News from the Scheme

The Hackney Hoard

Published: 7 years ago Author:

Coroner to rule on unique and historic treasure case

Ian Richardson holds a gold double eagleOn 18 April 2011 the Coroner for Inner North London will resume an inquest in relation to a hoard of American gold dollars (database ID: PAS-867115) found in Hackney in 2007. The hoard consists of 80 coins which were minted in the United States between 1854 and 1913. They are all $20 denominations of the type known as 'Double-Eagle' and the find is unprecedented in the United Kingdom since the Scheme began. The hoard was discovered in the back garden of a property in Hackney and reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme but in a unique twist to the story a likely descendent of the original owner of the coins has been found.

The coins are thought to have been buried in 1940 when Mr Martin Sulzbacher and his family were resident in the Hackney property. A German Jew who had fled persecution in Nazi Germany, Mr Sulzbacher was interned as an 'enemy alien refugee' first in Seaton, Devon. He was then sent to Canada on the ill-fated "Arandora Star" but the ship was torpedoed on the way. Rescued after many hours in the water, he was then sent to Australia on the "Dunera". At the end of 1941 he was sent to the Isle of Man and eventually released. His wife and four children were sent to the Women's Internment Camp in the Isle of Man.

A handful of double eaglesThe remaining members of the Sulzbacher family continued to live in the Hackney house. The gold coins had originally been kept in a safe in the City of London but after 1940 Mr Sulzbacher's brother took the precaution of transferring the coins from the city safe and burying them in the back garden. At the time the threat of invasion was at its height and the family feared the Germans would break open safe deposits as they had done in Amsterdam should the invasion be successful. His brother told a family friend what he had done and the friend had asked him to let him know the exact spot in the garden where the coins had been buried. He replied that since there were five family members who knew the spot there was no necessity to reveal the location of the coins. Unfortunately, on the 24th September 1940, the house received a direct hit in the Blitz and all the five members of the family were killed.

The coins and the kilner jar they were buried inOn his release Mr Sulzbacher went to the safe in the city and to his horror found that the safe was empty. The family friend then told him what had happened and so he arranged for the garden to be searched but without success, he was unable to locate the coins. However, the current case represents a second discovery of Martin Sulzbacher's savings. In 1952 as work commenced on a new building on the site of Mr Sulzbacher's house, a hoard of 82 $20 American gold coins dating to 1890 was discovered in a glass jar on the same site. The hoard was awarded to Mr Sulzbacher by the coroner at the time.

If the Coroner decides that Mr Sulzbacher has a superior claim to the current coin hoard they will not qualify as Treasure according to the terms of the Treasure Act 1996, on the grounds that in order for objects to be classed as such, their owner or his or her heirs or successors must be unknown. Mr Martin Sulzbacher passed away in 1981 but the coroner's office, the British Museum and the Museum of London have worked together to track down his son, Mr Max Sulzbacher who lives abroad, as do his siblings.

Mr Sulzbacher said

'I am surprised but delighted by the recent discovery, which has come to light almost 70 years after the coins were buried. I am very grateful to the finders for reporting the coins to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Museum of London, and to the member of the public who alerted the coroner to the 1950s discovery'.

Michael Lewis studies the case in the BM galleryMax Sulzbacher has generously agreed that the hoard can remain on public display at the British Museum (Room 41) for a further week, giving visitors a further opportunity to see the coins. He hopes to donate one coin to the local Hackney Museum and though not obliged to do so, he has agreed to give an ex-gratia payment to the finders in recognition of their contribution to the discovery. It is anticipated that the remainder of the coins will be sold.

This represents the first time since the Treasure Act came into force in 1997 that an original owner or direct descendent has lain successful claim to an item that would otherwise have been 'Treasure' and the property of the Crown.

Dr Roger Bland, head of the department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum, said

'The case of the Hackney gold coins is one of the most unique and compelling stories that we have been involved with. There is an incredibly human element to this story that is absent from many archaeological finds and we are pleased to see the coins reunited with their original owners after so many years. The finders are to be congratulated for acting responsibly and helping to add further vital information to the corpus of material about the Second World War, Jewish immigration, and the history of Hackney borough.'

Archaeologists from the British Museum and University College London have investigated the site to ensure that no further deposits remained.

