It was a full house for Dr Eleanor Ghey’s talk ‘Hoards: A Hidden History of Ancient Britain’ on Thursday of last week. Dr Ghey is responsible for reporting on Iron Age and Roman coin hoards found in Britain for the Treasure Act, working at the British Museum.
She explained that hoards were sometimes bulk items that were ‘stashed’ but were sometimes also collections of items that had been added to over time – sometimes hundreds of years. Either way, we can only guess at the reasons for their existence.
Some are excavated as part of a burial, many are chance finds from sites apparently in the middle of no-where.
The Bronze Age was apparently very rich in hoards and one, a hoard of Bronze Age spear heads found in the Thames, was carefully gathered up, only for archaeologists to find a hoard of much earlier flint weapons underneath. This must have been a place of offerings, probably over hundreds of years.
Weapons, when found in a hoard, have often been deliberately destroyed. When we consider the value (in every sense) of axe and spear heads to the average Bronze Age person, we begin to understand that what ever ‘magic’ such offerings were believed to produce must have been very strong indeed. Otherwise, what a waste! Such hoards, which appear to have been offerings (see earlier blog) remained common up to and including the Roman period.
Any degradable material within a hoard will normally have disappeared over time but Dr Ghey gave some remarkable examples of exceptions. At the Must Farm excavation (Cambridgeshire)* metal axe heads have been found with their wooden handles still attached. One hoard from Bath was made up of bags of money where the bags themselves had survived. Some hoards which have included vessels still retain their packing of leaves or chaff (see earlier blog).
We heard some interesting, not to say odd, stories about the discovery of hoards. One Roman hoard included a statue of an unknown goddess. No problem. It was labelled with her name! Some coin hoards are found in purpose-made ceramic money boxes.
One hoard, found in gravel workings in 1927, was made up of a series of gold coins inside a hollow flint. This one is in our exhibition. The workman who found the flint poured his tea into the flint, probably to dislodge the earth, and found the coins poured out when he turned it upside down. Another hoard of coins was found tucked inside a hollow cow bone.
The Salisbury Hoard from Netherhampton was ‘discovered’ when significant items turned up for sale in markets and antique shops and historians and archaeologists began to wonder where they had come from. Dr Ghey explained that the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which encourages metal detectorists to have their finds recorded on the British Museum database before they are then returned to the detector, has made illegal excavation less (but not completely) unlikely. It is important that anyone finding a hoard does not disturb it (tempting though that may be) but reports it to their local Finds Liaison Officer to allow things to be properly excavated. Its a bit like a crime scene – evidence must not be destroyed!
*This is an excellent site, worth a look if interested in archaeology.