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Michael Metcalf obituary

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Michael Metcalf, who has died aged 85, understood the quantitative significance of medieval coins long before historians or other numismatists appreciated it. His detailed study in the 1960s of the coins of Offa, the eighth-century king of Mercia, enabled him to assert that these coins were struck in much greater numbers than anyone had realised. This in turn suggested that early Anglo-Saxon coins were far too numerous to have been reserved for the use of an elite. Instead the numbers argued for a much greater degree of Dark Age monetisation than previously assumed. Unsurprisingly, the established orthodoxy took some time to come to terms with this, and the ensuing debates ruffled feathers. One particular exchange in Oxford in 1966 was sufficiently robust to have been reported in the national press. With characteristic grit, Michael resisted the vigorous criticism of the most influential scholars, until the advent of the metal detector in the 80s began t…

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Tags: History Archaeology Obituaries University of Oxford Europe Article Nick Mayhew The Guardian Journal Obituaries UK Obituaries

Roman coins found in Yorkshire revealed after years of secrecy

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One of the earliest Roman settlements ever to be discovered in the Yorkshire region has been unearthed by a group of crowdfunded archaeologists. The exact location of the high-status settlement has been kept a secret to protect it from night hawkers (illegal metal-detectorists) and looters, but archaeologists have described it as astounding. The first sign that there may be something worth exploring at the site came three years ago when some metal detectorists uncovered a hoard of 2,000-year-old silver coins. Friends Paul King, Robert Hamer and Robin Siddle found the hoard of 18 silver coins in 2015, but the discovery has been kept secret until now, to enable archaeologists to explore the area, which appears to be a high-status Roman settlement. Last week more silver coins were uncovered, with hundreds of Roman pottery sherds and a tiny brooch, found on one of three neonatal burials. …

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Tags: Archaeology Yorkshire Roman Britain Science UK news Article News Nazia Parveen The Guardian Main section UK news UK Home News

Lab notes: we give you the Christmas gift of science – happy holidays all!

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This week’s biggest stories It’s a significant step: gene editing has been used to prevent a form of genetic hearing loss in mice, raising the prospect of a new class of therapies that could transform future treatment. That’s small comfort for dolphins though, as apparently there’s a species of Mexican fish that has orgies so loud they can deafen other sea animals. Inconsiderate, no? Luckily they’re nowhere near any of the instruments we have scanning the skies for signs of alien life, as they might drown out any bleeps, blips or bloops, but why do we keep looking for l…

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Tags: Lab notes Science Article Tash Reith-Banks UK Science

The tense truce between detectorists and archaeologists

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There’s been reason for cheer in metal detecting circles, with the news this month that 2016 saw a record number of finds reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. This announcement has spawned numerous congratulatory reports – including in the Guardian – detailing the wonderful things found, the back-stories of the lucky finders, and the sometimes extraordinary sums of money their finds have fetched. The rise in finds is attributed to improved detector technology and an increase in the number of people taking up the hobby, encouraged by recent spectacular finds and the popularity of the BBC’s Detectorists series. Within the archaeological commun…

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Tags: The Past and the Curious Science blog network Archaeology Science Heritage Culture Hobbies Life and style Article Blogposts Features Mary Shepperson

Detectorists strike gold as British Museum reveals record haul

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A glorious jewel made from hundreds of tiny pieces of garnet set in gold to form geometric and animal shapes lay for 1,400 years on the breast of an unknown woman until her Norfolk grave was rediscovered by a first-year university student. The item was among a record number of treasure finds reported by the British Museum in the year 2016. The pendant and other jewels and coins buried with the woman were among the spectacular discoveries mainly made by metal detectorists – including a hoard of 158 bronze age axes and ingots, the largest of its kind to be found in Yorkshire; and more than 2,000 silver Roman coins in Piddletrenthide, Dorset, which the finder and a local archaeologist managed to lift together with the clay pot holding them and the entire block of soil in which it was buried, so it could be studied at the British Museum.

