Yesterday (13 December) staff from the department of Portable Antiquities & Treasure (PA&T) and Conservation and Scientific Research (CSR) took part in a host of activities as part of a ‘Treasure’ themed evening for the Friends of the British Museum. These evenings, where members have an exclusive opportunity to learn from the experts about current operations at the museum, are one of the advantages of being a ‘BM Friend’.
The Treasure Team was stationed in the Enlightenment Gallery with a selection of items that have been reported as potential Treasure and which have come to the museum for analysis and/or valuation. Hilary Orange took charge of the table and chose an array of objects designed to engage visitors with the concept of ‘Treasure’ and the intricacies of its definition. Among the items was a silver finger-ring NARC-EC8B41 from Northamptonshire, two of the largest Iron Age ingots from this case IOW-EAAFE2 on the Isle of Wight, and three Bronze Age palstaves from this hoard HAMP-4DE734 in Hampshire. Hilary and Caroline Lyons had also created a collage of press reports about finds of Treasure, and images of treasure items that had been valued, and used these to decorate the stand. The overall effect was to ensure that a constant stream of curious Friends visited with the team for over two and a half hours.
Caroline Lyons, Caroline Barton, Janina Parol and myself (Ian Richardson) also conducted gallery talks throughout the evening, taking visitors through the British Museum’s European Galleries in order to highlight a few of the more prominent cases of Treasure that the British Museum has acquired, both under the old law of Treasure Trove and under the ‘new’ Treasure Act. We also included as a point-of-interest the case in the Early Medieval gallery currently occupied by the Frome Hoard and the Hackney Hoard, and were able to use that to explain more fully about the logistics behind the Treasure Act, and that most things which come to the BM under the Act are in fact acquired by local museums. Sue Brunning, project curator in the Department of Prehistory and Europe, was at the same time drawing large crowds to her gallery talks about Sutton Hoo.
Meanwhile, in the depths of the Clore Centre, below the Great Court, Dan Pett used an internet connection to give live demonstrations of the PAS Database. This generated intense interest from some of the guests and Dan found himself the object of much attention through the evening. In the same part of the museum, Roger Bland and Sam Moorhead packed the largest lecture theatre with an enthralled audience as they detailed the history of the discovery, excavation, cataloguing and acquisition of the Frome Hoard.
In the Great Court itself, curious Friends were given insight into the scientific aspect of Treasure by Duncan Hook and Sue LaNiece of CSR. With their portable XRF machine, they demonstrated how metallic items can be tested for gold or silver content without having to incurring any physical damage at all. The original plan was for the Treasure Team to bring over one of the items it had on display, a replica Viking comb from Devon that was originally believed to be silver until analysis showed it to be made of modern pewter, in order that Sue and Duncan could show the visitors an ‘authentic’ case. However the volume of patrons who patrolled the Treasure desk made escape impossible!
Paula Carter, the co-ordinator of Members Open Evenings said:
It was a very busy evening and the Members were clearly very much engaged in the whole of the evening’s programme, there was a wonderful atmosphere and I heard lots of excited discussions amongst members and they compared notes on what they had seen so far
What I saw certainly reinforced that. Walking through the Great Court at the end of the evening two gentlemen in important looking suits were conversing together as they strode towards the exit.
‘I had no idea Britain had its own emperor,’ said one.
‘No, no, neither did I,’ returned his companion. ‘Fascinating’.
Whether they owe their newfound knowledge to Roger and Sam, or to the fevered cramming of an Assistant Treasure Registrar, proudly regaling the history of Carausius and the gold coin DENO-651C91 in our galleries, remains unknown.