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Exciting new finds highlight the ongoing success of the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme

3 December 2012

The launch today of the Portable Antiquities and Treasure annual reports show that 97,509 finds were recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in 2011 (an 8% rise on the previous year) and 970 Treasure cases were reported in the same period (up by 12%).

The PAS website www.finds.org.uk now features 820,000 finds with nearly 400,000 images from across England and Wales contributing enormously to the archaeological record. Last year 463,160 people used the website and database, and it also won best research/online collection at the Best of the Web awards 2011 at the Museums and the Web conference.

Increasingly more and more people are becoming aware of the PAS. In July this year Britain’s Secret Treasures, which highlighted 50 finds recorded through the PAS, was screened primetime on ITV1 from 16-22 July. The series was watched by an average of 3.5M viewers, the highest being 4.2M.

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum said “It is clear from the discoveries reported this year that the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme goes from strength to strength. The ITV series this year shows just how much these finds have captured the public’s imagination and changed our understanding of the past. It is a scheme which is envied the world over. I am very grateful to the Department for Culture Media and Sport for continuing to support the Scheme and to Treasure Hunting magazine who have continued to publish PAS reports . And to other generous funders such as The Headley Trust, Institute for Archaeologists and the Heritage Lottery Fund who support staff to ensure that the Scheme can continue its vital work. As well as the funding bodies who have helped acquire Treasure finds.”

Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, said “It never ceases to amaze me that such incredibly important objects have survived in the ground for many hundreds of years, waiting to be found by everyday people. Not only are these objects extremely exiting discoveries, but once reported Treasure or recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme they have great potential to rewrite the history of this country, and enrich local and national museums”.

Four exciting new discoveries are to be highlighted at the launch this year:

An extremely rare late Iron Age helmet from near Canterbury, Kent.

This copper-alloy helmet was found by a metal- detectorist in October 2012, and the findspot subsequently excavated by the Canterbury Archaeological Trust. The helmet had been upturned and used as vessel to hold a human cremation. A brooch found with the helmet probably once fastened a bag containing the bones. Both the helmet and brooch date from the early to mid-first century BC. Julia Farley, Iron Age Curator at the British Museum notes “This is a very rare find. No other cremation has ever been found in Kent accompanied by a helmet and only a handful of Iron Age helmets are known from Britain. Therefore we think this example was probably made on the continent and it is fascinating to speculate how it came to be in a grave in Kent.”

In the middle of the first century BC, Caesar was at war in Gaul (modern France). But as well as being a time of war, it was also a time of travel, communication, connections and change. Mercenaries from Britain had travelled to join the fighting, and it is tempting to believe that the person who owned this helmet might have fought in Gaul, against the Romans or perhaps even alongside them, eventually bringing the helmet with them to Britain. Before Gaul fell, Caesar would make his first expedition to Britain, landing on the shores of Kent not far from where this helmet was found. The owner of this helmet, or the people who placed it in the grave, may have lived through the very beginning of the story of Roman Britain.

The second largest hoard of Roman solidi (gold coins) ever found in Britain.

The discovery was made by a metal-detectorist near to St Albans, Hertfordshire, and reported to his local Finds Liaison Officer. In October 2012 the findspot was excavated by a team of archaeologists from St Albans City and District Museums Service and altogether 159 coins were recovered. The coins date to the late 4th to early 5th century AD (after AD 408 regular supplies of Roman coinage to Britain ceased) and were mostly struck in the Italian cities of Milan and Ravenna and issued under the Emperors Gratian, Valentinian II, Theodosius I, Arcadius and Honorius. The largest hoard of Roman solidi was found at Hoxne in Suffolk in 1992 and comprised 565 solidi. Richard Abdy, Curator of Roman Coins as the British Museum said “This is a hugely exciting find. During the period of the Roman occupation of Britain, coins were usually buried for two reasons; as a religious sacrifice to the Gods, or as a secure store of wealth, with the aim of later recovery. The late date of the coins suggests their burial could have been associated with the turbulent separation of Britain from the Roman Empire c. AD 410”.

