Archive for the ‘Treasures’ Category

A kilo of 6th century gold found in Jelling

Sunday, September 5th, 2021

A hoard of gold objects from the 6th century has been discovered in a farmed field outside the town of Jelling, South Jutland, Denmark. The 22 objects have a total combined weight of 945 grams, so just under a kilo.

They were discovered in December by metal detectorist Ole Schytz who was new at the hobby and hadn’t even been out with his machine 10 times when he stumbled on one of the largest and most significant gold hoards ever found in Denmark. He alerted authorities and archaeologists from the Vejle Museums excavated the find site, keeping the massive find secret until now to deter looters.

The hoard contains two Roman gold coins that have been converted into pendants — including a gold solidus of Constantine the Great (285-337 AD) — and one piece of jewelry with gold granulation in an elaborate pattern, but most of the pieces in the hoard are bracteates. Bracteates were round medallions worn as pendants that were made in Northern Europe during the Migration Period. Typically bracteates are penny-sized with rudimentary engravings of figures from Nordic mythology. These are unusually large, the size of small saucers, and the quality of decoration is exceptionally high. They are also unusually varied. Often bracteates found in hoards are very similar in design, but every one of these is different, and there are runs and motifs never seen before on other bracteates.

The excavation revealed that the hoard was buried under the floor of a longhouse, and only a very powerful, very wealthy individual could have collected a treasure this vast. Archaeologists know there was a small town here during the Migration Period, but there was no previous indication that it was sufficiently important to attract a resident who was so massively wealthy and powerful that he could acquire so much gold and attract  artisans of such high caliber.

Many of the large gold hoards discovered in Scandinavia from this period are believed to have been buried as desperate offerings to appease the gods after a volcanic eruption in 535/536 A.D. generated an ash cloud that blocked the sun and caused widespread crop failure and famine. If it was not an offering, the hoard may have been buried to protect it from being stolen during this turbulent time.

One of the bracteates features the profile of a male head with a braid of hair. A bird is in front of him — they appear to be conversing — and under him is a horse. Between the horse’s head and front legs is a runic inscription that a preliminary translation interprets as “houaʀ” meaning “the High.” This may be a reference to the leader who buried the hoard, or the god Odin.

The gold objects are currently being conserved. The folded and bent pieces will be straightened out as much as prudence allows. In February, they will go on display at the Vejle Art Museum.

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17th c. gold coin treasure found during manor home reno

Thursday, September 2nd, 2021

A treasure of 17th century gold coins has been discovered during renovation of a mansion in Plozévet, Brittany, northwestern France. The coins were found in 2019 when the mansion’s owners, Véronique and François Mion, decided to connect two buildings (a barn and a plant nursery). Three stonemasons working on an interior wall came across a metal box filled with gold coins embedded in the wall. Three days later, they found a fabric bag of coins stashed over a beam on another wall.

All told, they recovered 239 gold coins, 23 minted under Louis XIII, 216 under Louis XIV. The coins were minted between 1638 and 1692. There are two stand-out pieces: a Louis d’or with the Templar Cross, struck by the Dijon mint and issued by King Louis XIII in 1640, and a Double Louis d’or with a long lock (referring to the tendril of hair curling down Louis’ neck) minted in Paris and issued by King Louis XIV in 1646 when he was all of eight years old. There are only 120 known examples of the Double Louis with long lock known to exist.

The earliest parts of the manor date to the 13th century. The estate is believed to have belonged to a family of wealthy merchants. The last known residents (before the current owners) lived there in the mid-18th century. The area was lively with trade in the 17th century, a stop on the network transporting Bordeaux wines to England and grains to northern Europe. The growth of ports in Normandy poached a lot of that business and the area suffered a steep economic decline between 1750 and 1850. Because the coins were minted in 19 different cities, archaeologists believe they were collected by a single individual, likely a merchant, who traveled for business.

