Have Derby's Museum & University Found Medieval Treasure?

By Corinne Field | 24 June 2004
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Shows a photograph of a small gold plaque on a black background. The head of a man wearing a pointed hat is clearly visible.

Photo: Silver gilt plaque, possibly medieval © Derby City Museum. Courtesy of the Portable Antiquities Scheme

Following the discovery of an unusual plaque, Derby University has joined forces with Derby Museum to launch an exciting new partnership to help uncover more treasure in the region.

The university has specialist equipment, previously only available at the British Museum Research Laboratory, which can be used to identify the metal make up of archaeological finds.

It was Derby Museum’s Finds Liasion Officer Rachel Atherton who works for the Portable Antiquities Scheme who approached the university after a local metal detectorist brought a tiny plaque to one of the Finds Days at Chesterfield Museum.

Scientists at the university have been analysing the unusual, possibly medieval, plaque in their Electron Microscopy Suite to determine what it is made of and whether it is 'treasure'.

Mike Greenwood, Head of Biology, Forensic and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University said: "We are very pleased to be working with the Museum on a very productive and exciting project. We hope this is the first of many suspected items of treasure we can work on."

Shows a photograph of science technician Graham Souch, wearing a black jumper, and Dr Mike Greenwood, with a beard and moustache, sitting in front of a microscope and computer.

Photo: Graham Souch (left) and Dr Mike Greenwood identifying the metalic make-up of suspected treasure. Courtesy of Derby University

The plaque is less than one centimetre square and decorated with the head of a man wearing a pointed hat. It was found in fields near Tapton, Chesterfield. Using a scanning electronic microscope, university technicians have discovered it is made of silver and coated in gold.

If an object has 10 per cent or more gold or silver content and is more than 300 years old it is classed as treasure under the Treasure Act 1996. All that needs to be done now is to send it to the British Museum for dating.

Rachel Atherton said: "We were delighted to discover this item may be treasure." She added: "We are extremely excited about the partnership. It means we can get an accurate reading of an object before sending it to the British Museum and we can involve the local community in researching finds from the area."

Shows a photograph of a small gold plaque on a black background in the top half of the photo. In the bottom half is part of a ruler showing that the plaque is just less than 10 mm square.

Photo: the plaque is less than 1 cm sq and decorated with the head of a man wearing a pointed hat © Derby City Museum. Courtesy of the Portable Antiquities Scheme

Since 1997 the Portable Antiquities Scheme's (PAS) finds liasion officers have recorded over 150,000 objects. Roger Bland, Head of the PAS thinks it is great that Derby University can help out with the analysis of metal objects found locally.

He said: "This sort of work has up until now been done by the British Museum. But with more and more finds coming to light there is more and more demand for this sort of analysis."

The partnership between Derby Museum and Derby University builds on existing links between the two organisations as the museum is an active partner in the university’s courses in heritage, conservation and archaeology.

To find out more about the Portable Antiquities Scheme and to view the database of finds click on this link to visit the PAS website.

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