Hoard of Roman Coins Leads to the Discovery of Important Site in England

Hoard of Roman Coins Leads to the Discovery of Important Site in England

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A remarkable discovery of a hoard of Roman coins has led experts to an archaeologically rich site in Yorkshire in England. The hoard of Roman coins was found by enthusiasts using metal detectors and this led directly to the discovery of a major site. This discovery is really exciting the archaeological community and it is expected to offer new insights into the Roman presence in the North of England.

Romans in Yorkshire

The Romans invaded England in the mid-first century BC during the reign of Emperor Claudius. In the 70s AD, the Roman 9 th legion marched into Yorkshire in the north of England, where they established a major center - York. The site was selected because of its strategic value and the legions turned York into a major fortress. This settlement became a city and one of the most important in Roman Britain and Yorkshire over time became increasingly Romanized.

City of York Wall was originally built by the Romans, although little from that era remains. (CC0)

The discovery of the coins

Three years ago, a team of detectorists was exploring an area in Yorkshire that has not been identified. A group of friends, all experienced detectorists, Paul King, Robert Hamer and Robin Siddle, came across a small hoard of silver coins. They alerted the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which records discoveries made by the public. The find was made on private land and the local coroner will eventually decide ownership of the hoard of Roman coins.

The decision was taken to keep the location secret. This was done, according to The Guardian ‘to enable archaeologists to explore the area’ and to protect the location from the unwanted attention of looters. The owner of the land where the site is located has already had one suspected looter trespassing on his land, arrested. There has been an increase in the number of archaeological artifacts being sold on the illegal antiquities market in recent years, especially through auction websites.

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The detectorists unearthed 10 silver coins that were almost 2000 years old. According to the Smithsonian ‘the coins date to the reign of Emperor Vespasian, who ruled between 69 and 79 A.D’. This was exactly at the time when the Roman legions were occupying the Yorkshire region. This alerted archaeologists to the potential of the location where the coins were uncovered, and sure enough, after further investigations they have found a large Roman-era site.

A silver Denarius of Vespasian, AD69-79. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

The group of experts who made the major discovery was not a typical one. They were crowdfunded by members of the public on the DigVentures sharing platform. According to The Guardian this was ‘founded by archaeologists in 2012 to fill the gap left by severe cuts to research archaeology by universities and local authorities’. The team of experts exploring the settlement have recently also received a grant from the UK National Lottery.

The Roman Settlement

The discovery is believed to be one of the earliest Roman settlements in Yorkshire. A great many shards of fine pottery, mosaics, and elaborate bowls have been unearthed and this suggests trading links with the Mediterranean, indicating that those who resided here were wealthy. The Daily Telegraph reports that the leader of the team, Chris Casswell has stated that “we have discovered evidence for… a high-status site.” The team have also found the remnants of extensive stone walls and it is reported by the Archaeology website, that these indicate the “possible remnants of one or two villas.”

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The hoard was found at a secret location in Yorkshire, a county that was heavily Romanized. ( Public Domain )

The team have also found three neonatal burials, that is the graves of infants. At the time there was a very high level of infant mortality. It seems that the infants were buried with some jewelry and in one burial there is a brooch that once tied a cloak. This is providing more evidence that the site was one where those of high-status lived in the first century AD.

The Importance of the Settlement

The discovery is one of the most important in recent years in Yorkshire. The apparently early date of the find is exciting and usually, only sites from the 2 nd and 3 rd century have been explored. It is allowing experts to investigate the Roman presence in Yorkshire from the very beginning. The high- status settlement is also going to allow them to have a better understanding of the process of Romanization in the north of England and the lifestyle of the elite in Roman Britain. This find also demonstrates that detectorists can play a positive role in the unearthing of our past and can help to make major discoveries.

A Farmer’s Misplaced Hammer Led to the Largest Roman Treasure in Britain

November 16, 1992 was the day which changed Suffolk-resident Eric Lawes’ life in a huge way. What he thought would have been an innocent search for a hammer he had misplaced on his farm in Hoxne Village, Suffolk, England ended up bringing him much more than he had bargained for — namely, uncovering the hiding spot of a long-hidden treasure.

Based on the Guardian’s coverage of the story, Eric Lawes had been previously gifted a metal detector upon his retirement as a parting token. He decided to put his retirement gift to good use in order to locate the hammer which he had had some trouble finding.