The coins will be going under the hammer on September 23 in Angers. The pre-sale estimates for most of the coins range from €600 to €1200 . The Cross of the Templar coins is estimated to sell for €7,000-8,000. The estimate for the final take of all 239 coins is €250,000-300,000 ($296,000-$355,000).

By the terms of the 2016 Treasure law, all archaeological materials recovered in the country, including on private property, belong to the state. Because the Mions bought the mansion in 2012, the finds made within its walls are grandfathered in under the previous law, thus the proceeds of the auction will be split in half, with one share divided equally between the three stonemasons who found the coins and the other half going to the property owners. The Mions plan to use their windfall to pay down the ungodly sums this restoration is costing them.

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It’s a Bronze Age hoard bonanza!

Monday, August 23rd, 2021

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s pair of hoards comes news that four Late Bronze Age metal hoards have been unearthed near Gannat in central France. There are hundreds of bronze artifacts in these hoards, so many that the site contains by far the largest grouping of Bronze Age metal objects ever discovered in France. In fact, it is one of the richest Bronze Age metal deposit sites ever discovered in Europe.

The first known hoard at the site was plundered in 2017 by looters so unfortunately the precise location of the find is unknown and cannot be archaeologically investigated. It is now in the collection of the Anne de Beaujeu Museum in Moulins. To prevent the site’s utter despoliation by treasure hunters, an official archaeological excavation began in 2019 and has been ongoing since then.

The team discovered the remains of an unusually large fortified settlement dating to around 800 B.C., the end of the Bronze Age. The 30-hectare settlement was defended by a double row of ramparts, probably a wooden palisade with earthenware ditch, and dry stone walls estimated to have been 20 feet high.

Archaeologists found the first legally excavated hoards in 2020. The two large metal deposits were perfectly intact, which is extremely rare with hoards from this time period. They were still contained inside decorated pottery vessels. To preserve the contents and pots, the hoards were removed en bloc, CT scanned and then excavated in laboratory conditions.

Each vessel held dozens of bronze pieces, almost all of them whole and unbroken. There are weapons — axes, knives, daggers, spear tips — jewelry — bracelets, pendants, belt buckles — and fittings from chariots and horse harnesses. The objects were carefully arranged in the same way in both hoards. The jewelry was together at the bottom of the vase. A layer of sharp objects (sickles and gouges in one, swords/knives/spears in the other) was placed on top of the jewelry. The axe blades were placed above them head down. One intriguing element has never been found before in a Bronze Age hoard context: river pebbles, specifically chosen for their color. One of the hoards contained white pebbles, the other red.

Just this month, the team unearthed two more intact metal hoards. One was inside a ceramic pot topped with a plate. The other has no container. It is a deposit of ax blades in a pit, but they are placed in the exact same way as the axes were in the 2020 finds, head down, tail up.

Although fragile after 2,800 years, the bronze objects are in an exceptional state of preservation. “The axes, in particular, were little or not used,” underlines Pierre-Yves Milcent, which illustrates the paleomonetary role which they played, since, as in the Gallic time, elaborate systems of exchange of values ​​already existed in the Bronze Age. Ax blades were used as units of exchange. This point clearly illustrates that the intention of those who buried these precious objects was to sacrifice value to gods, in order to obtain their help during personal or collective crises, but also during social rites. For example inaugurating a building, a site, etc., adds Pierre-Yves Milcent, who remarks: “Sacrificing values ​​in the earth is a European habit, which continued during the Iron Age – the Gallic period – but which has in fact existed since the Campaniforme at least.”

The discovery of such a rich vein of Bronze Age metal deposits still in situ and intact gives archaeologists a unique opportunity to study Bronze Age Europe’s practice of voluntary, organized burial of metal valuables in places where there are neither graves nor temples to explain the offerings.

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Two medieval jewelry hoards found in Russia

Sunday, August 15th, 2021

Two unique medieval hoards have been discovered in Russia this summer: a set of Volga-Finnish jewelry from the 6th century and a group jewelry and a bowl from the late 11th century or first half of the 12th. The former is the first hoard of Volga-Finnish women’s jewelry from the Migration Period ever discovered in the Suzdal district of western Russia. The latter is a hoard of 32 silver jewels including neck torques, bracelets and rings that predates the known settlements in the area.