For further information please contact Hannah Boulton on 020 7323 8522 or Olivia Rickman on 020 7323 8583 or /

Notes to editors:

The original inquest into the find took place on 11 October 2010 at St Pancras Coroner's Court. The purpose of the inquest was to determine whether the coins qualified as Treasure under the terms of the Treasure Act 1996. Because the coins are less than 300 years' old, in order to qualify as Treasure they needed to meet the following criteria:

  1. Be made of gold or silver
  2. Be deliberately concealed by the owner with a view to later recovery
  3. The owner, or his or her present heirs or successors, must be unknown

The coroner decided that the inquest would be concluded at a later date, in order to allow anyone with information regarding the original owner of the coins to come forward.

Subsequently, the coroner's office was approached by a member of the public who directed their attention to an historic article in The Times newspaper, dated 13 March 1952. This article referenced a Treasure Trove inquest concerning an almost identical group of gold coins found at the same property in Hackney in 1952. In that case, the coroner found that the coins did not constitute Treasure Trove, and handed them to a claimant by the name of Martin Sulzbacher, an earlier resident of the property.

Further research conducted by the coroner's office, the British Museum and the Museum of London has confirmed that Martin Sulzbacher, a German Jew, emigrated to London in the late 1930s and by 1940 owned and lived in the double fronted house in Hackney with his immediate and extended family.

In 1952, in advance of the construction of a new building on the site of Mr Sulzbacher's former residence, workmen discovered a jar containing 82 American gold 'double eagles' dating from the 19th century. They were reported to the coroner, Mr W B Purchase, who, after hearing Mr Sulzbacher's argument in support of his claim to the coins as part of his fortune, found the coins did not constitute Treasure Trove. Due to regulations in place at the time, Mr Sulzbacher was not allowed to keep the gold coins, but was given in exchange the current bullion rate by the Treasury in pounds sterling.

The QRcode for the recordThe current case of 80 gold double eagles almost certainly represents a separate discovery of Mr Sulzbacher's wealth. Martin Sulzbacher passed away in Haringey in 1981, but his immediate relations have come forward to claim the coins as his descendents.

The coins were found wrapped in greaseproof paper inside a glass jar buried in the earth by the residents of the property as they performed routine landscaping in their back garden.

More images can be downloaded from our flickr feed, if you have a question on these tweet us @findsorguk #hashtag #hackneygold All images and text, are, as always CC-BY-SA.

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Scheme's website wins a Best of the Web award

Published: 7 years ago Author:

The Museums and the Web logo

The Scheme is very honoured to accept the 'Best of the Web' award in the research/online collection category at the 2011 Museums and the Web conference which was held at the Loews Hotel, Philadelphia, PA, USA. Unfortunately no one from the Scheme could attend the conference and the award was accepted on our behalf by Dominic Oldman, British Museum IS department. [The site's creator, Daniel Pett, read about the award in a beach bar in Sharm el-Sheikh via the social networking tool twitter.]

The site was up against some very stiff opposition from a wide array of Museums producing excellent online and engaging output. Others in this category included:

  • Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
  • New York Botanical Gardens
  • J. Paul Getty Trust
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • National Museum of American History
  • Museum of the City of New York
  • Windsor Historical Society
  • the STERNA consortium
  • Steve in Action Project Team
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 
  • Museum Victoria
  • Powerhouse Museum
  • Centraal Museum
  • Queensland Museum
  • The Strong (National Museum of Play, Toy Hall of Fame, ICHEG, National Toy Hall of Fame)

Full details on all these websites and their nominations can be read on the comprehensive Museum and the Web site.

The site in the current format, has now been online for just over a year and builds on open source technology and leverages a wide variety of third party websites to enrich content and has been built on a very small budget. Further improvements are to be released in the next few months, including a more powerful search engine and a guide to Bronze Age objects, and at the end of March, the papers from the Staffordshire Hoard Symposium were released under a Creative Commons Licence. 

Being recognised by our peers in the Museum sector for our project is very gratifying for all of the Scheme's staff, alumni and our dedicated finders, researchers and contributors. Without them, the site would be just a framework.

