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Britain's Secret Treasures Episode Six

The Happisburgh handaxeThis episode completes the countdown of the best discoveries in the recent years made by the British public. Visit the Portable Antiquities Scheme database at for more information about these or other finds recorded through the Scheme. It is only through responsible recording that we are all able to share in the knowledge and excitement that these finds bring to our past.

10. Vale of York Hoard - PAS ID: SWYOR-AECB53 - Found in 2007, this hoard comprises 67 items of silver and 617 silver coins and a gold armring. Most of the items were found stuffed in an elaborately decorated silver-gilt cup, which bears such a remarkable resemblance to a vessel already in the British Museum's collection from Halton Moor, Lancashire. Both vessels are Carolingian in design and would have been made on the Continent in the late eighth or ninth century - it was possible they were stolen from churches there by Viking raiders. The finders wisely decided not to attempt to remove the contents from the cup, and instead brought it to the British Museum where it was micro-excavated. Among the coins are Islamic dirhams, which originated in the Middle East and demonstrate the wide range of the Viking trade network. The Vale of York hoard is the second largest Viking hoard ever found in Britain, and was jointly acquired by the British Museum and York Museums Trust.

9. Cosby Garrett Helmet - PAS ID: LANCUM-E48D73 - A fragmented copper alloy Roman cavalry parade helmet, subsequently reconstructed. This item was found in Crosby Garrett, Cumbria, in 2010 and recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Being made of base metal, it was not legally 'Treasure' and remained in the possession of the finder and the landowner, and therefore theirs to do with what they wished. A very rare and impressive survival of the Roman period, it was sold at auction and remains in the possession of an anonymous buyer. Tullie House Museum in Carlisle had hoped to acquire it.

8. Baldehilde Seal - PAS ID: PAS-8709C3 - This item is a small gold double-sided seal, probably the bezel from a ring, depicting on one side a crude representation of a naked couple engaged in some sort of act (perhaps embracing), and on the other, a portrait of a woman with the inscription BALDEHILDIS. The seal was found in Postwick, Norfolk in 1998. It is thought to date to the 7th Century, and its inscription means that it is possibly connected to an East Anglian princess by the same name (sometimes referred to as Balthild). The seal has been acquired by Norwich Castle Museum.

7. Staffordshire Moorlands Pan - PAS ID: WMID-3FE965 - A small copper-alloy dish, or pan, decorated with brightly coloured enamel swirls. Around the top rim of the vessel is written in Latin script the names of several locations along Hadrian's Wall. Found in 2003, it is thought that perhaps this item represents the parting gift to a long-serving legionary, as a memento of the places he was stationed along the Roman frontier. Another pan of similar style from Winterton, North Lincolnshire also been found recently and recorded with the PAS, see NLM-F50443. The Staffordshire Moorlands Pan is now on display in the British Museum's Romano-British Gallery.

6. Hallaton Hoard - PAS ID: PAS-984616 - Discovered over several years from 2000 to 2005, the Iron Age hoard from Hallaton, Leicestershire is made up of over 5,000 silver and bronze coins (including several hundred Roman coins), a copper alloy helmet, brooches and the quartered remains of many slaughtered pigs. It is likely that the site represents an area of significant ritual feasting. The hoard was acquired by Market Harborough Museum in Leicestershire. The helmet, which was lifted from the ground in a soil block, has recently been conserved by the British Museum.

5. Boar Badge of Richard III - PAS ID: LEIC-A6C834 - This item, a 3cm long silver-gilt figure in the form of a boar, dates from the late 15th Century. It was found in 2009 on the site of the Battle of Bosworth, 1485. It is a livery badge which would have been worn by a high-ranking supporter of King Richard III, whose symbol was the White Boar:Richard was from the HJouse of York, written in Latin as Eboricum, and it is suggested that the boar is a play on words using this association. It seems likely that the badge was lost during the course of the battle, by a supporterclose to the Kingwhen he was killed. The badge is now on display in Bosworth Battlefield Centre. Several other White Boar badges have been found: one from Chiddlingly, West Sussex is on display at the British Museum and will feature in its upcoming exhibition on Shakespeare. The other is from Stillingfleet, North Yorkshire (PAS ID: YORYM-1716A4).

4. Chalgrove Hoard - PAS ID: PAS-879F02 - A hoard of almost 5000 base-metal radiate coins from the mid 3rd Century AD. They were found in a pot in Chalgrove, Oxfordshire, in 2003. Coin hoard from this period are not uncommon, but the Chalgrove Hoard contained an unexpected ruler, Domitianus - called Domitian II or Domitian of Gaul to avoid confusion with another earlier Domitianus. The only other evidence for this man was from a similar coin found almost a century earlier in France. So brief was his leadership that he fails to be recorded anywhere else. The discovery of the Domitianus coin in the Chalgrove Hoard confirmed that the first was unlikely to be a forgery. The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford acquired the hoard, where it is now kept.

3. Staffordshire Hoard - PAS ID: WMID-0B5416 - The largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found, the Staffordshire Hoard has the potential to change our understanding of the so-called Dark Age Britain. Found in 2009, the hoard site was subject to an excavation which revealed remarkably little context to explain its location. The items were brought to the British Museum for initial cataloguing by Dr Kevin Leahy. Amazingly, among the hundreds of large gold and garnet items and the thousands of smaller fragments and components, there are no female items like brooches. The Staffordshire Hoard is a very martial assemblage, and contains scores of sword hilts, sword pommels, the fragmented decoration of a helmet and a helmet cheekpiece. After valuation the hoard was acquired jointly by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, where it is still being studied and conserved.

2. Ringlemere Gold Cup - PAS ID: PAS-BE40C2 - This 180g gold cup was recovered in 2001 from a site in Ringlemere, Kent. It has a plain but sophisticated design, illustrated by its corrugated form and tiny, diamond-shaped rivets fixing the handle to the rim of the body of the cup. Uniform ridges encircle the body, and the cup displays damage from a recent plough strike. It is very rare, with the only similar example known from this country being the Rillaton Gold Cup. The reporting of the cup allowed for a thorough archaeological investigation of the site, which determined that the cup had been buried in a Bronze Age barrow. Thousands of years later, the Anglo-Saxons chose the same site for a large cemetery. The Ringlemere Gold Cup can be seen alongside the Rillaton Gold Cup in the British Museum's Bronze Age Gallery.

1. Happisburgh Handaxe - PAS ID: NMS-ECAA52 - The number one object on the list is a flint handaxe more than half a million years old. Though beautiful, it is a very utilitarian item and was fashioned to perform all manner of cutting tasks. The axe was found by a man out for a stroll on the beach in 2000 and started an archaeological investigation which has reshaped our understanding of the earliest inhabitants of this island. Research at the Happisburgh, Norfolk site has shown that humans had occupied Britain hundreds of thousands of years earlier than previously thought. The axe was donated to Norwich Castle Museum.

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