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Foil reveals Roman magic

The Norfolk gardener was quite irritated at finding bits of rubbish mixed with the expensive topsoil he had bought: he picked out what he took to be foil from a champagne bottle and unrolled it - to reveal a lost world of Roman magic. Experts from the British Museum and Oxford University have been poring over the scrap of gold foil, no bigger than a postage stamp, which went on display for the first time yesterday, with other archaeological finds reported in the past year. "It meant nothing to me at first, I wondered if it was a scrap of decoration from a garment or a piece of furniture," said Adrian Marsden, the finds officer in Norwich whose desk it first landed on. "Then I suddenly saw the Greek letter A, and I knew what we must have." It is a lamella, a magical charm, one of five found in Britain, and of no more than a few dozen from anywhere in the Roman empire. The scrap of gold was one of 47,000 items reported by the public, most of them worthless but fasc…

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Tags: UK news Arts and humanities Higher education Education Maev Kennedy Culture Art and design Humanities The Guardian Roman Britain Article

Viking burial ground dispels myth of longship marauders

A Viking burial ground, which has held bodies undisturbed for 1,000 years with all the trappings of the Sagas including swords, jewellery and firemaking materials, has been uncovered in Cumbria, after a chance find by a metal detector. The site - thought to contain the first formal burial of bodies discovered in England - is believed to date from the 10th century, when the Vikings had been Christianised, but were evidently still hedging their bets. Full details of the find at Cumwhitton, which has caused international excitement, will be announced this morning. The bodies of the four men and two women were buried in the east-west Christian alignment, but with all the grave goods they would need for the pagan afterlife - the women had rich brooches, ornate belt fittings, and a jet bracelet, a material prized as highly as gold. The men had their weapons and one had spurs, a bridle and what may be a drinking horn for the feasting he clearly expected to continue in …

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Tags: UK news Science Higher education Research Education Lee Glendinning Maev Kennedy Article The Guardian

Suspected Viking burial fills a hole in English history

One of the great missing pieces of Britain's archaeological jigsaw may finally have fallen into place with the discovery of swords, ship nails and a silver Baghdad coin in a Yorkshire field. Tight security has been put on the site since metal detecting enthusiasts came upon what is thought to be the first known Viking ship burial south of Hadrian's Wall. An exploratory dig is being organised for traces of rotted timber and other fragments. "I am 95% certain it is a boat burial," said Simon Holmes, archaeologist at the Yorkshire Museum in York where the initial finds went on show yesterday. "If this is indeed the case, it will be the first discovered in England and therefore one of the most important Viking discoveries ever made in the British Isles." The trove was found in a ploughed riverside field, whose location is not being made public, by detectors who followed the regulations designed to protect archaeological sites. The 130 items were reported to t…

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Tags: UK news Higher education Education Martin Wainwright Culture Art and design Heritage Humanities Article The Guardian

Treasure beneath your feet and under the waves

Dreams of an unexpected windfall, lottery win or chance find possibly have their origin in childhood tales of buried treasure. The responsibility of adult life, however, means we must rely almost solely on lady luck to make these dreams come true. 'If only.' 'It could be you.' But for some, those dreams have become part of their daily working lives. The pursuit of buried treasure is a mix of art and chance which varies by method of discovery. Less than 0.1 per cent of what metal detectorists find is significant, but they always find something. Professional divers however, will not go to sea until they've undertaken months, even years, in research and due diligence. But, purists claim, the wealth of history in any find transcends its monetary value. David Barwell, chairman of the National Council for Metal Detecting, says: 'The stigma of the treasure hunter is a mercenary digging up history for its commercial value. When a metal detector uncovers their first si…

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Tags: Money Alternative investments Cash Observer Business, Media & Cash Article The Observer

Rare memento of Hadrian's Wall unearthed

The small bronze cup unveiled yesterday, found by two metal detectorists in a Staffordshire field, is the Roman equivalent of a snowstorm globe. The piece is exceptionally rare, of great historic importance, and beautifully crafted - but is essentially a souvenir of one of the most wind-blasted outposts of the Roman empire, Hadrian's Wall. The inscriptions in Latin include a name, Aelius Draco. Experts speculate he could have been a commander stationed on the wall. Only two similar examples are known. One was found in 18th-century Wiltshire, and another more than 50 years ago at Amiens in France. The Staffordshire find is inscribed with the names of four forts - Bowness (Mais), Drumburgh (Coggabata), Stanwix (Uxelodunum) and Castlesteads (Cammoglanna) - and is the only one of the three to include Drumburgh. The finders, Kevin Blackburn and Julian Lee, claimed in an email to the finds officer of the portable antiquities scheme to have un…

