conducting a five year research project there.  We will have the latest finds along with other Iron Age and Roman objects from the area found by detecting and field-walking. We have Iron age Warriors, coin making and I will be on hand to record anything that people bring along.

With the exception of Time Team being in my area, this is a pretty average summer week. There are always more objects to record and input, events to organise and promote and people to see. . . . .

 

The Bitterley Hoard – Part One – Discovery and Excavation

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The work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme sometimes throws up moments of pure joy and excitement, when all the pieces fall into place and the hard work of many years pays off. An example of this can be seen in the discovery of the Bitterley hoard declared treasure today (28th June 2012) at an inquest in Bridgnorth, Shropshire.

A hoard of silver coins

The Bitterley hoard

The hoard was discovered by Howard Murphy, an experienced and keen metal detector user who regularly reports his finds to me at Ludlow Museum Resource Centre. Howard and I met a number of years ago when he came on a course run through Shropshire Museums. This course looked at practical ways archaeological sites could be interrogated, culminating in a season of fieldwalking on a Romano-British site in North Herefordshire. This course relied on two key concepts, provenance and context.

Fieldwalking a Romano-British site on the Shropshire / Herefordshire border. Howard Murphy – Middle of group

The Discovery

The first I heard about this find was a phone call late one evening in February – it was from Howard – he said ‘I’ve found a hoard – a pot full of silver coins – and I’ve left it in the ground for you’. Howard is from Yorkshire and it takes a bit to ruffle his feathers – but there was a quiver in his voice –he was worried – had he done the right thing? We arranged for me to go out to the site over the weekend and have a look. We were both concerned that if we left it someone else would come and take it away, but the findspot was (thankfully) well off the beaten track and out of sight of prying eyes.

Howard and his hole

On the visit we had a good look at the surrounding area, Howard pointed to the area he had found the coins and we quickly took the soil back out of his hole. At the bottom were a group of silver Elizabethan coins glinting in the light and we could just make out an area of the rim of a thin walled pot. I knew that we couldn’t do anything then so we back filled the hole and made the site look as undisturbed as possible – this included moving a large number of mole hills to blend the findspot with the surrounding field.

The find was made on land under semi-permanent pasture. It had a series of interesting low earthworks and the remains of a hollow-way nearby. From what we had seen we had no idea what the underlying archaeology might be. The hoard could be inside a house or a ditch and there could be other things associated with it. We also had no idea of the size of the hoard – whether there were just 20 coins or many more.  The only way to find this out was to dig it up – and so we arranged a full rescue excavation for the following week.

The Excavation:

Tom Brindle

We decided that a small number of people were needed and so we kept things very local, Howard with his detector and spade, Tom Brindle (FLO for Staffordshire and the West Mids) came along to help with the digging and recording and the farmer also lent a hand. The weather was typical for February, although the day stayed relatively dry. When we got to the site; it was clear that no-one else had found it and the hoard was still safely in place – the first stage was to record the hole that Howard had dug.

 

Section and plan of the finders excavation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once this had been done we cut a larger trench with the hoard at the centre. We cleared the turf and topsoil cleaning the soil back at a layer just above the hoard. We were looking for any traces of a pit or other archaeology present, especially changes in colour and texture in the soil. This was tricky given the conditions but everything seems to be very uniform and most importantly the soil had little evidence of other material such as brick, tile or pottery. These factors led us to believe that the site was not directly associated with a building (with walls or floors) or other feature such as a ditches and pits.

With no archaeology showing in plan – a small sondage (section) was cut close to the vessel to see if anything could be seen in section – like the profile of a pit. Unfortunately nothing could be seen and the section was all uniform until the natural undisturbed clay was reached. Again – this was drawn planned and described.

With no other buried archaeology present we decided to lift the hoard in a single block – this is always a worrying operation as we knew the size at the top – but not the base – so the soil was removed to leave a single column of soil and excavated to a depth well below the natural. It was then supported with cling film and bandages – and then slowly undermined. Luckily the soil was wet and solid and the block stayed in one piece, coming from the ground after more than 300 years. It was packed up in a box and taken to the museum in Ludlow.

The undermining and lift

The hoard itself was kept refrigerated (in an old fridge from the staff room) to inhibit the growth of mould and to stop the surrounding soil drying and cracking – we had no idea what was inside (and museum colleagues had to find somewhere else to store their milk and packed lunches).

We had to wait several months before the hoard could be taken to London and the staff at Conservation and Research Department, at the British Museum could work on it – but the wait was well worth it.

Tom Brindle Finishing up the recording

Cleaning up and going home

See next post: The Bitterley Hoard – Part Two – Conservation

For more images  see:

PAS Flickr Account

http://www.flickr.com/photos/finds/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/finds/sets/72157630327419608/

 Peter Reavill

29th June 2012