The Suzdal hoard was unearthed on the right bank of the Nerl-Klyazminskaya river. It is a set of jewelry from a traditional Volga Finn woman’s costume. The non-ferrous metal objects include fragments of a headdress, three bracelets, an open-work brooch, more than 300 beads and a remarkable group of six hollow duck-shaped pendants that were once threaded on a leather cord decorated with metal beads. Waterfowl had religious significance to the Volga Finns and other Finno-Ugric cultures, as they were associated with their creation myths. There was also a metal bowl with a looping handle that is an extremely rare import from the Middle East and is older than the jewelry. It may have had ritual use.

According to manager Nikolai Makarov of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archaeology, “These are not just collected items: they are elements of a woman’s costume. The find lifts the veil over the ‘Finnish prehistory’ of the Suzdal Opolye, which is known today to historians and archaeologists mainly as one of the centers of ancient Russian culture. Further research of the objects of the treasure and the settlement will make it possible to understand how Opolye was developed in the period preceding the Slavic colonization.”

Archaeologists believe the ornaments were hidden in a box made of birch bark near the settlement’s center, but the motive for hiding the treasure remains unknown.

The silver hoard was found on a forested slope near the village of Isady is northwestern Russia. The area has produced many a hoard — at least 17 documented ones — cached in the 13th century when the town of Ryazan became the first Russian city besieged by the Golden Horde forces of Batu Khan, Genghis’ grandson, in 1237. This one is earlier, however, and contains jewelry that is simpler in design and manufacture than the Ryazan treasures.

It is not a single set like the Suzdal jewelry, but rather wealth accumulated over time and buried, likely for safety. The jewels had been buried in a small container, now decayed. They include eight torques, 14 bracelets, 5 seven-rayed rings and several grivnas of the Novgorod type (triangular silver ingots). There are a variety of torque types, including twisted and braided ones, ones with hollow terminals and ones decorated with wolf’s tooth patterns. The bracelets are also varied in type (braided, knotted, smooth, rhomic ) and ornamented with varied motifs (crosses, palmettes).

The hoard has been dated by style, with comparable jewelry being widely found in hoards from the 11th and early 12th centuries. That not only predates the Ryazan siege and all its associated buried treasure, but also many of the settlements in the Staraya Ryazan area which date to the late 12th century.

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Gold, garnet Anglos-Saxon pyramidal mount found

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021

An Early Anglo-Saxon pyramidal mount with cloisonné inlay garnets has been discovered in the Breckland area of Norfolk by a metal detectorist. The rare object dates to between about 560 and 630 A.D., when the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk formed the independent Kingdom of East Anglia in the aftermath of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain.

A petite piece at 12mm x 11.9mm (0.4in x 0.4in), the gold pyramid has a square base and is inlaid on all four sides with three cloisonné garnets in two different styles on opposite sides: a stepped t-shape and a diagonal t with a wavy crossbar. The pyramid has a flat square top with a single cloisonné garnet. The borders between the pyramid’s facets are much thicker than the slim lines that divide the cells on the sides. The garnets have waffle-pattern foil backing, a technique often seen in Anglo-Saxon jewelry (e.g., the Staffordshire Hoard). One of the garnets on the side is missing and some of the others have suffered cracking and chipping. They are all of either Indian or Sri Lankan origin. Under the base of the pyramid is a slightly convex crossing the middle. The inside of the pyramid is hollow and currently full of soil.

[Finds liaison officer Helen] Geake said: “It would have been owned by somebody in the entourage of a great lord or Anglo-Saxon king, and he would have been a lord or king who might have found his way into the history books.

“They or their lord had access to gold and garnets and to high craftsmanship.”

