Curator's Choice: The Yorkshire archaeology Hoards going global with Google

| 06 November 2014

Curator’s Choice: Andrew Woods, Curator of Numismatics for York Museums Trust, on the Yorkshire Museum's collection of Yorkshire Hoards going global with Google

A photo of a large circular pot with silver coins next to it
© York Museums Trust
“The numismatic collection – money and medals – numbers over 40,000 objects and is one of the strongest in northern England.

Most of that material has been excavated with new finds coming up every year from farmers, metal detectorists and archaeologists.

A lot of that excavated material comes in the form of hoards – accumulations of wealth buried in the ground.

Yorkshire Hoards is a project between Google Cultural Institute and York Museums Trust looking at these hoards and what they can tell us about the history of the region.

Over the past 3,000 years, from the Bronze Age through to the 17th century, very large numbers of hoards have gone into the ground across Yorkshire.

These represented the safest way to store your wealth in a period before there were banks: ‘I know where I buried it, I can go and dig it up again at some point in the future.’

Quite why they all went into the ground is slightly more difficult. Some went into the ground, in all probability, because of unrest – times where there’s warfare see lots of hoards go into the ground.

Others may have more to do with offerings or rituals to the gods, that type of thing. The last type would be savings, gradually added to over many years.

The potential of these hoards is enormous – they can tell us about power, about belief, about ritual, all about the local and international links of the person who buried them.

“In short, they give us a window into the range of different periods across the region."

Middleham hoard vessel (above): Vessel with two handles and glossy olive green glaze inside. One of several vessels labelled

"The English Civil War was a period of huge upheaval with many years of battles, sieges and campaigning across most of England in the 1640s.

This unrest lead many to bury their wealth in the ground, likely for safe-keeping, while the high casualty count and displacement from land meant many could never go back and dig up their hidden money.

In Yorkshire alone, there are nearly fifty hoards from the period of conflict, more than in the preceding century of comparative peace in the region.

This hoard is one of those hidden during the Civil War and comes from Middleham. It is the largest hoard ever discovered from the Civil War and is amongst the biggest ever found, from any period.

Three large pots were found, full with over 5,000 silver coins. They show the huge amounts of wealth that were being hidden during the war.

Given the huge size of the hoard, it is unlikely that attempts to recover this amount of money were not made suggesting that the person who buried it was not able to come back and dig it up."

Prehistoric axeheads (1000BC - 700 BC). Socketed, three verticle ribs

A photo of a series of ancient axeheads
© York Museums Trust
“Prehistoric wealth is found buried in many areas across Yorkshire. The places that it is found suggest a close connection to the spiritual world.

Before coinage existed, the high status objects of the Bronze Age were weapons; axes, spears and swords. Around 3,000 years ago, groups of these objects were buried together in hoards, such as these axeheads from Westow.

The reason for their burial is usually suggested to be religious. They are often found near to water – in rivers or lakes – where they may have been thrown as an offering to a god or as a part of a ceremony.

The time taken to craft these objects and the amount of metal needed both suggest that these were rich offerings.”

Binnington Carr hoard bell. Perforated lug at the top. Contained silver coins

A photo of an ancient circular gold vessel with a series of silver Roman coins next to it
© York Museums Trust
"With the arrival of the Romans in Yorkshire in the 1st century AD, money and hoards changed completely.

The incoming Roman army brought with them a complex monetary system which swept away the coinage of the Iron Age. Coins of silver and bronze replaced the gold that had preceded the Romans.

Money largely left the sphere of ritual becoming a means of buying and selling rather than a purely prestige item.

Coinage was used from the outset of the Roman conquest of Yorkshire as can be seen from the hoard at Binnington Carr. 

This hoard was buried around 75AD, only four years after the arrival of the ninth legion in York. It was buried in a bronze bell and near to the Roman road toward the coast.

Both the bell and coins were unusual objects at the time and suggest that they were brought to Yorkshire by the incoming Roman soldiers."

Ryther Hoard jug: Unglazed jug with single handle. Contained the Ryther hoard

A photo of a broken pottery vessel next to a large group of ancient coins
© York Museums Trust
"The War of the Roses saw the Houses of York and Lancaster competing for the throne of England during the fifteenth century.

The final king of the house of York was Richard III who ruled between 1483 and 1485 when he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth. This was period of political turmoil but also one which appears to have had only a limited effect upon the lives of everyday people.

This is a large hoard found at Ryther, close to York. It is composed of over 800 silver coins with the latest coins being the earliest of Henry VII, who united the houses of York and Lancaster through marriage.

His coins date the hoard to about 1487 and the hoard also contains a small number of Richard III’s coinage which immediately preceded this.

The hoard is a mix of coins struck for both York and Lancastrian kings suggesting that, in spite of the war, it was business as usual for many people."

Roman arm purse: A copper alloy arm purse. The lid is missing and there is some damage around the opening. The purse is decorated with incised and geometric decoration

A photo of a circular ancient vessel next to four silver Roman coins
© York Museums Trust
"A regular legionary in the Roman was paid 300 denarii per year. From this figure he had to buy all of the clothing, equipment and food that he would need for the year.

This meant that there was little spare money for each soldier and that every coin was worth a lot.

Soldiers took care not to lose their pay and this arm purse found at Tadcaster shows the concern they had for safety.

Coins were concealed inside the band which could only be opened by its wearer. The four coins found inside were enough to buy a fine pair of boots or imported luxuries such as olive oil."

Tadcaster Arm Purse hoard denarius: Denarius of Marcus Aurelius

A photo of a large ancient silver coin with the head of an emperor engraved into it
© York Museums Trust
"This silver denarius of Marcus Aurelius was struck in 162-3 AD, a century after the arrival of the Romans in northern Britain.

During the second century AD, coinage began to be used more commonly beyond the narrow confines of the army, with an increasing number of Roman coin finds across Yorkshire."

Bishophill Hoard. Held in a crucible which is incomplete, part-reconstructed Stamford ware with a pronounced spout

A photo of a stack of ancient silver Roman coins
© York Museums Trust
"We have a silver penny struck for Harold II. He very briefly seized power during 1066, between the Death of Edward the Confessor in 1066 and the arrival of William the Conqueror.

He defeated Scandinavian kings at the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 but marched to Hastings where he was defeated by a Norman army.

On the front you can see Harold with a sceptre and crown, while on the back you can see the Latin word ‘pax’, meaning peace. Harold is proclaiming the King’s peace across the country.

The coin is from Bishophill, a suburb of York, and it’s likely to have been buried immediately after 1066, in ’67 or ’68, during the unrest that had accompanied William the Conqueror’s harrying of the north.

He raided and conquered much of this area. The coins within the hoard suggest that the short-term unrest did not do major damage to the economy of York – it was very much business as usual, and it certainly didn’t prevent York from going on to become one of England’s major Medieval mints."

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