Threat of war or raids may have led to the burial of the coins, as may the prospect of a long journey, or any other risky activity, which could then result in the non-recovery of a hoard and its consequent survival in the archaeological record. Gold solidi were extremely valuable coins and Roman law did not allow them to be spent in everyday marketplace situations. They would have been used for large transactions such as buying land, or goods by the shipload, and were an especially handy source of portable wealth for travellers (in much the same way as gold sovereigns were to Britons abroad prior to traveller’s cheques or internationally accessible bank accounts). Therefore it is likely that the ancient owners of these coins were very rich, typically Roman elite, merchants or soldiers receiving bulk pay.

The hoard will be available to view in the Citi Money Gallery at the British Museum from 4 December.

An important hoard of Viking Age gold and silver metalwork.

In May 2012 Stuart Campbell and Steve Caswell were detecting on farmland near Bedale, North Yorkshire when they found a Viking Age hoard. Much of the material was left by the finders in situ and thereafter recovered by archaeologists from Yorkshire Museums. The hoard consists of an iron sword pommel inlaid with gold foil plaques, four gold hoops (from the hilt of the sword), six small gold rivets (probably from the pommel or hilt), four silver collars and neck-rings, a silver arm-ring, a silver ring fragment, a silver penannular brooch, and 29 silver ingots. Some of the objects, which date to the late 9th to early 10th, are decorated in late Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Scandinavian and Viking art styles. Barry Ager, Medieval Curator at the British Museum said “At the time the hoard was deposited the north of England was largely under Viking rule, with their capital at York. So the material in this significant hoard probably represents Viking bullion, either obtained by trade, or plundered or extracted from enemies, which could later be melted down and reused for jewellery, or further exchange.” It is likely that those who buried this material intended to come back for it, but for reasons unknown to us they were not able.

The Bedale hoard will be available to view in Room 2 of the British Museum from 4 December.

Intriguing boar mount associated with Richard III.

Found on the Thames foreshore was this copper-alloy mount in the form of a boar, which was reported to the local Finds Liaison Officer. The mount shows the boar chained, collared and wearing a crown, and it has a crescent (presumably heraldic) above one of its legs.

Michael Lewis, Deputy Head of PAS and Treasure said ‘given the renewed interest in Richard III, after the apparent discovery of his remains in Leicestershire, it is wonderful to have a London find associated with the king. The mount is very similar to a number of boar badges which have been reported Treasure over the past few years, which were made for followers of Richard III (of York), as Duke of Gloucester, during the Wars of the Roses. Richard took the white boar has his sign; ‘bore’ may have also been an anagram of Ebor, the Latin for York”.

Badges in the form of a boar were ordered for use at Richard III’s coronation (in July 1485) and also for the investiture of his son, Edward, as Prince of Wales (in September). However, it is not certain what the mount from London came from, maybe a piece of furniture or was used to decorate an item of leather once owned by a supporter of Richard III, or possibly even the king himself.

Hand holding a single gold coin

A coin from the St Albans Hoard, unearthed in October 2012. Courtesy Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Contacts

Please contact Hannah Boulton on 020 7323 8522 or hboulton@britishmuseum.org or Claire Coveney on 020 7323 8394 or ccoveney@britishmuseum.org

Notes to editors

Thousands of archaeological objects are discovered every year, many by members of the public, particularly by people while metal-detecting. If recorded, these finds have great potential to transform archaeological knowledge, helping us understand when, where and how people lived in the past.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (www.finds.org.uk) offers the only proactive mechanism for systematically recording such finds, which are made publicly available on its online database. This data is an important educational and research resource that can be used by anyone interested in learning more.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is managed by the British Museum, and funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport through a ring-fenced grant, the British Museum and local partners. Its work is guided by the Portable Antiquities Advisory Group, whose membership includes leading archaeological, landowner and metal-detecting organisations.

Under the Treasure Act 1996 (see www.finds.org.uk/treasure) finders have a legal obligation to report all finds of potential Treasure to the local coroner. The Portable Antiquities Scheme and its network of Finds Liaison Officers play an essential role in the operation of the Act, advising finders of their legal obligations, providing advice on the process and writing reports for Coroners on Treasure finds.

The Act allows a national or local museum to acquire Treasure finds for public benefit. If this happens a reward is paid, which is (normally) shared equally between the finder and landowner; interested parties may wish to waive their right to a reward, enabling museums to acquire finds at reduced or no cost. Rewards are fixed at the full market value of the find, determined by the Secretary of State upon the advice of an independent panel of experts, known as the Treasure Valuation Committee.