Festival of Archaeology 2014: The story of an early Bronze Age lunula found in Dorset

By Ben Miller | 21 July 2014

Festival of Archaeology 2014: Finds Liaison Officer Ciorstaidh Hayward Trevarthen on an early Bronze Age lunula discovered in Dorset

A photo of a gold shard with decorations within it
© Portable Antiquities Scheme
“Although there are lots in Ireland, this is only the 13th Bronze Age lunula from mainland Britain. It’s only the third one on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database.

We were very unlikely to find it because it’s quite a deep, compact, hefty ploughsoil from medieval times. It’s produced a lot of interest.

A photo of two gold rings
A medieval gold finger-ring with a circular bezel containing a miniature representation of an open book, found in West Dorset© Portable Antiquities Scheme
We were very lucky to get the South Somerset Archaeological Research group to come and do the geophysical survey for nothing.

We’ve done the digging at relatively low cost and the report will be done on the cheap, which is very generous of the archaeologists concerned.

The detectorist was great. They took advantage of the fact there was a grid laid out. Diligence and methodical searching produced the find.

They’ve undertaken the beginnings of a controlled metal detector survey based on that grid, which is really useful and, in fact, turned up a second piece of the lunula.

There were two-thirds of it and I think we’ve bumped that up to about three-quarters.

It was found at the very end of March. I had a message on the Sunday; I think the Stour Valley Search and Recovery Club found it on the Saturday.

I’ve been working with them since I started in 1999. They’ve been fantastic. They are a very responsible club.

A photo of two dark silver coins with writing etched upon them
Penny of Coenwulf, king of Mercia (796-821), minted in Canterbury by the moneyer Duda© Portable Antiquities Scheme
We had a very accommodating landowner who chucked the cows out of the field so we could do this work.

It’s been a great project. It’s been the highlight of my career, I would say.

The lunular is now in the British Museum, I took it up there. It’s gone there because they can open a drawer and say, ‘ooh, it’s one of those’, whereas I can’t do that down here – I’ve got a couple of books and that’s it.

The first two-thirds is a bit bent out of shape, but not too bad. It’s a crescent-shaped sheet of gold. It tapers to the points of the crescent and then expands again into sub-rectangular, little flat terminals.

They’re absolutely beautifully done. We think they’re neck rings or some sort of personal adornment.

They’re not found in grave settings very often. They may have been worn by people or they may be symbolic and hung off an effigy.

A photo of two dark silver coins
A large medieval silver signet ring, the bezel engraved with a five-lobed flower containing the letter 'I'. The ring dates to the 15th or early 16th century© Portable Antiquities Scheme
This one’s fairly plain but there is geometric decoration at the horns. They’re decorated with triangles and lines, quite like beaker pottery – there’s probably a relationship between these and the geometric decoration you get on contemporary pottery.

It’s beautiful but it’s a provincial type. The classical types in Ireland have much finer decoration.

Although the decoration on these is good, when you look more closely it’s just a little bit haphazard.

The peaks of the triangles don’t quite meet. Lines overlap. It’s quite personal: one craftsman’s effort.

It represented quite a lot of wealth right at the start of the Bronze Age. The reasons for their deposition are quite poorly understood. A lot were antiquarian finds.

There’s one from Scotland that came up in railway ballast. They don’t seem to have much context.

It’s in limbo and hasn’t actually been declared treasure yet, but it fits the bill in that it’s more than 300 years old and more than 10 percent precious metal.

The final report will be knocked into shape at the British Museum. Once they’re happy with that it’ll be submitted to the coroner and he will hold an inquest.

At that point it will be valued for a fair market value. Good luck to them with this one, because they don’t come on the market very often.

The Dorset County Museum is interested in acquiring it, so they will be starting fundraising very shortly, I would imagine. It’s a big ask.

I’ve no idea how much it will actually be, but it won’t be cheap. They’ll approach the Art Fund and things like that.

I don’t know whether the landowner and finder will allow their share to be donated. I have had it happen fairly frequently. I’ve also had surprising things that aren’t really worth a great deal which people are still not happy to donate.

There was a hoard of coins that nobody wanted but they ended up going to a coin dealer via the finder and landowner. The price they were at was a bit on the expensive side for the museum.

I knew the finder didn’t want them because that was about the first thing he said to me: ‘I hope somebody buys them because what am I going to do with several thousand Roman coins?’

They weren’t particular pretty, they were grotty. He was quite interested in their history but he just didn’t want drawers full of decaying alloy coins, quite understandably.

They didn’t get a lot for them, in the end. It’s a shame they weren’t donated, but I can’t do any more than suggest.

I’ve just had a smaller coin hoard that’s been donated to the County Museum. A small group of medieval coins came from the upcast of some electricity company work in a street in Dorchester.

She just picked them off the soil and eventually brought them in for reporting, not realising she even had to do that.”

  • Ciorstaidh Hayward Trevarthen will be leading Festival of Archaeology events at Dorset County Museum (July 22, 10am-1pm) and Sturminster Newton Museum (July 24, 10am-3pm). The Festival of Archaeology 2014 runs until Sunday (July 27), visit archaeologyfestival.org.uk.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a hoard of bronze age finds on a table covered by a blue cloth
A Bronze Age hoard of 303 bronze socketed axes, broken socketed axes and socketed axe fragments, found in 2007© Portable Antiquities Scheme
A photo of two circular archaeological artefacts
A silver annular brooch or buckle from the 13th-14th century© Portable Antiquities Scheme
A photo of two long gold archaeological artefacts against a white background
A small Bronze Age fragment of gold strip tapering to a tongue-shaped terminal© Portable Antiquities Scheme
A photo of shards of a silver archaeological artefact with red and green decorations
A fragment from a enamelled cast copper alloy flat-ring terret of probable late Iron Age date© Portable Antiquities Scheme
A photo of an iron age clothing piece in mottled brown, silver and green
A cast copper alloy Williams' Class A, Type 15 variant stirrup strap mount of late early-medieval date© Portable Antiquities Scheme
More on the Festival of Archaeology:

Angie Bolton chooses an Iron Age comb, medieval matrix and Bronze Age vessel

Anna Tyacke on Roman gold, a medieval matrix and an amulet in Cornwall

Julian Watters looks at pickaxes, brooches, dogs and Roman cups
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