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Tags: British Museum Culture Museums Archaeology Science UK news Article News Maev Kennedy The Guardian Main section Top stories UK Home News

Detectorists strike gold 20 years after leaving field empty-handed

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Two metal detecting friends have found a hoard of superb iron age gold jewellery after returning to a Staffordshire field where they previously found nothing and became so bored that they gave up the hobby and turned to fishing for 20 years. The four iron age gold torcs – three collars and a bracelet-sized piece, including two made of twisted gold wire, two with trumpet shaped finials and one with beautiful Celtic ornament – are of international importance. The pieces were made in present-day Germany or France, possibly in the third or fourth century BC and, according to Julia Farley of the British Museum, are some of the oldest examples of iron age gold, and of Celtic ornament, ever found in Britain. They could have arrived through trade or on the neck and arms of an extremely wealthy immigrant.

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Tags: Archaeology Heritage Culture UK news Museums The Staffordshire hoard Article News Maev Kennedy The Guardian Main section UK news UK Home News

Pristine pressed flower among 'jaw-dropping' bronze age finds

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A 3,000-year-old complete pressed flower is among the “absolutely jaw-dropping” late bronze age finds unearthed in Lancashire. The thistle flower appears to have been deliberately placed inside the hollow end of an axe handle and buried with other weapons, jewellery and ornaments, many in virtually pristine condition. Other axe handles in the hoard had been filled with hazelnuts, as part of a ritual offering. Dr Ben Roberts, a lecturer at Durham University and the British Museum’s former curator of European bronze age collections, described the pressed flower as unique for a votive offering of its time. These sockete…

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Tags: Archaeology Science UK news North of England Article News Dalya Alberge The Guardian Main section UK news UK G1

Discovery of Roman coins in Devon redraws map of empire

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The discovery of a few muddy coins in a Devon paddock by a pair of amateur metal detector enthusiasts has led to the redrawing of the boundary of the Roman empire in south-west Britain. Previously it had been thought that Ancient Rome’s influence did not stretch beyond Exeter but the find has resulted in a major archaeological dig that has unearthed more coins, a stretch of Roman road and the remnants of vessels from France and the Mediterranean once full of wine, olive oil and garum – fish sauce. The far south-west of Britain has long been seen as an area that clung to its independence but the discovery at Ipplepen, near Newton Abbot, 20 miles south-west of Exeter, has led to the conclusion that Roman influence was strongly felt here. Related:

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Tags: Roman Britain Archaeology Science UK news Article News Steven Morris The Guardian Main section UK news UK Home News

Rare bronze age burial site lay undisturbed ‘for millennia’

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A significant early bronze age burial site, believed to date from 2500BC, has been discovered near Morecambe Bay. Grave goods could include objects ranging from daggers and ceramic vessels to jewellery, textiles and material such as amber, jet and gold. The site will be excavated in July. Archaeologists were alerted to its existence by Matthew Hepworth, a nurse, who unearthed a well-preserved bronze age chisel using a metal detector. Ben Roberts, a lecturer in later prehistory at Durham University and the British Museum’s former curator for European bronze age collections, said: “The potential is huge because untouched, undiscovered sites are very rare indeed. What’s really special about our site is that no one knew about it before … The barrow appears to be intact and it’s pretty substantial.” Most bronze age burial sites have been destroyed by ploughing or historical looting. The Morecambe Bay find is all the more significant due to …

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Tags: Archaeology Science UK news News Article Dalya Alberge The Observer Main section News

Remains of Anglo-Saxon island discovered in Lincolnshire village

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The remains of an Anglo-Saxon island have been uncovered in Lincolnshire in a significant find that has yielded an unusually wide array of artefacts. The island, once home to a Middle Saxon settlement, was found at Little Carlton near Louth, Lincolnshire, by archaeologists from the University of Sheffield after a discovery by a metal detectorist. Graham Vickers came across a silver stylus, an ornate writing tool dating back to the 8th century, in a disturbed plough field. He reported his find and subsequently unearthed hundreds more artefacts, recording their placement with GPS, thus enabling archaeologists to build up a picture of the settlement below. The artefacts include another 20 styli, about 300 dress pins and a huge number of sceattas – coins from the 7th-8th centuries – as well as a unusual small lead tablet bearing the female Anglo-Saxon name “Cudberg”. Students from the university later found significant quantities of Middle …

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Tags: Archaeology Science UK news University of Sheffield Article News Haroon Siddique The Guardian Main section UK news