According to a 2018 Smithsonian Magazine article, when the device started recording that there was a strong signal coming from the earth, he knew that he was about to discover something big. As he started digging, it soon became clear to him that he had unearthed a treasure trove.

Hoxne Village. Photo by Duncan Grey CC BY-SA 2.0

The Guardian reports that, when Lawes saw that his preliminary digging had yielded a few gold coins and silver spoons, he immediately contacted both the local archaeological society and the police department.

Archaeologists came to the property the following day and had the area of earth holding the treasure carefully sectioned-off and removed. Their hope was that at a later stage, in their laboratory, they could examined the items in order to identify both their age and how they were stored.

Hoxne Hoard: Display case at the British Museum showing a reconstruction of the arrangement of the hoard treasure when excavated in 1992. Photo by Mike Peel CC BY-SA 4.0

When all was said and done, close to 60 pounds of items made from silver and gold were found on the site. These included more than 15,000 Roman coins, 200 gold objects, and several silver spoons.

For archaeologists, this find — which later became labeled as the Hoxne Hoard — was an incredible discovery. AP News reported that archaeologist Judith Plouviez was over-the-moon about the discovery, saying that it was “an incredibly exciting and amazing find.” What’s more, another archaeologist, Rachel Wilkinson, told Smithsonian Magazine that this discovery was “the largest and latest ever found in Britain.”

Hoxne Hoard: Coins. Photo by Mike Peel CC BY-SA 4.0

Ordinarily, archaeologists would use radiocarbon dating as a means of identifying the age of ancient relics. However, they couldn’t locate any suitable material from the haul. Consequently, they determined the age by examining writing on the coins, as well as the ruler carved into them, estimating that the treasure was probably buried in either 408 or 409 AD.

The silver “Hoxne Tigress” – the broken-off handle from an unknown object – is the best known single piece out of some 15,000 in the hoard. Photo by Mike Peel CC BY-SA 4.0

Roman-era archaeologist Peter Guest told Smithsonian Magazine that “if you look at them a little more carefully, then they should be dated to the period after the separation of Britain from the Roman Empire.”

He offers as part of his evidence the fact that almost all of the coins found in the Hoxne Hoard were clipped – in other words, small chunks of their edges had been taken off. These clippings would have been used to create coins which were similar to the Roman coins of that era.

A silver-gilt spoon with a marine beast from the Hoxne Hoard. Currently in the British Museum. Photo by JMiall CC BY-SA 3.0

Guest has a logical reason for this, arguing that “The Roman Empire wasn’t supplying Britain with new gold and silver coins, and in light of that, the population tried to get over this sudden cutoff in the supply of their precious metals by making the existing supplies go further.”

Reconstruction of the Hoxne treasure chest. Photo by Mike Peel CC-BY-SA-4.0

Archaeologists also believe that the treasure belonged to a Romano-British family. During that time, considering that there was so much societal discord and upheaval, it was common for Romans who had settled in Britain to bury their most prized possessions.

Two gold bracelets from the Hoxne Hoard, in the British Museum. Photo by Fæ CC BY-SA 3.0

That said, one archaeologist is of the belief that the hoard had a lot of sentimental value for the Romano-British family to whom it is believed to have belonged. In her book The Hoxne Late Roman Treasure: Gold Jewellery and Silver Plate, Catherine Johns claims that the manner in which the treasure was kept supported this claim.

Some of the items which were recovered had been packaged in small, wooden boxes which were lined with leather. What’s more, pieces of wood, locks, and nails, among other things, surrounded the gold and silver pieces. This leads Catherine to assert that the package was carefully buried and not simply chucked away in a rush.

Three silver-gilt Roman piperatoria or pepper pots from the Hoxne Hoard on display at the British Museum

Interestingly enough, the items unearthed might shed some light on the identity of the family who owned them. They cite a gold bracelet bearing the inscription “UTERE FELIX DOMINA IULIANE,” which roughly translates to “use this happily Lady Juliane”.

A second name “Aurelius Ursicinus” has also been discovered. This has consequently led some to believe that Juliane and Aurelius were the couple and the original owners of the treasure. That said, that has yet to be confirmed.

