Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past
21 November 2003 – 14 March 2004
The first major national exhibition of British archaeology in over 20 years, Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past will show how much chance archaeological discoveries have revolutionised our understanding of our past. The exhibition is a result of a unique collaboration between The British Museum and four other major UK museums in Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle and Norwich. The exhibition will travel to each venue after London to allow people across England and Wales to view some of the most spectacular finds of British history.
The exhibition will feature some of the country's most important British treasures such as the magnificent Mildenhall tableware, which will be shown in its entirety and will tour the country for the first time and the iconic Lewis Chessmen which featured in the first Harry Potter movie. But the key aim of the exhibition is to celebrate the enormous contribution that the public has made in uncovering history as well as the success of the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
The vast majority of finds in the exhibition have been uncovered by metal detectorists who now account for 90% of all treasure discoveries. Recent finds such as the Iron Age gold jewellery found in Winchester and the stunning Bronze Age gold cup from Ringlemere, Kent have revealed important new information about Britain's prehistory. Responsible metal detecting and reporting of finds has greatly enhanced our historical knowledge. It has enabled archaeologists to examine the context of finds as well as the finds themselves helping us to understand how they were used, their ritual or social significance and why they came to be at a particular site.
The exhibition also aims to challenge people's perceptions of what constitutes 'treasure'. Although many of the objects in the exhibition are exquisite examples of gold or silverwork or feature precious gems, the seemingly lowliest object can be hugely significant to understanding our history. Medieval pewter 'toys' found on the banks of the Thames by the 'Society of Thames Mudlarks', an amateur metal detecting group, have little financial value but are important social documents and tell us a huge amount about everyday lives in the Middle Ages. Tudor dress fasteners, which tend to be found as casual losses, rather than on specific sites, give us an insight into how people at the time wore their clothes and what they considered to be fashionable accessories.
On completion at The British Museum, the exhibition travelled to:
- The National Museum's and Galleries of Wales, Cardiff (May – September 2004)
- The Manchester Museum (October 2004 – January 2005)
- Hancock Museum, Newcastle ( March – June 2005 )
- Norwich Castle Museum (July 2005 – November 2005)
Sponsored by Anglo American and Tarmac