"Very rare" examples of "huge wealth": Chatteris Museum's Bronze Age shield and rapier

By Ben Miller

Co-curator Ian Mason on plans for prehistoric splendour at the Chatteris Museum in Cambridgeshire

A photo of a circular prehistoric bronze shield
A replica bronze shield and spear head created for new exhibition The Ancient Human Occupation of Chatteris© Courtesy Chatteris Museum
“A Bronze Age shield and rapier are very rare examples of the huge wealth our predecessors had – they are the modern-day equivalent of buying the world's most expensive sports car and watch. Incredibly, they were both placed in the water as gifts to the gods.

The 3,500-year-old rapier was found in a log boat. The shield, one of three from the nearby River Ouse area, was also found with a spear head sometime in the mid-1800s.

We hope to have reproductions made of these items, by an expert, to show what they looked like and give people the opportunity to see and feel the quality of the workmanship from so long ago.

Chatteris Museum, supported by our town councillor trustees, is working to create an exhibition of items found in Chatteris that are being loaned to us.

They cover flint tools from the Paleolithic period of the stone age dating back to 780,000 BC – some of the earliest ever found in Britain and made by hominins such as Homo Antecessor and Neanderthal man.

There are also items from the Mesolithic, Neolithic Bronze Age and Iron Age. Almost a million years of our history are being brought together from local and national museums to present a unique exhibition of the rich heritage of this town and parish.

A photo of some ancient spear-shaped artefacts against a white surface
© Courtesy Chatteris Museum
We have three Scheduled Ancient Monument sites, at Block Fen, Langwood Drove and Honey Hill. They include the largest Neolithic barrow cemetery and farm enclosure in the county, an Iron Age shrine, a hill fort and numerous other barrows.

There are more 150 artefacts from this period in the museum and on the Historic Environment Record.

Some are still held by individuals who have reported their items to the county's Finds Liaison Officer. During recent building work at Cromwell Community College, an Iron Age settlement dated to the 5th century BC was identified through carbon dating animal bone and pottery.

To enable the exhibition to cover these ages in more depth, we are looking for examples of Iron Age tribal coins, Neolithic and later pottery, bog oak and any metal, stone or other objects that could illustrate how our predecessors lived in Chatteris.

With help from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and our Fenland partner museums at March, Peterborough and Wisbech, we are arranging to borrow significant, internationally classified 'Chatteris' treasures.

Including the shield and rapier, for display in a custom-made secure and ergonomic display case, will cost £5,000.

The exhibition will run for three years and will require continuous help to research and provide access to schools and academics as well as reaching out to our community organisations to present the story of Chatteris before the Roman invasion of 43 AD.

We put a lot of emphasis on how the exhibition ties in to helping three local schools with the revised National Curriculum on history of the Stone Age. Sponsorship and donations are vital.

An application for Heritage Lottery Fund support has been submitted and so far we have had £15,500 in grants and donations.

The vision is that we can now purchase a number of other replica artefacts to allow children and adults to touch and handle items that are as they would have been in the Stone Age: axes with wooden handles, flint arrow heads on shafts and deer antler carved into fishing harpoons.

We hope to go out to more local community organisations, schools and events in Chatteris as well as continuing to run events presenting the exhibition to people in the museum.”

  • Inspired by the Natural History Museum's project, The Ancient Human Occupation of Chatteris is at Chatteris Museum now.

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