Two toiletry items, one in the shape of a crane-like bird the other with an empty socket, probably for bristles for a makeup brush. Photo by Fæ CC BY-SA 3.0

All in all, the discovery was a real treasure for archaeologists, and by extension, for Lawes. According to Smithsonian Magazine, in recognition of his discovery and willingness to contact authorities, the British government rewarded him with over £1.7 million, an amount which he shared with the farmer whose land was dug out in order to get the treasure.

Funnily enough, apart from the treasure, Lawes also found his lost hammer — which now resides in the British Museum.

Gold coin stash from time of Henry VIII found in English garden

A family in England was weeding their garden when they unearthed a valuable treasure — a buried hoard of gold coins dating back to the 1400s, depicting English monarchs from Edward IV to Henry VIII.

The hoard — a stash of 63 gold coins and one silver coin — contains money minted over a period of nearly 100 years, from the late 15th to the 16th centuries. Four of the coins feature Henry VIII and, curiously, one of the initials of three of his wives: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour.

Upon finding the cache, the family, in the New Forest district of Hampshire, a county in southeastern England, notified the British Museum, which runs the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). This program partners with local people who find historical artifacts in the United Kingdom, so the findings can be documented and studied, the British Museum said in a statement Thursday (Dec. 10).

The coins were likely buried in about 1540, while King Henry VIII was still alive, but it's unknown whether this burial spot was like a piggy bank, where someone regularly deposited coins, or whether the hoard was buried all at once, according to the British Museum. Whoever saved the coins, however, was a person of means: The collection was worth about £24 at the time, the equivalent of $18,600 (£14,000) today, Barrie Cook, a curator of medieval and early modern coins at the British Museum, told The Guardian. That's much more than the average annual wage during Tudor times.

In all likelihood, a wealthy merchant or clergy member buried the hoard, John Naylor, a coin expert from the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford, told The Guardian. "You have this period in the late 1530s and 1540s where you have the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and we do know that some churches did try to hide their wealth, hoping they would be able to keep it in the long-term," he said.

The newfound coins are "an important hoard," Naylor added. "You don't get these big gold hoards very often from this period."

As for the coins themselves, it's a mystery why the initials of Henry's wives were present. In 1526, Henry and Thomas Wolsey, an English archbishop, statesman and cardinal of the Catholic Church, redid the monetary system, changing coins' weights and beginning new denominations, such as the five-shilling gold coin, The Guardian reported.

"Not only does he change denominations, he has this very strange decision of putting his wife's initial on the coin," Cook said. Such a move had no precedent. And given Henry VIII's many marriages (six in all), the initials changed frequently. But after his third marriage to Jane Seymour, the mother of Edward VI who died shortly after childbirth, Henry discontinued the practice, meaning that his following wives (Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr) did not see their initials on English money.

ɼhuffed to nuts'

Kevin Minto, from Detecting for Veterans - a group for ex-services personnel, discovered the coins and then found the grave when he returned to the site with the county archaeologist, Bob Croft.

Mr Minto said he originally found two coins and then a number of others close by.

"That was when I realised we had a hoard," he said.

"Obviously it's an important find, the archaeologists are chuffed to nuts and they'll do whatever they have to," he added.

"This is a very special site, a rare discovery of lead coffins," Mr Croft said.

"Lead ones that we know go from Shepton Mallet to Wiveliscombe, and this central part of Somerset - so this one is an unusual one."

There were 37 reported cases of treasure found in Somerset in 2016, the largest for five years.

Norfolk topped the list with 130 discoveries in 2016, a figure put down to how rural the area is.

Treasure is easier to find in areas with a lot of farming, as soil gets turned by ploughs and brings new finds to the surface.

ɾxtremely valuable'

The curator added that gold coins were "extremely valuable" and not exchanged on a regular basis.

"They would have been used for large transactions such as buying land or goods by the shipload," he said.

"Typically, the wealthy Roman elite, merchants or soldiers receiving bulk pay were the recipients."

The 1996 Treasure Act legally obliges finders of historic metal objects to report their discovery to the local coroner who determines whether or not it constitutes treasure.