While Anglo-Saxon pyramidal mounts have been found before — primarily as one-off finds rather than in a funerary context — it’s not entirely clear what their function was or where exactly they were mounted. The bar crossing the underside suggests it may have been a scabbard mount, used to secure the sword into the scabbard by threading the strap through the bar on the base of the pyramid

Pyramidal mounts were created and used from the late 6th century until the early 8th. They went from short, squat pyramids on square bases to taller, slimmer versions with a variety of shapes including circular, hexagonal and octagonal. The recently-discovered example is from the early period.

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Gold necklace found in Roman baths in Bulgaria

Monday, August 2nd, 2021

A gold chain necklace with three beads has been discovered in the Deultum National Archaeological Reserve in southeastern Bulgaria. The chain is broken and may have had more beads on it originally.

Founded in 69 A.D. by the Emperor Vespasian to the veterans of Legio VIII Augusta who had played a key role in securing the throne for him during the Year of Four Emperors, Deultum was the second Roman colony on the Balkan Peninsula and the first Roman city in what is now Bulgaria. It was strategically located on a major river with Black Sea access the ancient Thracian town of Develt. The port town prospered from trade and copper mining, growing into a large, well-planned city with numerous temples, civic buildings, an amphitheater and large public baths.

The necklace was discovered in one of the rooms of the ancient city’s public baths. Another significant treasure was unearthed in the adjacent room last October: a 2nd century earring with tiny glass balls at the end of three gold pendants artfully made to look like pearls. The earring bears a distinct resemblance to those worn by an elegant woman in one of the Fayum mummy portraits. They are not related, not part of a scattered hoard or owned by the same individual. The necklace was in a burned layer from the 5th century.

The gold jewelry discovered in the baths illustrates the wealth of the city and its established trade relations with other parts of the Roman Empire. Women in what is now Bulgaria wore the same fashionable accessories as women in Roman Egypt and Italy.

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Viking coin, hack silver hoard found on Man

Monday, July 19th, 2021

A Viking-era mixed hoard of coins and hack silver has been discovered on the Isle of Man. The group of 87 coins and 13 pieces of cut up silver arm-rings were discovered in April by retired police officer Kath Giles who has redefined beginner’s luck by finding four, count’em, four hoards since she began metal detecting three years ago. Only last December she discovered a magnificent assemblage of braided gold arm ring, cut silver armband and giant ball-type thistle brooch.

The coins were minted between around 990 and 1030 A.D. in England, Dublin, Germany and the Isle of Man. Most of them are silver pennies and bear the faces of King Cnut of England, Denmark and Norway, King Aethelred II of England and Holy Roman Emperor Otto I. The coins struck in Dublin and Man bear the image of King Sigtrygg Silkbeard, the Hiberno-Norse King of Dublin from the 990s until his abdication in 1036. The dates of the coins indicate the hoard was deposited around 1035 A.D., so right at the end of Silkbeard’s reign and in the waning decades of Viking Age hoard depositions on the Isle of Man.

Located in the middle of the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man was at the intersected of active trade routes linking Ireland, England and northern Europe during the Viking Age. This is represented in the diversity of coinage found in hoards from this era, and in the prevalence of hack silver, old jewelry cut into pieces for use as currency based on the purity of the precious metal content.

A comparable albeit far larger mixed hoard was discovered in Glenfaba in 2003. It dates to the same period, around 1020 A.D., and also contains a combination of Hiberno-Norse and Anglo-Saxon coins with a hefty proportion of hack silver.

[Numismatist Dr. Kristin] Bornholdt Collins said:

“The Northern Mixed hoard is the fourth Viking-Age coin hoard to be found in the Isle of Man in the last fifty years. It may have been added to over time, like a piggybank, accounting for some of the older coins, though for the most part it is a direct reflection of what was circulating in and around Man in the late 1020s/c. 1030.