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Tags: UK news Higher education Education Culture Archaeology Heritage Maev Kennedy Humanities Article The Guardian

New battle of Marston Moor

War has broken out at Marston Moor in Yorkshire, site of one of the crucial battles in the civil war. Recriminations are flying as thick as musket balls, after a metal detectorists' rally last weekend attended by almost 300 people. Battlefield historians are appalled by the event, even though it happened over a mile from the heart of the site where Royalist forces under Prince Rupert were routed by Cromwell and the Parliamentarians, in the evening of a battle which continued through a long July day in 1644. There have been reports of sackloads of musket balls being removed, though this is challenged by several sources who were at the rally. Just six musket balls were officially reported, and their sites logged. In fact little 17th-century material of any kind was found, although Roman coin and a bronze axe head were reported, with four pieces of silver. The exact sites of musket and pistol balls can be vital evidence for archaeologists, establi…

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Tags: UK news Culture Archaeology Art and design Heritage Maev Kennedy Article The Guardian

City archaeologist and museum director, Winchester

I have to say we've had some really very good things happen in the past year. We've mounted an exhibition, Treasure, of the spectacular gold iron age jewellery found locally two years ago. When the finds were declared treasure they went to the British Museum and we assumed that was the last we'd ever see of them, but the museum has been very helpful. We found that very encouraging, and we hope it shows a new approach to relations between a major national museum and a relatively small regional museum.We also managed to secure some lottery funding for the exhibition, £50,000, for things like improving security, which will be of tremendous long-term value to us and allow us to arrange more important loans in the future. We've bought audio guides, which at the moment are for this exhibition, but we can re-programme when it ends.It runs until Easter and it has been a tremendous success, we've had 10,000 extra visitors, double the normal number in this fairly…

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Tags: Society Maev Kennedy Public voices: public values Article

Bill to close legal loophole on buried treasures

West Country police recently turned out on a cold wet night, to follow up reports that two men were illegally digging on an important Roman site. A man with a metal detector was detained nearby, and hundreds of objects were recovered from his car and home. But of the extraordinary haul of Roman coins, scraps of armour and harness, a medieval purse carrier and a crushed Victorian silver thimble, only a tiny scrap of blackened Anglo-Saxon silver can be proved to be held illegally. The finds, more than 400 in all, are being studied by experts at the British Museum, but the incident increases the frustration at the present law shared by archaeologists, police and museum experts. Although amateurs using metal detectors are encouraged to report all finds, under the voluntary portable antiquities scheme, they are only legally obliged to report treasure finds of gold or silver or hoards of coins. Of the cupboard full of finds from the West Country case, only the sliver of si…

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Tags: UK news Higher education Politics Education Maev Kennedy Culture Art and design Humanities News Article The Guardian

Thieves pillage Iron Age fort

Nighthawks, archaeological thieves operating with metal detectors, have ransacked the slopes of one of Northumberland's most important Iron Age hilltop forts, Yeavering Bell. Working overnight, and on the far side of the hill from the nearest houses, they left the fort pitted with holes, 34 in all. Scraps of metal suggest they may have found and looted ancient bronze. The attack, on a site which has never been excavated, is one of the most determined in recent years, and has shocked archaeologists in an area which has so far been relatively free of the scourge. Lord Redesdale, head of the parliamentary committee on archaeology, who is also a landowner in the county, described the attack on the fort as tragic. "This is a national problem, and an area in which the government has been re ally feeble in coming forward with legislation." Although digging with a metal detector without the permission of the landowner is an offence, unless the nighthawks are caught in th…

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Tags: UK news Higher education Education Maev Kennedy Culture Humanities Article The Guardian

Treasure trove law puts museums under pressure

The stunning success of the new treasure law, and the tenfold increase it has produced in the reporting of precious ancient finds, is emptying the acquisition funds of the British Museum and local museums struggling to add the objects to their collections. The treasure law annual report, released by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, shows that 221 items of treasure were reported in 2000, compared with 24 a year before the medieval law of treasure trove was reformed in 1996. The downside is that the finders are entitled to compensation at the full market value and it is left to the British Museum, which has first refusal, or local museums to raise the money. The museum has an annual acquisitions budget for the entire museum of £100,000, and that is likely to be slashed in the current financial crisis. "The government is rightly boasting of the success and the national importance of this scheme, but is trying to run it on a shoestring," Roger Bland,…

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Tags: UK news Education Museums Maev Kennedy Culture Museums Art and design Article The Guardian

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