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Staffordshire Hoard Symposium papers released

Published: 7 years ago Author:

The hoard laid out in Prehistory basement for valuation

The Portable Antiquities Scheme website now features 16 of the 27 research papers presented at the Staffordshire Hoard Symposium, held at the British Museum in March 2010. These can be accessed at

The papers have been edited by Helen Geake (the Scheme's Finds Adviser for Early Medieval objects) and have been released within a year of the Symposium. The papers include contributions from Guy Halsall, George and Isabel Henderson, David Parsons, Svante Fischer and Jean Soulat, Simon Cane, Simon Keynes, Nicholas Brooks, Karen Høilund Nielsen, Della Hooke, Elisabeth Okasha, David Ganz, Mattias Jacobsson, Benjamin Gearey, Charlotte Behr, Alex Jones and Kevin Leahy.

Many of these papers are illustrated and linked to skeleton records on the Scheme's database where appropriate. There are a few more still to be published, pending agreement with the authors.

These papers are still a work in progress, with edits being made when needed and they are also released under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share-Alike licence.

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Frome Hoard of Roman coins saved for nation

Published: 7 years ago Author:

The Frome Hoard in situNational Heritage Memorial Fund steps in to close the Art Fund and Museum of Somerset's campaign to secure the Frome Hoard.

Today, the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) is delighted to announce a grant of £294,026 to the Museum of Somerset that will ensure the Frome Hoard will remain in Somerset, where it was discovered. A total of £320,250 was needed to keep Britain's largest collection of silver and bronze Roman coins ever to be unearthed in a single container in Somerset. A further £100,000 has also been raised for its conservation.

News of the NHMF grant marks the end of an intensive fundraising campaign led by the Art Fund, the national fundraising charity for works of art, which kick-started the appeal in November 2010 with a grant of £40,250. Members of public generously donated £13,657, which the Art Fund matched with a further £10,000 through its first ever match funding appeal. The acquisition was also made possible thanks to funding from the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Headley Trust, one of the Sainsbury Family charitable trusts, and other generous donations.

Heritage Minister, John Penrose, said: "Making sure the Frome Hoard stays in Britain is great news, but ensuring it can stay in the very county in which it was discovered is even better. The fantastic work of all the organisations involved including the NHMF, along with the generosity of the public, will mean an important part of our Roman heritage will be enjoyed for years to come."

Dame Jenny Abramsky, Chair of NHMF, said:

"What fantastic news. This is exactly the kind of precious heritage the National Heritage Memorial Fund was set-up 31 years ago to protect. This glorious collection is a truly inspirational discovery which has captured the public's imagination. I am delighted we have been able to step in with the final piece of the jigsaw, to ensure it can be enjoyed by future generations."

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said:

"We are thrilled that the campaign to save the Frome Hoard has been a success. The Roman coins will go on display in Somerset and provide experts with the opportunity to carry out vital research. Most importantly it will mean that generations can learn, enjoy and be inspired by the coins. It is very much thanks to the generosity of members of the public that we were able to double donations through our match-funding appeal. I'd also like to thank the National Heritage Memorial Fund for making the success of this appeal possible. This is an example of private and public funds coming together to save important heritage items."

The Frome Hoard is the second largest collection of Roman coins ever to be found in Britain and the largest ever to have been found in one single container. Comprising 52,503 coins dating between 253 and 293 AD, they cover the issues of 26 different Roman emperors and some have never been seen before.

Over 760 of the coins belong to the reign of Marcus Aurelius Mauseus Valerius Carausius, known as Britain's Pirate Emperor. Carausius led a revolt against the Empire declaring himself Emperor of Britain and Northern Gaul. This is the largest group of his coins found anywhere.

Along with the unprecedented potential to broaden the understanding of life in 3rd century Roman Britain, this Hoard also challenges the assumption that finds of this nature were buried in order to secure them in uncertain times. The coins were buried at a time of relative peace, in a large fragile pottery container with a smaller pot upturned on top serving as a lid. Nothing suggests this is a practical way to hide money and experts believe that several large 'hoards' of the past will now need to be re-examined to see if their burial is suggestive of ritualistic behaviour rather than concealment.

Stephen Minnitt, Head of the Museum of Somerset said:

"The Frome Hoard has received a tremendous amount of public interest locally and from around the world and I am delighted that the campaign to acquire it was successful. Timing is perfect as we prepare for the opening of the Museum of Somerset in the summer of 2011. The story will not end there however. As the hoard undergoes study over the next year or two many more of its secrets will be unlocked."

