Sunday, March 20, 2011

Somerset and Edinburgh Museums to keep archaeological treasure

Some of the most spectacular recent finds of archaeological treasure – a mass of Roman coins stuffed into a giant pot-bellied jar and four gold Iron Age torcs – have been acquired by museums in Somerset and Edinburgh.

The announcement that the two hoards have been saved with grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund charity, public donations and from other charities adding up to almost £1m, comes as good news for cash-strapped national collections. Both finds will be pored over by experts for years, uncovering the history which left treasure in nondescript farm land of no known historical significance.

The torcs, which will go in display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, were found in 2009 by David Booth six inches below the surface of a field in Stirlingshire. Booth, who works in a Scottish safari park, was using his new metal detector for the first time. He has since found a medieval seal set with a Roman carved gemstone

The collars were made more than 2,000 years ago, and reveal sophisticated metalwork and complex cultural influences: two twisted ribbons of gold are in a local style; one broken example from southern France is the only one found in Britain; and the fourth is unique, made of braided gold wire in a technique associated with the Mediterranean.

The Frome find is less seductively beautiful, but equally fascinating to historians. The hoard of more than 52,500 coins, the largest ever found in a single container, includes many unique coins, others better than the examples owned by the British Museum, and the largest collection ever found of Carausius coins. They were minted for a military commander sacked by the Romans for corruption but proclaimed emperor by his soldiers. He reigned for only a few years before being murdered by his chancellor. The coins were found by hospital chef Dave Crisp in a field near Frome last year, when he returned to investigate a scatter of coins he had already found. He called in the experts immediately he realised he had an undisturbed hoard in its original container - "I knew they'd wet themselves," he said – and ended up sleeping in a tent with his grandson to protect the site as archaeologists took days to retrieve the 16kg of coins, believed to be one stupendous ritual offering.

His find will now become one of the star exhibits at the Somerset County Museum when it reopens at Taunton castle this summer after a £6.9m refurbishment. The precise number of coins is still unknown, because many are still corroded together in clumps

Both men were detecting with the permission of the land owners, who will share the rewards. The torcs were valued at £462,000, raised through £154,000 from the NHMF and £100,000 from the Art Fund, with additional funding from the Scottish government and national museum. The Frome hoard cost £320,250, but there is an additional £105,000 for years of conservation work.

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said: "Both the Roman coins in Somerset and torcs in Scotland are going to absolutely the right places, where generations can learn, enjoy and be inspired by them, and experts can carry out vital research."

For more interesting topics related to archaeology, visit archaeology excavations.

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