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Enlightenment: The Birth of Archaeology
Silver 'thistle' brooch
In 1785 a boy found this massive silver brooch in a field whose name suggests that silver objects were often found there. The size and excellent condition of the brooch attracted the attention of a local historian, William Hutchinson, who published a note the same year, when it was bought and 'exhibited to Antiquarians at London, York, Cambridge and many places'.
Within a few years the brooch had entered the Leverian Museum, where it was displayed alongside other historical artefacts. This museum in Leicester Square, London, was one of a number of private museums set up in this period. It was created by Sir Ashton Lever in 1775 and contained about 26,000 items. These included many natural history objects as well as artefacts collected on the voyages of Captain Cook, Asian musical instruments, antiquities like this brooch and items from North America.
In 1787 James Clarke published a large engraving of the brooch, fancifully interpreting it as the medieval insignia of the Knights Templar.
Modern archaeological research has established that this distinctive 'thistle' form of brooch was developed in Ireland in the late ninth century and was then made and circulated throughout the western Viking settlements and trading areas. It would have served as a sign of the wearer's authority and wealth.