A Search for a Lost Hammer Led to the Largest Cache of Roman Treasure Ever Found in Britain

When Eric Lawes set off for a field in Hoxne village, Suffolk on November 16, 1992, it wasn’t on a treasure hunt. The metal detector he’d received as a retirement gift was meant to find a hammer lost on the farmland. But the detector picked up a strong signal in the earth, leading Lawes to start digging, and it quickly became apparent that he had indeed found treasure.

After bringing up only a few shovelfuls of silver spoons and gold coins, Lawes quickly retreated and called the police and the local archaeological society. The very next day, as covertly as possible, the archaeologists excavated a chunk of earth with the treasure still contained within. This way, they could remove the objects under laboratory conditions, which would help determine the age and storage method of the cache. By the time everything had been removed from the dirt, the archaeologists had nearly 60 pounds of gold and silver objects, including 15,234 Roman coins, dozens of silver spoons and 200 gold objects.

Lawes received ٟ.75 million from the British government for finding the gold and leaving it intact, which he split with the farmer on whose land the hoard was uncovered (he also eventually found the hammer, which later went on exhibit). As for archaeologists, they had their own reward: of the 40 treasure hoards discovered in Britain, the Hoxne Hoard was “the largest and latest ever found in Britain,” says Rachel Wilkinson. The project curator for Romano-British collections at the British Museum, where the artifacts reside, Wilkinson says the unique way this hoard was excavated, compared to how most are retrieved by farmers plowing their field, makes it invaluable.

In the 25 years since the unearthing of the Hoxne hoard, researchers have used the objects to learn more about one of Britain’s most turbulent periods: the island’s separation from the Roman Empire in 410 A.D.

The prancing tiger was once the handle of a large vase or amphora, discovered in the Hoxne Hoard in 1992. (British Museum)

The end of the fourth century A.D. was an unsettled time for the Roman Empire. The territory stretched across the entirety of the Mediterranean world, including all of the land that would come to be Italy, Spain, Greece and France and large chunks of North Africa, Turkey and Britain. Under Emperor Theodosius, Christianity became the sole religion of the empire, while all other belief systems became illegal, a dramatic change after centuries of polytheism. And while parts of the Empire continued to thrive, the Western Roman Empire was deteriorating. Gothic warriors won battles and killed leaders like Emperor Valens, and in 410 the Visigoths (nomadic Germanic peoples) sacked Rome. Meanwhile, Roman subjects in Britain were left to fend for themselves against raiders from Scotland and Ireland, having lost the support of Roman soldiers even before the separation from the Empire.

“The years from the later fourth century to 450, the period including the British hoarding peak, witnessed numerous invasions into the [mainland Europe] Empire by Germanic and Hunnic groups often followed by largescale devastation and disruption,” writes Roman archaeologist Peter Guest, the author of The Late Roman Gold and Silver coins from the Hoxne Treasure.

This level of societal upheaval has led to the “hoards equal hordes” hypothesis. Basically, Romano-British citizens who no longer had the protection of the Roman Empire were so terrified of the raiding Saxons, Angles, Picts and others that they buried their most valuable belongings. According to an entry from 418 in the 9th-century text Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, “In this year the Romans collected all the treasures which were in Britain and hid some in the earth so that no one afterwards could find them, and some they took with them into Gaul.”

For all their fears of “barbarians,” the Romano-British weren’t only the only people in the Roman Empire to experience upheaval—yet nowhere else have hoards been discovered in as dense of numbers as in Britain. Could there be an alternate explanation for why some wealthy family buried so much gold in the ground?

Because no organic materials survived in the Hoxne hoard, radiocarbon can’t be used as a dating technique. Instead, archaeologists use the age of coins, which they arrive it by looking at inscriptions on the coin as well as the ruler depicted on its face.

“The date after which Hoxne must’ve been buried is 408 or 409 [based on the age of the coins] and the traditional model would suggest it was buried around about that point in time,” Guest said in an interview with Smithsonian.com. “My perspective is that actually we’ve been misdating these hoards. If you look at them a little more carefully, then they should be dated to the period after the separation of Britain from the Roman Empire.”

A series of gold bracelets, one with an inscription to Juliane, all found in the Hoxne Hoard in 1992. (British Museum)

Guest argues that the coins may have been in circulation around Britain for decades after the Roman Empire removed its influence from the island. One bit of evidence he offers for this hypothesis is a practice called clipping. Of the more than 15,000 coins in the Hoxne cache, 98 percent are clipped—bits of their edges have been removed, reducing their size by as much as a third. Based on chemical analyses, Guest and others have found that the metal removed from those coins was used to make imitation Roman coins that remained in circulation for longer.

