On 1st January 2003 the Treasure (Designation) Order 2002 added to the definition of Treasure (see Treasure Act 1996) prehistoric base-metal assemblages.
Twelve days later David Button discovered - what was to become - the first group of objects to be reported under these revisons to the Act, whilst metal detecting on farmland near Hollingbourne in Kent. In fact David had recovered a length of copper alloy blade, and then, about 12m away, a large socketed axehead, also of copper alloy. Both were clearly of Bronze Age date. Realising that the blade and axehead were possibly part of a dispersed hoard, and therefore could constitute treasure, David telephoned Andrew Richardson, the Finds Liaison Officer for Kent.
It was agreed to meet at the site the following Wednesday afternoon, along with the farmer, Michael Summerfield. The positions of the two findspots were located and marked and a sweep of the area around these was made by metal detector. Further signals were immediately noted, and these were plotted and then dug. This resulted in the finding of a further eleven Bronze Age artefacts, consisting of four socketed axeheads, four lengths of double-edged blade, two 'ingots' of unworked metal and part of one sword or dagger handle. All the objects were of copper alloy, and all were incomplete, the axeheads having either the end of the blade or the end of the socket broken off in antiquity. The finds were deposited in the British Museum the following day, and it was confirmed that this hoard represented the first find in the country to fall within the scope of the extended Treasure Act.
Part of the Hollinbourne Hoard
A further sweep of the area some days later resulted in the finding of one further ingot and part of a sword handle, bringing the total number of artefacts recovered to fifteen. These were all found within the ploughsoil. The finds were distributed across a roughly crescent-shaped area about 15m by 10m across, and clearly represented a hoard that had been dispersed by the action of the plough.
Given the possibility that further artefacts might remain to be recovered, and in the hope that part of the hoard might remain in situ, an excavation of the findspot was organised. This took place on the weekend of 1st to 2nd March, and was led by Andrew Richardson and Simon Mason (of Kent County Council Heritage Conservation). Stuart Cakebread (Sites and Monuments Officer), along with volunteers from Kent County Council, Maidstone Area Archaeological Group, the North Downs Young Archaeologists Club, the Lenham Archaeological Society and Giles Guthrie (Curator of Maidstone Museum). The Finder, David Button, also took part, along with fellow detectorist, Terry Bodily. The excavation was filmed by the BBC as part of their forthcoming new series Hidden Treasures, which is due to air in September.
An area 4m by 4m (Trench 1) was excavated by hand in the centre of the zone where most of the finds had been made, but no further artefacts were recovered from this trench, and no features were noted. A test hole that was sunk to confirm the depth of the ploughsoil did however reveal a small gully, and this hole was therefore enlarged to investigate this (Trench 2). Sweeps across the general area by the four metal detectorists present (David Button and Terry Bodily, and Gill Davies and Lesley Feakes of the Lenham Archaeological Society) revealed only a few finds, notably a silver coin of Elizabeth I in very good condition, but no further Bronze Age artefacts were found until about 3pm on Saturday 1st, when Gill Davies located a socketed axehead downhill from the scatter found previously. Four further finds were then located in a very concentrated area, and more signals were noted. It seemed probable that the source of the hoard, or indeed a second hoard, had been located, and the following day a trench (Trench 4) was opened around the area of these finds. In addition, an area adjacent to Trench 1 was opened in the hope that more material might be recovered from this (Trench 3). In the event, no further Bronze Age artefacts where recovered from the area of trenches 1 and 3, but the articulated burial of a small horse, associated with prehistoric pot sherds and an iron object, was located. Trench 4, however, revealed three ingots and an axehead which had been disturbed by ploughing, distributed around an in situ group of metal work. The latter consisted of three socketed axeheads, all placed vertically, blade downwards, with a complex of ingots, spearheads and a blade wedged in between them.
The 'second' hoard in situ
These were recorded and photographed before lifting, and the soil from the small pit that they were placed in was collected and bagged for later analysis. It was not until about 8pm on the Sunday night that the hoard was eventually lifted, and the excavation could not have continued without the assistance of local man Mr Gordon Reeves, who kindly provided lights and a generator.
The Floodlit Excavation
A total of thirty five late Bronze Age metal artefacts have now been recovered from the site, comprising twelve axeheads or parts of axeheads, six lengths of blade, two spearheads, two sword/dagger handles and thirteen ingots. The finds date to the very end of the Bronze Age, circa 920-800 BC. It is hoped that further fieldwork on the site will be carried out in the near future, and it is expected that the finds will eventually be acquired by Maidstone Museum under the Treasure Act.
The credit for the discovery of this important find lies with David Button, whose decision to call for archaeological assistance after making the initial finds allowed the recovery of the in situ material, and the accurate plotting of all the find spots. This was a great example of the benefits to be gained by all from co-operation between metal-detector users and archaeologists, and shows the value of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in fostering this co-operation. The excavation was also an exemplary piece of community archaeology, with individuals from several different groups giving up their time and working together for the benefit of Kent's heritage.
Substantially based on an article wrritten by Andrew Richardson, FLO, Kent