Like the similarly dated, but much larger, Glenfaba deposit, found in 2003, the new hoard might be compared to a wallet containing all kinds of credit cards, notes and coins, perhaps of different nationalities, such as when you prepare to travel overseas, and shows the variety of currencies available to an Irish Sea trader or inhabitant of Man in this period. The two hoards together provide a rare chance to study the contents side by side, right down to the detail of the dies used to strike the coins. Having this much closely dated comparative material from separate finds is highly unusual and essentially “doubles” the value of each find.

In addition to the array of coins, both hoards contain a significant hack-silver or bullion portion, which would have been weighed out and possibly tested for its quality in the course of transactions. This is generally expected in finds dating to the ninth- and tenth centuries from Viking regions, but appears to be a special feature of the later Manx hoards, too. This may be because bullion was especially convenient for international trade since it was practical for any size transaction and was decentralized, a currency without borders or political affiliation; in this sense, it was a modern-day equivalent to a cryptocurrency—we might even say it was something like the original ‘Bit-coin’! It seems only logical, then, that it was so popular in a cosmopolitan trading hub like Man, even several decades into the 11th century, when closely regulated minted silver was well on its way to becoming the norm across Northern Europe”.

The hoard has been declared Treasure by the Isle of Man Coroner of Inquests. It is temporarily on display at the new Viking Gallery of the Manx Museum before traveling to the British Museum where a valuation committee will determine its fair market value. The hoard will be offered to Manx National Heritage

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Iron Age hoard found during highway construction

Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

Archaeologists excavating the site of highway construction in the Hillingdon neighborhood of West London have unearthed a hoard of more than 300 rare coins from the late Iron Age. The Hillingdon Hoard was found after a rainstorm exposed a patch of greenish soil indicating the presence of oxidized metal. Upon closer examination, the team spotted slim metal discs packed in the soil which proved to potins from the 1st century B.C.

Potins are coins made of a mixture of copper, tin and lead cast in Britain but copying an earlier Celtic coin minted 2,175 years ago in what is now Marseille. They are about 1.2 inches in diameter A stylized profile of Apollo facing left is on the obverse. A bull charging to the right is on the reverse.

The first series of potins produced in Britain, are known as Kentish Primary or Thurrock types, and are likely to have been made no later than 150 BC. Sometime before 100 BC, these rather bulky coins were replaced by thinner coins with more degenerate designs, now called Flat Linear types. Over a period of several decades, the Flat Linear potins gradually evolved into a wide variety of forms, with the depiction of the bull and the head of Apollo becoming more and more stylised. The Hillingdon Hoard is late in the Flat Linear sequence.

A hoard of a similar size, the ‘Sunbury hoard’ was discovered in 2010 but the potins were dated much earlier in the Iron Age. Potins from late in the Iron Age, similar to the Hillingdon Hoard, have been found previously but in much smaller quantities, making this find very significant.

Hillingdon Hoard after discovery. Photo courtesy HS2.The coins have been removed to a lab for cleaning, conservation and assessment of condition. They will be catalogued and analyzed by experts to learn more about their origins. The find has been reported to the local coroner to initiate the process of determining whether the hoard qualifies as treasure. (It does, no question.)

Potin cleaned. Video by Drakonheritage.
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“Nationally important” Roman ritual bronzes fall through Treasure Act loophole

Thursday, May 20th, 2021

A hoard of nationally important Roman ritual bronzes that includes a bust of Emperor Marcus Aurelius have sold at auction to an unknown buyer for £185,000 ($260,000) thanks to the still-open loophole in the 1996 Treasure Act.

The assemblage was discovered last May by metal detectorists James Spark and Mark Didlick in a field near the village of Ampleforth in the Ryedale district of North Yorkshire. They first unearthed a figurine of a horse and rider. A foot away they dug up the bust and a conical plumb bob. They found the a key handle in the shape of the forequarters of a horse the next day. The hoard was then taken to York Museum and examined by archaeologists.

The bust is finely modelled, with detailed facial features and curled hair. There are rivet holes on the front of the chest plate indicating that it was originally mounted onto something, probably a priestly scepter. The features identify the bust as a portrait of Marcus Aurelius, which means the deposit dates to the 2nd century at the earliest.

