Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Hoards: The Hidden History

I have always loved the idea of buried treasure, The thrill that must go with uncovering something not seen in such a long time, the mystery as to why they were never recovered and of course jewels, antiquities and coins!!!
So when I found out that The British Museum had a exhibition titled - Hoards: the hidden history of ancient Britain, I decided that I really should go especially since it ends in less then a week!

The British Museum
A hoard in its broadest sense is a group of items kept together, and hoards from the past are either deliberately discarded or ultimately lost.

One of the displays I was particularly looking forward to seeing was The Frome hoard, I had come upon an article about the discovery a while ago and was rather excited to get to see it in person....

The Frome Hoard
The Frome Hoard was found in April 2010 by metal detectorist Dave Crisp in Frome, Somerset. The hoard consists of 52,503 Roman bronze and base silver third century coins commonly known as radiates and is the biggest hoard ever discovered in a single vessel in Britain.

Coins From the Frome Hoard
The hoard also boasts the largest group of coins of the British Emperor Carausisus that have been found together and a group of five very rare Carausisus silver denarii (seen above). Oh think of all the things I could do with those lovely coins!

One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition is the way that they explored the reason behind why the hoards were buried, I had never put much thought into this side of things and had always just assumed things were buried for safe keeping and then lost/forgotten.
It is thought though that due to the location of the Frome Hoard was found, the quantity of low value coins and the fact that the pot was too fragile to be lifted out of the ground once filled with those coins (as well as other reasons) that it may have been a ritual offering made by the community.

Other hoards thought to be ritual offerings from the display include....

Miniature Shields from the Salisbury Hoard
One of the largest hoards of prehistoric metal objects found in Britain, The Salisbury Hoard, near Netherhampton, Wiltshire, was found in the 1980's. The items found were dug up with out the land owners permission or knowledge and sold illegally to a dealer who then sold on many of the items. When it came to light that a large amount of artefacts with out any provenance had come onto the antiques market people started to look for the culprits, four years later they were caught and charged with Theft.

The hoard consisted of over 600 objects, with a mix of Bronze Age metal work and iron age model weapons including 24 miniature shields, 46 model cauldrons (as shown in the photos above and below), 173 socked axes and a variety of tools such as knives, chisels, punches, a hammer and anvil.

Model Cauldrons from the Salisbury Hoard
Then there are founders hoards where the value is in the raw material rather then their face value and the metal for example may have been put aside for recycling.

Vessel from the Water Newton Hoard, Cambridgeshire
The Water Newton hoard found in 1974 contained 30 gold coins dating from AD 337 to 350 inside a leather purse at the bottom of a bronze vessel that was inside a ceramic bowl with weighed amounts of folded up pieces of silver sheet (which were once a bowl and vessel) on top of the purse. The weights of the silver pieces are significant (321g and 642g) weighing one and two Roman pounds in weight.

Purse hoards (accidental losses)

Replica of a money bag
While this Replica (very cool 3D print out) of a money bag from the Beau Street hoard before it was cleaned and separated, is not really a purse hoard (not a small accidental loss as there were 8 bags) it shows what a purse hoard would look like (on a larger scale) if you managed to dig it up intact! Traces of the leather bag that held the coins could be found on the outer most coins as a powder. Then there are Emergency hoards hidden in times of conflict and economic insecurity or spoils of war or proceeds of theft.
Hoard From Near Milton Keynes
This hoard from near Milton Keynes contains the raw materials for forging coins. The three vessels contain bronze pellets, hammered metal discs used to make coin blanks and coin blanks ready for striking with the design, there is also an upper and lower coin die. It is thought that the hoard was hidden to avoid the authorities discovering that the owner of these items was illegally forging coins.

Lastly there are also Grave goods, generally items placed in graves are not considered to be hoards but this tends to be a grey area as human bodies can completely decompose leaving no trace only the items buried with them.

I have always been really inspired by hidden treasures and ancient coins and hope that I will continue to be inspired, here are a few of my designs containing ancient items or inspired by treasure....

Collection of treasure jewellery
Top right 1641 coin with ceramic dagger by P......, top left Treasures necklace with old coin, polymer heart by the fab Rebekah of Tree Wing Studio and lamp work by the wonderful Genea of Genea Beads, bottom right treasure coin locket and bottom left ancient split Djenne Bead set studs.

I do know I could never part with any of my treasured bead hoard, could you?


  1. Wow, Niky, this is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your adventure. I do have some beloved gemstones that never seem to make it into jewelry, so I guess I have a hoard too.

  2. I have only been to that museum once. It is vast and I would love to explore it more. Your designs based on ancient pieces are wonderful.

  3. Really interesting, thanks for posting! I love your ceramic dagger and coin necklace.


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