Public given nine days to see amazing Bronze Age hoard in latest Wiltshire jackpot

By Ben Miller | 17 November 2011
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A photo of a turquoise copper fragment dug from a clay pit in an archaeological dig
The public will be given a glimpse of an amazing Bronze Age hoard in raw form
© Neil Francis Brooks, Portable Antiquities Scheme
In the 1990s, following a lengthy spell of detective work by an archaeologist involving shady meetings in pubs, illegal detection work and precious objects being flogged to waiting dealers, The Salisbury Hoard became the largest group of Prehistoric metal objects ever found in Britain.

Nearly 20 years later, in a more ethically pleasing escapade, a Bronze Age hoard of more than 100 copper alloy axes, heads, chisels, sickles, gouges and tools has been unearthed in a field near Tisbury. The Wiltshire hills, it would seem, are strewn with magical relics.

"If you took the Salisbury Hoard out of the equation you could say that this is the largest hoard ever found in the county," says Adrian Green, the Director of the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.

Green found out about the hoard only three weeks ago, when a well-known local metal detectorist reported a telltale spearhead to regional Finds Liaison Officer Katie Hinds.

"Rather than just dig the whole thing up, he told Katie about it. She was then able to get a team of archaeologists together to professionally excavate what turned out to be a rather large hoard.

"It's farmland, and he had permission to detect there from the farmer, but there's no known archaeological site in the immediate vicinity. He was just doing what lots of people do – detecting the field.

"He did absolutely the right thing," stresses Green. "I think that's the critical thing about this story."

A photo of a hand holding a digging tool working at soil
The hoard was discovered about three weeks ago
© Neil Francis Brooks, Portable Antiquities Scheme
The experts now have the exciting task of unravelling matters. "What was clear was that it wasn't buried in a pit or a hole that had been deliberately dug in the ground. It was actually in what appeared to be the scoop left behind by a tree when it fell over.

"So it was a natural feature, if you like. The person who had concealed it had just taken advantage of a natural location in the landscape to hide it."

This could point to a patch of land important to the donor, or an emergency dumping. Either way, for one week only, the public will get to see the artefacts in their rawest 2,700-year-old form before they head to the British Museum to be valued.

"These are the bits of bronze as they've been found, before a conservator has got to them," says Green.

"Bronze can deteriorate. Sometimes it's gone to powder and is incredibly fragmentary. But because of the conditions where this was found, it's in pretty good nick.

"When it was new it was gold in colour, it was impressive to hold – but what you see today, even after cleaning, will be a muddy dark green colour. It will never get that lustre that it initially had."

The next nine days represent a chance for anyone whose pulse is quickened by amazing archaeology to see the finds before all the inquisitions and fundraising drives to keep it in the area begin.

"Basically it was going to be sitting in the museum anyway while we wait to take it to the British Museum. It could sit in store or go on display," explains Green pragmatically.

"If we don't put it out now then no-one's going to get to see it until probably the middle of next year.

"Personally, as an outsider, I find it quite frustrating that you hear about these hoards but you don’t get a chance to see them before they go off to the experts. This is a chance to actually see the objects while the process is happening."

Watch a video of the excavation:

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