Tiny Tudor treasure hoard found in Thames mud

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A very small treasure hoard – a handful of tiny fragments of beautifully worked Tudor gold – has been harvested from a muddy stretch of the Thames foreshore over a period of years by eight different metal detectorists. The pieces all date from the early 16th century, and the style of the tiny pieces of gold is so similar that Kate Sumnall, an archaeologist, believes they all came from the disastrous loss of one fabulous garment, possibly a hat snatched off a passenger’s head by a gust of wind at a time when the main river crossings were the myriad ferry boats. Such metal objects, including aglets – metal tips for laces – beads and studs, originally had a practical purpose as garment fasteners but by the early 16th century were being worn in gold as high-status ornaments, making costly fabrics such as velvet and furs even more ostentatious. Contemporary portraits, including one in the National Portrait Gallery of

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Tags: Museums Heritage Culture London UK news Article News The Thames Maev Kennedy The Guardian Main section UK news

Watlington hoard of Viking silver casts light on Alfred the Great era

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A hoard of Viking silver that casts new light on Alfred the Great and the one-time ally he virtually obliterated from history has been found by a metal detectorist in a field in Oxfordshire. The hoard, described when it arrived at the British Museum as “a greasy haggis with bits of treasure sticking out at the corners”, was buried in the late 870s, the period in which the hit television series Last Kingdom is set. It may have been the hastily concealed wealth of a Viking conscious of imminent regime change after the defeat of the invaders by Alfred the Great at the battle of Edington in 878. The discovery in October, on farmland near Watlington, may be worth a small fortune to the retired advertising executive who helped excavate it on his 60th birthday, and to the farmer who owns the land. As well as a scrap of chopped up gold – the first found in a Viking hoard in Britain – silver arm rings and ingots, it includes at least 180 silver coins, some frag…

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Tags: Archaeology British Museum Heritage Museums UK news Science Culture Article News Maev Kennedy The Guardian Main section UK news

The woman turning ancient buried treasure into jewellery

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The discarded scraps of ancient lives, found by metal detectorists and sold for tiny sums on eBay have been transformed by jeweller Romilly Saumarez-Smith into miniature works of art. The modest treasures include a button that dropped off a garment 1,000 years ago, a thimble almost worn through with use, rings with gaping empty mounts instead of their original precious gems, an Anglo-Saxon stud with just a gleaming trace left of its gilding, and medieval dress pins shed into the Thames by some poor ferry passenger who must have arrived on the far bank a little dishevelled. Gold Caddis Earrings 2012: Tudor bronze buttons; 18 carat gold.

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Tags: Art and design Sculpture Art Culture Fashion Life and style Accessories Article News Maev Kennedy

Being a detectorist has its moments to treasure

My fingers are still cracked from the cold of a clear Monday in the Kent countryside. Wrapped up in numerous layers, my friend James and I were out with thermos flasks, shovels and metal detectors to explore the past hidden beneath the frozen turf. Despite the news of a record-breaking find of 5,251 Anglo-Saxon coins, metal detecting is not a sexy hobby. The geeks of Mackenzie Crook’s recent sitcom, Detectorists, are all too close to real life – and yes, we dig up more ring pulls than ancient coins. But you can keep your parkour, your sourdough baking or your street dance – they’ve got nothing o…

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Tags: Opinion Hobbies Archaeology Life and style Science Comment UK news Article Mark Wallace

The joy of metal detecting – it’s not just about the treasure

Yesterday, a treasure hunt began on a Folkestone beach where a German artist, Michael Sailstorfer, has buried £10,000 of bullion – 30 bars of 24-carat gold – as part of an arts festival. People started to descend with metal detectors, spades, forked sticks and anything else they thought might help, and on Thursday night a family found the very first bar. Is this art? It’s not for me to say. I can’t tell a Picasso from a potato, but it’s certainly given my hobby a boost. I live in deepest Wiltshire, and can assure this talented artist that there are plenty of places around here where he would be welcome to practice his chosen art form. Four years ago, I was lucky enough to uncover the world’s

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Tags: Opinion Heritage Archaeology Science Culture Museums Folkestone Triennial Art and design Comment UK news Article Dave Crisp

