Snettisham Iron Age hoards
- Peter Northover, Department of Materials,
University of Oxford
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For over 60 years spectacular discoveries have been made at Snettisham, northwest Norfolk. At least 12 separate hoards of artefacts including torcs, coins, rings, bracelets and ingots have been discovered. Collectively they are known as the ‘Snettisham Treasure’ and form the largest deposit of gold, silver and bronze artefacts dating from the Iron Age found in Europe
A combined total of over 200 torcs, over 100 bracelet and ring ‘ingots’, large amorphous ingots, 234 coins and many fragments have been recovered, with a total weight of over 40 kilograms. In addition to its sheer quantity, the metalwork is famous for its quality of artistry and workmanship. Most of the hoards were buried 100–60 BC, and were found towards the centre of a large eight-hectare enclosure. Extensive excavations have failed to establish its purpose or date.
Project aims and output
This project aims to produce a comprehensive publication of the material from Snettisham. This will include a catalogue of finds and extensive scientific analysis.
Other dissemination will be undertaken at national and international conferences, with the benefit of feedback from world-class scholars, leading to further publications in the proceedings of these conferences. Project work and research has also contributed to the refurbished display of Snettisham metalwork in Room 50, Britain and Europe 800 BC–AD 43.
A key strand to the project is the scientific analysis and study of the wide range of gold, silver and bronze torcs, other artefacts and scrap material from Snettisham to understand their composition and manufacturing technology.
Some investigative cleaning, conservation and semi-quantitative analysis of the metalwork was carried out in the early 1990s as part of the Treasure Trove process. These studies are now being greatly extended using a range of analytical techniques.
Torcs and hoards
Torcs are large ornaments made from precious metals or bronze, worn around the neck, and are found across Britain and Europe during the Iron Age.
More torcs have been discovered in East Anglia than any other region, with a particular focus in northwest Norfolk. The majority of torcs are found in hoards – groups of artefacts placed together in the ground. Hoards are found placed in containers such as bags or pots, or carefully arranged in the ground. Some may have been buried for safekeeping – those discovered by archaologists are present because the objects were not retrieved. Other hoards may have been buried with no intention of retrieval, probably as offerings to gods.
I.M. Stead, ‘The Snettisham Treasure: excavations in 1990’, Antiquity, 65 (1991), pp. 447-64
R. Rainbird Clarke, ‘The Early Iron Age treasure from Snettisham, Norfolk’, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 20 (1954), pp. 27-86