A pair of metal detectorists have discovered buried treasure that might be the most ancient example of Iron Age gold jewelry ever found in the UK.
Two friends, Joe Kania and Mark Hambleton, made the discovery while combing farmland in Staffordshire Moorlands. After the discovery, local coroner Ian Smith declared the find treasure, jokingly estimating the value of the find at “a bob or two”. It was only later realised that the artifacts could be close to priceless from a historical standpoint.
The entire haul – a bracelet and three necklaces – has been dated to around 2,500 years old according to an article on the BBC website. The British Museum’s Julia Farley, upon examining the jewelry, categorized them as Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs, adding that the find was both “unique” and “of international importance.”
Dr. Farley recounted how the torcs, which are likely the earliest Iron Age gold work ever discovered in the UK, were probably worn by powerful, wealthy and influential women. These individuals might have even traveled from the Continent to marry into the local community, she added.
This isn’t the only treasure that’s been found in Staffordshire. While the four pieces of jewelry were found near the surface in Leekfrith in December of 2016, a massive discovery was also made around 50 miles from the location in 2009. That find, now known as the Anglo Saxon Staffordshire Hoard, is valued at £3 million.
While the new find has yet to be valued officially, the gold content of the torcs was found to be 80% pure gold. This is what prompted Smith to value the pieces – each of which weighs between 1 ounce and 8 ounces, to be worth at least a little something. With a discovery required to contain at least 10% of its mass as precious metal and be a minimum of 300 years old in order to be legally considered treasure, the new finds easily fit the bill. Smith remarked that this find, while not quite in the same league as the Staffordshire Hoard, is one of the most exciting ones he’s ever had the pleasure of dealing with.
Hambleton and Kania almost missed the find completely. As they were about ready to give up their treasure hunting for the day, Kania approached Hambleton, claiming he had found something; Hambleton said it took a moment for his head to clear and his legs to stop wobbling before he was able to speak after his friend presented one of the torcs he had found.
Hambleton said he and Kania were struck speechless at the discovery. The metal detectorist described how he slept next to the golden treasure overnight to ensure it stayed safe before he handed it over to the experts from the Portable Antiquities Scheme to be evaluated the following day.
While the status of the find has been confirmed as treasure, by law it belongs to the Crown. However, both Kania and Hambleton are eligible to receive compensation by the Treasure Valuation Committee. The two treasure hunters say they have plans to share any proceeds with Stuart Heath, the owner of the land where the torcs were found.
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