Great North Museum needs to raise £7,000 to safeguard Lindisfarne Hoard

In the 1560s Lindisfarne, a tidal island off the Northumberland coast near Berwick, was something of an armed camp close to the front line of the defence against Scotland. After Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, stones from Lindisfarne Priory were used to build a small castle and other fortifications for the harbour. So the garrison seems an unlikely place for not one but two of Britain's greatest treasure discoveries. Perhaps an officer stationed on Lindisfarne was careless, forgetful or unlucky, as two small hoards of coins dating from shortly after the castle was built in 1550 have been found near a watercourse by the same house. The first collection came to light in 1962, and consists of 50 silver 16th-century English and Scottish coins. It now belongs to the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle, and is housed in the

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Tags: The Northerner Blogposts UK news Archaeology Northumberland Article Alan Sykes

Go beachcombing for lost treasure

On a morning tube full of commuters, I am the only person in wellies. At London Bridge, I break away from the suits filing towards the City, and make for the river. Moments later I'm down on my knees, sifting through rusty metal and rocks in the mud. Office life feels very far away. I am here to learn how to beachcomb with Steve Brooker of the Society of London Mudlarks. "Mudlarks" were originally Victorian children who scavenged on the Thames for coal, bones or wood to sell. Now they're amateur archaeologists who search the shore for artifacts turned up by the river. To gain a mudlark's licence, you have to put in two years as a beachcomber, recording your finds with the Museum of London. But beachcombing is a skill, too, and by learning the basics you are much more likely to discover something of interest – and take your first step towards becoming a mudlark. When and where to go We start on the beach below the Globe theatre, …

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Tags: Do Something: how to ... Do Something active Features Article Becky Barnicoat The Guardian Do Something Do Something

Civil war silver jug among 990 treasures unearthed in 2012

When three friends first saw a great lump of silvery metal just below the surface of a Dorset field, they thought they'd hit a metal pipe and, because it was so shiny, that it must be aluminium. Stuart McLeod, the primary school headteacher who had started metal detecting a few weeks earlier, had only found horseshoes until then. He yearned to find a good early coin, like the fistfuls regularly unearthed by his veteran metal-detecting friends Stephen Tharp, a retired chef, and joiner Shawn Miller. It took the three of them to ease their find out of its pit in the ground. It turned out to be one of the most spectacular treasure finds of 2012, 1kg of silver fashioned into a massive jug.

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Tags: Heritage Archaeology Science Culture Museums UK news News Article Maev Kennedy The Guardian Main section UK news

Silverdale Viking treasure to go on display in Lancashire

A spectacular stash of Viking treasure – more than 200 pieces of silver including beautiful arm rings, brooches, silver ingots, and a battered, misspelt coin that revealed a previously unknown Viking ruler – will go on display this month near where it was found by a metal-detector enthusiast two years ago. The hoard was found packed into a lead container inches below the surface of a field in Lancashire. But whether it would be displayed in the county where it was found had seemed in doubt in the economic climate. Now, though, Lancashire county museum service has raised the £110,000 that it needed to acquire the third-largest Viking hoard found in the UK, with the help of a £45,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, £33,000 from the Art Fund charity, plus other grants and local donations. It was found in 2011 by Darren Webster, a stonemason who was out with the metal detector his wife had given him for Christmas. The field, on the out…

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Tags: Heritage Culture News UK news Article Maev Kennedy The Guardian Main section UK news

We came, we saw, we detected: relics from Caesar era among amateur finds

When the battered metal helmet turned up in a field on the outskirts of Canterbury, the archaeologists had to peer at it carefully to be sure it wasn't a relic from a careless American GI in the second world war — albeit one with eccentric tastes, since it contained a mass of burned human bone. The helmet, revealed for the first time as last year's haul of archaeological finds by metal detectors was unveiled at the British Museum, is in fact an artefact from a much earlier conflict. It is an exceptionally rare Iron Age Celtic helmet from the time of the first invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar, who landed only a few miles away on the Kent coast. The bones haven't yet been analysed, but the presumption is that they are those of the helmet's owner, who must have been a warrior — and could in those complicated times have been a Gaul fighting either by Caesar's side, or with the defending Britons. It is one of only a handful of such helmets from the period fr…

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Tags: Roman Britain Archaeology Science Heritage Museums Article Maev Kennedy The Guardian Main section UK news

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