Hoarding the Past Part 2: understanding archaeology collecting and collections


The Knutsford Roman hoard found in 2012

In November 2015 CBA North West held one of their regular themed conferences, in this case exploring the impulse to hoard, as well as the meaning of ancient hoards and recent collected groups of items. The morning session looked at s why we hoard and how hoards and collections come about. The afternoon looked at a series of case studies from around the region.


In the afternoon Vanessa Oaken looked at two hoards reported to the Portland Antiquities scheme in Cheshire. Over 1.4 million objects on the national database. Only 1 percent of these are classed as treasure. The scheme does not support the metal detecting of land unploughed for more than five years. Both hoards declared treasure and acquired with HLF funding. The Knutsford hoard found in 2012 and subsequently excavated. 101 silver dinarii (100 denarii was annual pay of an auxiliary soldier) two bronze sestercius coins (perhaps used as stoppers in the top of a flagon), three large silver guilt trumpets, two silver rings with incised red gem stones and 21 sherds of an orange ware, oxidised, pot from Wilderspool. Find spots marked with sticks by finder and then reported to PAS. Further supervised metal detecting survey undertaken. Hoard plough spread over 20m x 10m. Test pits then dug to locate main deposition site which was marked by a concentration of sherds and a number of coins corroded together. Coins spanned late republican to Emperor Commodus. Most common coins in the hoard were Trajan (12), Hadrian (15), and Antoninus Pius (14). One of the gem stones filed down to remove the design. Fresh broken edges on the pottery and a fresh break on one of the trumpet broaches indicates recent plough damage. Trumpet broaches favoured by the military and similar to examples found nearby at Church Minshull. But the decoration is Iron Age inspired. Why was it buried here? Lies between two Roman roads close to salt making settlement of Northwich. Close by a beehive quern stone was located suggesting local rural settlement. Hoard deposited around 190 AD and dates the broach manufacture. Possibly the private wealth of a local landowner or merchant. Hoards like this challenge our notions of the lack of Romanisation in the region.

The Malpas hoard 7 Iron Age gold coins and 25 early silver Roman coins. Found in 2014 during a metal detecting rally. No evidence for a container or pit but as the landowner refused access for a dig we dont know the precise context. VEP CORF inscribed on three of the Iron Age coins of the Corieltavi. The rest were staters of the Dobunni. All made between AD 20-50.  Roman coins from Augustus and Tiberius. Probably deposited around 50 AD. This is an usual mix of coin types ie Iron Age and Roman. It also might be associated with Caratacus and his flight from Wales to Brigantia.

Craig Brisbane then discussed a group of 19th and early 20th century finds relating to Prestwich hospital. These had been collected over several years from two areas: a rubbish dump close to the banks of the River Irwell by bottle collectors and a field to the south of Prestwich Hospital by a local metal detectorist, Mr Krzyowski. The bottle items represented a cross-section of typical local late 19th and early-20th century products from stoneware bottles to medicine jars and glass drinks bottles. Out of context there was little to be gleaned apart from noting a few local manufacturers’ names.

The second larger group was more revealing. These items were from the field close to Prestwich Hospital: over 200 metal objects. Craig contrasted the general dump material with the field finds from metal detecting; the former had a wide chronological and geographical spread whilst the latter were all associated with hospital activity and several of the latter items were stamped with the Prestwich Hospital name suggesting their likely provenance. He organised the data into a variety of categories: dozens of buttons, six with the inscription ‘Prestwich County Asylum’; several dozen brass rings and buckles; a dozen brass handles; lock plates; thimbles and several children’s toys (marbles, toy cannon and toy gun). There was even evidence for manufacture in the form of a crude lead candle stick and a strip of metal dominoes of all the same number ready for clipping. Documentary evidence suggested a single context for all this material – the refurbishment of the hospital in the 1900s. It thus seems likely that all this material was from a single event or a series of linked events very close together.


The Silverdale Viking hoard found in 2011


I finished the day by talking about the Silverdale Viking hoard and the role in its recovery of the CBA North West grant scheme. Found in the Silverdale area of northern Lancashire, just a few kilometres from the coast, in November 2011 the site was later excavated in December 2011. It was discovered by a metal-detectorist and the 201 items of the hoard were all packed into a lead box buried 40cm below ground. This box contained 27 coins, 14 ingots, 10 complete arms rings, two finger rings, six bossed brooch fragments, a fine wire braid and 141 fragments of chopped-up arm rings and ingots known as hacksilver. The silver coins were a mixture of Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Viking, Frankish and Islamic types and included coins of Alfred the Great (871-99 One of the coins named a previously unknown Viking king – AIREDCONUT or Hathacnut. The obverse has the words DNS REX (Dominus Rex). The design on this coin is similar to the known coins of the Viking Kings Siefredus and Cnut who ruled Northumbria around AD 900. ). The date of the coins suggested that the hoard was buried in the period c. 900-910.

The 201 separate items form the third largest Viking hoard known from Britain – after the Cuerdale Hoard (8000 objects) and Vale of York Hoard (600 objects). Stylistically, in terms of the design of the bracelets, it has links with the nearby Viking hoards at Furness and Penrith and even with the Huxley hoard. Its date places it in the turbulent first decade of the tenth century, a period of warfare and raiding across northern England which saw the deposition of many hoards in this area.

The excavation of hoard sites is now common, and in the North West several sites from the Iron Age to the Viking era have been investigated in this way. However, such investigation requires independent funding. Ironically, the 1996 Treasure Act, in the act of declaring an object treasure trove rewards the finder and landowner without providing any funding for scientific investigation, nor indeed future purchase by the Nation. The Portable Antiquities Scheme, run from the British Museum, fills some of this research gap, but leaves the local community to raise funds for any excavation or purchase. CBA North West was approached in the autumn of 2011 to help towards the cost of the excavation by Minerva Heritage. We were happy to grant-aid this research, which whilst not locating any further objects did confirm that the item was a buried in a single act. Any local landmarks used to locate the site had long-since disappeared. Such research is vital if we are to recover as much information as possible about the deposition of these hoards in the region, and is one of the reasons why CBA North West set up its research grant fund over a decade ago.

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