“The Roman Emperor wasn’t supplying Britain with new gold and silver coins, and in light of that, the population tried to get over this sudden cutoff in the supply of precious metals by making the existing supplies go further,” Guest said.

But part of the value of the Hoxne hoard is that it contains more than just a massive quantity of coins. In The Hoxne Late Roman Treasure: Gold Jewelry and Silver Plate, archaeologist Catherine Johns speculates that the Roman family to whom the treasure belonged kept them as sentimental objects.

This suggestion is possible thanks to an analysis of not just what was in the hoard, but also how it was hoarded. Surrounding the coins and gold objects were nails, hinges, locks, scraps of wood, bone and ivory. Some of the objects were packed with straw, while others were placed in smaller, leather-lined wood boxes. Some of the items revealed significant wear, such as the silver handle in the shape of a tiger that had been detached from its vase, and the damaged pepper pots. All these details imply the stash might have been buried with care rather than being hurriedly hidden. And they also offer archaeologists plenty of fodder for theories about life for a wealthy family at the turn of the fifth century.

Take the dozens of silver spoons, for example. Some of them are worn down and show evidence of being repaired. Others are marked with words, including names (Aurelius Ursicinus and Silvicola) and a Latin phrase (vivas in deo). And while most of the spoons are inscribed to be read from a right-handed position, one spoon looks as if it was made for a leftie.

The silver pepper pot is hollowed out, in the shape of a noble lady. At the base the pot can be turned to three sittings, one closed, one with small holes for sprinkling, and one open for filling the pot with ground pepper. (British Museum)

Or look at the pepper pot, selected by the BBC as one of 100 objects to tell the story of the history of the world. The silver pot is molded in the shape of a noble woman, with holes in the base of the object for pepper to be shaken out. Not only does the pot tell us the owners engaged in international trade—pepper had to be shipped and purchased from India—but it also reveals details about women’s fashion. As Johns writes for the BBC, “The most striking aspect of the lady’s appearance is her intricate hairstyle. It would have required very long, thick hair and the attentions of a skilled hairdresser to create,” and included decorative pins arranged to look like a tiara.

Even the jewelry reveals tiny glimpses of what life may have looked like for women. There’s a gold body chain for an adolescent girl, several rings missing their gemstones, and multiple bracelets, including one with the inscription utere felix domina Iuliane—“use this and be happy, Lady Juliane.”

“Were Aurelius and Juliane the owners of the treasure, or perhaps their ancestors? We do not know,” writes Kenneth Lapatin in the Times Literary Supplement. “These people remain ciphers to us and, unlike their possessions, are largely irrecoverable.”

Archaeology is a field that often requires making inferences. The Hoxne hoard offers tantalizing slivers of the past without enough detail to allow for definitive answers. Even something as simple as when the treasure was buried currently remains unknowable. “You can’t prove or disprove either of these two positions,” Guest said of the hypothesis that the treasure was buried at the end of the Roman Empire in Britain or in the years after the end. “The dating of material culture to produce our chronologies and the difficulty of that goes back a long way in archaeology.”

But even surrounded by unanswered questions, the Hoxne treasure is an irresistible collection that tells a dramatic story: the end of one empire, the earliest days of what would eventually become another empire. And whatever else it might provide archaeologists, it also provides the public with a happy ending—sometimes you find buried treasure when you least expect it.

Pictish-Roman Silver Hoard Discovered in Scotland

Archaeologist examines a crescent shaped brooch fragment from the Aberdeenshire hoard. Image credit: © Phil Wilkinson / University of Aberdeen.

The find, dated to the 4th to 6th century CE, contains over 100 silver objects, including Roman and Pictish vessels, bracelets and brooches, and Roman coins.

“This exciting new find is part of a broader phenomenon of hacksilver hoards which stretch across Europe from the 4th to 6th centuries, when the Western Roman Empire was in decline,” said Dr Gordon Noble of the University of Aberdeen, who led the fieldwork as part of the Northern Picts project.

Silver crescent from the Aberdeenshire hoard. Image credit: © National Museum Scotland.

