The Rillaton Gold Cup - Is There More Where That Came From?

By David Prudames | 31 January 2003
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Shows the Rillaton Barrow near Minions on Bodmin Moor.

Left: the Rillaton Barrow near Minions on Bodmin Moor, where workmen found a burial cairn in 1837. © Mike Ward.

More than 150 years ago, it yielded one of Britain's top ten treasures, now archaeologists are set to find out what else Bodmin Moor is hiding.

Cornwall Archaeological Unit, English Heritage and the British Museum are teaming up to conduct the first comprehensive survey of an area, where in 1837, the 3,000-year-old Rillaton Cup was found by workmen in search of stones for building.

The eight cm high gold cup, found alongside human remains, was named by a BBC television programme aired on New Years Day as one of the ten most important discoveries ever made in Britain.

A senior archaeologist with the Cornwall Archaeology Unit told the Cornish Guardian how the project had caused a great deal of excitement, despite still being at the development stage.

"What we want to do is study the whole of the landscape," explained Jacky Nowakowski.

Shows the Rillaton Gold Cup.

Right: the Rillaton Gold Cup - a national treasure to many, but collar stud holder to some.

"There are a lot of upstanding prehistoric remains in that area and the key thing we want to look at is the significance of the Rillaton barrow in relation to that landscape and how it has developed over time."

It is hoped the first phase of the survey, the identification of potential excavation sites, can begin in the summer, while the resulting fieldwork is expected to take around two years.

The site is littered with likely excavation candidates, which could tell us more about our ancient past. Two possible Neolithic enclosures are already partly visible and there is also the Hurlers ceremonial monument, not to mention the Rillaton Barrow itself.

What will come out of the site in terms of artefacts remains to be seen, but if the gold cup, which was undoubtedly a symbol of wealth and power, is anything to go by they have the potential to be very exciting.

With any luck any artefacts will avoid the fate of their predecessor - handed over to William IV as treasure trove, the Rillaton Cup was forgotten and picked out of the Royal Collection by George V to be used as a container for his collar studs.

Thankfully its true importance was realised and it was eventually put on display at the British Museum.

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