Helmets, Viking gold and Royal boars: Portable Antiquities Scheme releases 2011 report

By Culture24 Reporter | 03 December 2012
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A photo of various archaeological discoveries including Iron Age swords and other things
© Courtesy Portable Antiquities Scheme

Nearly 100,000 archaeological discoveries – ranging from Roman helmets to Viking gold – were made during 2011, according to the annual report by the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

In a typically eventful year of soil digging, including primetime exposure for the Scheme’s greatest breakthroughs on the ITV series Secret Treasures, the official figures show an eight percent rise in finds, with a total of 970 Treasure cases.

Huge online interest also saw the accompanying website, finds.org.uk, honoured as the best research and online collection at the Best of the Web awards, with more than 463,000 people looking at 820,000 finds on the database of discoveries.

“It is a scheme which is envied the world over,” said Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, praising the Department for Culture Media and Sport and Treasure Hunting magazine, the appropriately-named periodical which published the report.

“The ITV series this year shows just how much these finds have captured the public’s imagination. It has changed our understanding of the past.”

Peak figures for the series reached 4.2 million viewers.

“It never ceases to amaze me that such incredible important objects have survived in the ground for many hundreds of years,” said Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture, envisaging Britain as a place where discoveries are “waiting to be found by everyday people.”

“These objects are extremely exciting discoveries. They have great potential to rewrite the history of this country, and enrich local and national museums.”

This year's highlights:

An "extremely rare" late Iron Age helmet from near Canterbury, Kent:

Found by a metal- detectorist in October 2012, this copper-alloy helmet been upturned and used as vessel to hold a human cremation. A brooch found with the helmet probably once fastened a bag containing the bones.

Both the helmet and brooch date from the early to mid-first century BC.

A photo of an ancient circular helmet from the Roman period coloured green and brown
© Canterbury Archaeological Trust
“No other cremation has ever been found in Kent accompanied by a helmet and only a handful of Iron Age helmets are known from Britain,” says Julia Farley, the British Museum’s Iron Age curator.

“Therefore we think this example was probably made on the continent. It is fascinating to speculate how it came to be in a grave in Kent.”

The second largest hoard of Roman solidi (gold coins) ever found in Britain:

A metal-detectorist’s discovery near St Albans, in Hertfordshire, led the way to 159 coins from the late 4th and early 5th centuries, struck  in the Italian cities of Milan and Ravenna and issued under the Emperors Gratian, Valentinian II, Theodosius I, Arcadius and Honorius.

“This is a hugely exciting find,” said Richard Abdy, the Curator of Roman Coins as the British Museum.

“During the period of the Roman occupation of Britain, coins were usually buried for two reasons; as a religious sacrifice to the Gods, or as a secure store of wealth, with the aim of later recovery.

“The late date of the coins suggests their burial could have been associated with the turbulent separation of Britain from the Roman Empire in around 410 AD.” The hoard will be available to view in the Citi Money Gallery at the museum from December 4.

An important hoard of Viking Age gold and silver metalwork:

Two detectorists spotted this hoard on farmland near Bedale in North Yorkshire, leaving archaeologists from Yorkshire Museums to fully recover iron sword pommels, silver arm rings, brooches, ingots and more.

Some of the objects, which date to the late 9th and early 10th centuries, are decorated in late Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Scandinavian and Viking art styles.

“At the time the hoard was deposited the north of England was largely under Viking rule, with their capital at York,” says Barry Ager, the Medieval Curator at the British Museum .

“So the material in this significant hoard probably represents Viking bullion, either obtained by trade, or plundered or extracted from enemies, which could later be melted down and reused for jewellery, or further exchange.” The Bedale hoard will be available to view in Room 2 of the museum from December 4.

Boar mount associated with Richard III:

A Thames foreshaw discovery, the mount shows the boar chained, collared and wearing a crown, and it has a crescent – thought to be heraldic – above one of its legs.

“Given the renewed interest in Richard III, after the apparent discovery of his remains in Leicestershire, it is wonderful to have a London find associated with the king,” says Michael Lewis, the Deputy Head of PAS and Treasure.

“The mount is very similar to a number of boar badges which have been reported Treasure over the past few years, which were made for followers of Richard III (of York), as Duke of Gloucester, during the Wars of the Roses.

“Richard took the white boar as his sign; ‘bore’ may have also been an anagram of Ebor, the Latin for York.”
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