“Silver objects were chopped up into bullion and then used and exchanged as payment, bribes, tribute and reward. People buried their wealth to keep it safe, but many did not return to recover their hoard.”

“Pictish communities in this area were part of powerful kingdoms in the early medieval period.”

A Roman coin from the Aberdeenshire hoard. Image credit: © Phil Wilkinson / University of Aberdeen.

The discovery fits in to a sequence of silver use and re-use over several centuries that can now be studied alongside two other Scottish hacksilver hoards, the purely Late Roman silver from Traprain Law, East Lothian and the Pictish silver from Norrie’s Law, Fife.

These hoards contain a range of interesting material: earlier items from all over the Roman Empire, but also some unique objects and other later objects which have links to Ireland, the near continent and Anglo-Saxon England and give a snapshot of Scotland in Early Medieval Europe.

Silver objects from the Aberdeenshire hoard, from left to right, top to bottom: fragment of a zoomorphic silver brooch, an undecorated brooch, silver ingot, and a folded bracelet. Image credit: © National Museum Scotland.

“It is a hugely important discovery being Europe’s most northerly Late Roman hacksilver hoard, and also containing otherwise unique Pictish silver,” said Dr Martin Goldberg of National Museums Scotland.

A ‘Mind-Blowing’ $6 Million Coin Hoard Discovered by Treasure Hunters Will Be Unveiled at the British Museum

The metal detectorists discovered thousands of Anglo-Saxon and Norman coins beneath a farmer's field.

Chew Valley Hoard. Photo by Pippa Pearce. Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum

A pair of metal detectorists made the discovery of a lifetime when they unearthed a hoard of ancient coins worth around $6 million in a field in Somerset, in the West of England. The historic find, believed to be one of the biggest ever treasure troves uncovered in the UK, is due to be unveiled at the British Museum tomorrow.

Treasure hunters Adam Staples and Lisa Grace unearthed the 2,571 Anglo-Saxon and Norman coins in January when they were searching farmland with their trusty metal detectors. In an interview with Treasure Hunting Magazine, the couple described the hoard as “amazing” and “absolutely mind-blowing.” They reported their find to the authorities as required by UK law, and the coins were soon sent to the British Museum for evaluation.

The British Museum has been assessing the find for the past seven months, and is due to reveal more information about the coins to the public on Wednesday, August 28. A spokesperson for the institution confirmed to the Daily Mail that the “large hoard” was handed over as possible treasure, and that it appears to be “an important discovery.”

Under the UK’s 1996 Treasure Act, if a find is officially declared treasure, it must first be offered for sale to a museum at a price set by the British Museum’s Treasure Valuation Committee. If no museum can raise the money to acquire the coins, they can then be offered for sale at auction. The owner of the land where the coins were found is entitled to half of the proceeds. The metal detectorists are keeping the exact location of their discovery under wraps, although the trove is called the Chew Valley Hoard after an area in North Somerset.

William the Conqueror (left) and Harold II coins. Photo by Pippa Pearce. Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum.

A coin expert at the London auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb has valued the coins at around £5 million ($6 million). They include mint-condition silver King Harold II pennies, coins from the reign of William the Conqueror, which could be worth as much as £5,000 ($6,000) each, as well as pieces minted by previously-unknown moneyers .

The King Harold II coins are particularly rare due to his short reign. The last Anglo-Saxon king was on the throne for just nine months before he died during the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The expert said that the hoard may prove too pricey for museums, which might have to launch an appeal for sponsors to raise funds to acquire them.

The coins would have belonged to a wealthy person who probably buried them for safekeeping at some point after the Norman Invasion of 1066 and probably before 1072.

The biggest collection of buried treasure ever discovered in the UK was the Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork, but this latest find could worth $1 million more, and have as great or even more historic value.

Detectorists strike gold as British Museum reveals record haul

A glorious jewel made from hundreds of tiny pieces of garnet set in gold to form geometric and animal shapes lay for 1,400 years on the breast of an unknown woman until her Norfolk grave was rediscovered by a first-year university student. The item was among a record number of treasure finds reported by the British Museum in the year 2016.