Two comparable deposits found in the 19th century also included a scepter head bust of an emperor, horse and rider figurines and mounts and fittings. The plumb bob has no parallel in votive deposits. Archaeologists believe the inclusion of the key component of a surveyor’s tool may be an indication that the offering was related to construction, perhaps asking the sanction of the gods for the creation of a new town boundary (pomerium).

Despite the great archaeological significance of the assemblage, it does not qualify as treasure because it’s not two or more coins 300 years old or older, not made of precious metal and not prehistoric. This loophole springs from a ludicrously outdated definition of treasure established in medieval common law. The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport finally addressed the problem and a revision of the act that would plug the loophole was written in 2019. Unfortunately the complexities of the legislative process — public consultation period, further research, the publication of said research, the official drafting of the legislation and its passage by Parliament — mean it won’t actually be law until 2022 at the earliest.

So now the Ryedale Ritual Bronzes join the Crosby Garret helmet, the Roman licking dog, the Allectus aureus and who knows how many other treasures of cultural patrimony that haven’t made the press. Let’s hope the buyer turns out to be a museum, or at least a generous donor.

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Bronze Age jewelry depot found in Sweden

Sunday, May 2nd, 2021

More than 50 pieces of bronze jewelry from the late Bronze Age have been discovered in Alingsås, southwestern Sweden. Dating to between 750 and 500 B.C., it is one of the largest Late Bronze Age ceremonial depositions ever found in Sweden, and one of the most spectacular in terms of quality and condition of the objects. It’s also the first time since the Fröslunda shields were unearthed in the 1980s that a Swedish Bronze Age votive find has been excavated by archaeologists.

The first objects were found by chance by Tomas Karlsson who was documenting the wooded terrain for an orienteering map. He spotted 10 pieces scattered on open ground in front of some boulders. At first he thought they were trash, random metal bits from a broken lamp, perhaps. When he leaned closer, he saw an intricate spiral and a necklace.

The find was reported and county officials commissioned an archaeological investigation to recover any other artifacts that might be at the site and to learn everything they could about their context. Last week, archaeologists and conservators from the regional cultural development administration teamed up with researchers from the University of Gothenburg to survey the find site. They found about 50 objects either intact or in large part extant, plus about 20 bronze fragments of indeterminate origin and 10 iron fragments.

About 20% of the objects were found inside a pot placed under a boulder. The other 80% were found outside the pot but in proximity to it. Archaeologists suspect the objects had been dislodged from under the pot by wild animals using the spaces between and beneath the boulders to burrow and/or nest.

They artifacts in such pristine condition that at first glance they were suspected of being modern copies, but closer inspection revealed that they were authentic Bronze Age pieces.

“Most of the finds consist of bronze objects that can be associated with a high-status woman from the Bronze Age. They have been used to decorate various body parts, such as necklaces, bracelets and foot rings, but also large needles and hoops that have been used to decorate and hold up various forms of clothing that were probably made of wool,” says Johan Ling professor of archeology at the University of Gothenburg .

In addition to necklaces, clothes pins, spirals, chains and a tutulus (clothing or belt ornament), a hollow ax and residual products from bronze casting were found. A rod that is believed to have been used to stimulate and spur horses was also found. It is a type of object that has been found in Denmark but not so far in Sweden.

The location alone is highly unusual for a Bronze Age deposition site. Bronze and Iron Age peoples sacrificed high-value metalwork for religious reasons. Usually these sacrifices were made in and around lakes and rivers, so the ritual offerings have been unearthed in the peat bogs and agricultural land the ancient bodies of water turned into over the centuries. This site is woodland, not wetland, and it was forested when the objects were deposited.

The objects are now being conserved and studied, with the immediate emphasis on ensuring their stability now that they’ve been removed from the protective cocoon and exposed to air. Eventually they will likely be put on public display in a museum close to the find site.

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