European Bronze Age Gold in the British Museum

Alessia Murgia, Martina Melkonian and Benjamin W. Roberts

Technical analyses on selected objects by Susan La Niece

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History of the Collection


The British Museum Bronze Age gold collection currently comprises 386 objects which have been acquired since 1814 through bequests, donations and purchases. The earliest acquisitions, a single gold disc from the Isle of Man and a hoard of bracelets from Kent, were courtesy of the vast Townley and Payne Knight collections which entered the British Museum in 1814 and 1824 respectively. In 1836, the first fragments of what would become the Mold Gold Cape were acquired in a process of reconstitution that would last until 1972.

Bronze Age Pre 1939
Pre-1939 Bronze Age gold display at the British Museum

Prehistoric Gold Case
Mold Gold Cape (prior to final reconstruction with penannular rings from Ireland (Prehistoric Gold Case II C, Edward VII Gallery, British Museum in 1952)

The 19th century witnessed a substantial expansion to more than 200 objects with the purchase of several antiquarian collections, most significantly those of Harry Osborn Cureton between 1835 and 1858; Redmond Anthony (bought from his son William Anthony) in 1849 (Cahill 1994); William Willoughby Cole between 1849 and 1860; Thomas Tobin in 1871; and Augustus Wollaston Franks from 1876 to 1897. These acquisitions included a wide range of object types from lunulae to penannular rings as well as large hoards such as those from Mooghaun North (near Newmarket-on-Fergus), County Clare, Ireland (Eogan 1983a), Tisbury, Kent, England, and Morvah, Cornwall, England. The donation of the William Greenwell collection in 1909 which had been collected during the 19th century added a further 33 objects from hoards such as Inishowen, Kerry, Ireland (Eogan 1983a); and Gaerwen, Anglesey, Wales, to the collection. The acquisition of several important hoards beyond Britain and Ireland such as those from Abia de la Obispalia, Cuenca, Spain, in 1921 (Almagro Gorbea 1974) and Temesvár, Timis, Romania, in 1974 added to the geographical scope of the collection. The 20th century saw the acquisition of hoards found during turf-cutting, ploughing, farming, building and even archaeological excavations, which generally provided far more contextual information than those discovered in the 19th century. These include those from Bexley, London, England, in 1906 and 1907 (Page 1908) Towednack, Cornwall, England, in 1932 (Hawkes 1932), Fittleworth, West Sussex, England, in 1995 and Lockington, Leicestershire, England, in 1996 (Hughes 2000; Needham 2000). The introduction of the Treasure Act (1996) created a process whereby gold finds had to be reported, recorded and eventually acquired by museums in England and Wales. This, together with the Merchant Shipping Act (1995) and the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) for coastal finds, has yielded a further 74 objects for the collection including a landscape hoard from Milton Keynes, England, a shipwreck hoard from Salcombe, Devon, England (Roberts and Veysey 2011; Needham et al. 2013), as well as the iconic gold cup from Ringlemere, Kent, England (Needham et al. 2006). In addition, the Rillaton Cup, Cornwall, England, is on loan from the Royal Collection and two lock-rings from Harting Beacon, Sussex, England are on loan from a private owner.