The pendant and other jewels and coins buried with the woman were among the spectacular discoveries mainly made by metal detectorists – including a hoard of 158 bronze age axes and ingots, the largest of its kind to be found in Yorkshire and more than 2,000 silver Roman coins in Piddletrenthide, Dorset, which the finder and a local archaeologist managed to lift together with the clay pot holding them and the entire block of soil in which it was buried, so it could be studied at the British Museum.

The Piddletrenthide hoard being excavated in a laboratory at the British Museum. Photograph: British Museum

The grave of the Norfolk woman, who probably had aristocratic or royal connections, was found by Tom Lucking, then a landscape history student at the University of East Anglia. He has since graduated with a first and found work as an archaeologist. His student loan debt repayments will be made considerably easier by the £145,000 valuation recently agreed at the British Museum for his treasure, which will be shared with the landowner.

Lucking was detecting on a ploughed field at Winfarthing, a site with no record of any Anglo-Saxon settlement. He first found a bronze bowl, which he then realised lay at the feet of a skeleton. He stopped digging and called in the county archaeology unit.

The excavation revealed decayed bones barely identifiable as a young adult woman. She had been buried with her treasures, which included the gold and garnet pendant, two identical Merovingian gold coins made into pendants, two gold beads and a delicate filigree ornamented cross, suggesting the woman may have been one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon converts to Christianity.

The coins, which showed no sign of wear, dated the burial to between AD650 and AD675. They were identical to one found in the grave of a woman near Ipswich, suggesting intriguing connections with the Frankish kingdom.

Tim Pestell, senior curator of archaeology at Norfolk Museums service, which is to begin fundraising to acquire the items, said: “This is one of those rare finds which really does rewrite history: a burial of the highest stature, in a part of Norfolk where we would not have expected to find it, with objects imported from the continent and which connect her to finds at other sites.

“The garnet work is of the highest quality – not quite as good as Sutton Hoo, which stands alone, but certainly comparable to the Staffordshire hoard.”

Work continues at the site, which has been identified as a cemetery, possibly with a nearby settlement, evidence of which has been almost obliterated by centuries of farming. The scattered remains of her family may still lie in the soil.

There was so much metal in two hoards of axes and bronze ingots found at Driffield in east Yorkshire that they are thought to have been a metal worker’s collection that was ready to be melted and recycled.

Part of the Driffield hoard. Photograph: British Museum

They were found four metres apart by Dave Haldenby, a retired social worker, who was previously more interested in medieval history and had been hoping to find Viking lead weights.

He uncovered the smaller hoard of 27 axes and ingots and, after researching the late bronze age of about 3,000 years ago, returned to survey the surrounding area for scraps of metal. He found a further 158 axes and ingots, which Hull Museum plans to acquire. There were 1,120 treasure finds in 2016, the highest number since the revised Treasure Act came into law 20 years ago. While “treasure” must by law be reported, the act simplified the definition. Although local coroners still hold inquests to declare the discoveries as treasure, they no longer have to determine the motives and circumstances in which the objects were hidden or lost.

Over the past 20 years, 14,000 treasure finds have been reported under the act, of which 40% are in UK museums. They include the spectacular Staffordshire hoard, with its exquisitely worked gold, and the Frome hoard of more than 52,000 Roman coins stuffed into a giant clay jar, the largest collection found in one container.

In addition, there were 81,914 smaller archaeological finds – including a 17th-century dog collar whose inscription showed that the large hunting dog it was made for was owned by Samuel Birch, a former civil war major who was once thrown out of church for nonconformist preaching.

The collar was among the objects reported through a network of local finds officers across the country under the voluntary portable antiquities scheme. The initiative, operated in tandem with the treasure scheme through the British Museum, has recorded more than 1.3m objects, including buttons, stone axes, belt buckles, bits of horse harness, pilgrims’ badges and children’s toys.

Some of the 2,000 Roman coins found in a clay pot in Dorset. Photograph: British Museum

Many of the items have almost no commercial value but contain great historic importance, helping to identify hundreds of sites and settlements. The database has inspired more than 600 research projects, including 126 doctorates.

Most detectorists are signed up to a code of practice that requires them to stop digging and call in the experts over significant discoveries. They must also report all finds.

The director of the British Museum, Hartwig Fischer, said the scheme was rare in Europe. “You let people follow their passion with a couple of rules you should abide by. Everyone does best.”