The Frome Hoard was discovered by metal detectorist, Dave Crisp near Frome near Somerset last April. Following conservation, the collection will go on permanent display at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton, when it reopens in the summer of 2011 following a £6.9million refurbishment.

For further press information and images, please contact:

Natasha Ley/Alison Scott, NHMF Press Office, 020 7591 6143 or or Lizzie Bloom, Press & Campaigns Manager, the Art Fund,0207 225 4804 or

Notes to Editors

Funding breakdown

  • Acquisition costs £320,250
  • Conservation costs £105,000
  • National Heritage Memorial Fund£294,026
  • Somerset Museum £10,000
  • Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society £10,000
  • MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund £20,000
  • The Headley Trust £20,000
  • Art Fund £50,250
  • Other donations £10,408
  • Public fundraising, led by the Art Fund £13,657

National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF)

The National Heritage Memorial Fund was set up to save the most outstanding parts of our national heritage, in memory of those who have given their lives for the UK. NHMF currently receives annual grant-in-aid from the Government of £10million. It is due to receive £20million between 2011-15.

The Frome Hoard joins a diverse range of over 1,200 iconic objects and places which have been safeguarded by the NHMF to the tune of over £300million. These include:

  • The Coenwulf Coin
  • The Macclesfield Psalter
  • The Mappa Mundi
  • The Staffordshire Hoard
  • The Milton Keynes Pot of Gold
  • The Mary Rose
  • The Flying Scotsman
  • The last surviving World War II destroyer, HMS Cavalier
  • Antonio Canova's The Three Graces
  • The personal archive of Siegfried Sassoon, WWI soldier, author and poet.
  • Skokholm Island, Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Pembrokeshire

Museum of Somerset

The Frome Hoard will be prominently displayed in the Museum of Somerset, Taunton, when it re-opens in the Summer of 2011. The museum is presently undergoing a £6.9 million refurbishment largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Locally, support for the hoard's acquisition has been shown by a contribution of £10,000 from the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society.

Contact Stephen Minnitt, Head of Museum 07917 837521. Email:

The Art Fund

The Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for works of art and plays a major part in enriching the range and quality of art on public display in the UK. It campaigns, fundraises and gives money to museums and galleries to buy and show art, and offers many ways of enjoying it through its events and membership scheme. Under its programme of charitable activity, initiatives include sponsoring the UK tour of the ARTIST ROOMS collection so that it reaches several million people across the UK each year, and fundraising: two recently successful campaigns include bringing in £6 million to save the Staffordshire Hoard for the West Midlands and Pieter Brueghel the Younger's The Procession to Calvary for Nostell Priory, in partnership with the National Trust. The Art Fund is funded entirely by its art-loving and museum-going members and supporters who believe that great art should be for everyone to enjoy. Find out more at Press contact | 020 7225 4888 |

Portable Antiquities Scheme

The Portable Antiquities Scheme was established to encourage the recording of archaeological finds found by the public, and also supports the mandatory reporting of Treasure (such as the Frome Hoard) under the Treasure Act 1996. The Scheme is managed by the British Museum on behalf of the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council. Across England and Wales its Finds Liaison Officers liaise with finders and record their finds, which are published on its online database ( so that people can learn about the archaeology of their local area, and also for the advancement of archaeological knowledge.

Contact Roger Bland, Head of Portable Antiquities and Treasure, 020 7323 8611 or 0898 966 9414; e-mail:

MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund

The MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund is a government fund that helps regional museums, record offices and specialist libraries in England and Wales to acquire objects relating to the arts, literature and history. It was established at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in 1881 and continues to be part of its nationwide work. The annual grants budget, currently £900,000, is provided by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).Each year, the Purchase Grant Fund considers some 250 applications and awards grants to around 100 organisations, enabling acquisitions of around £3 million to go ahead.

Visit the website:

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Archaeologist of the Year and Rescue Excavation awards at CA Live 2011

Published: 7 years ago Author:

Sam Moorhead with the Scheme's staffLast weekend saw the Current Archaeology Live 2011 conference at the British Museum and Saturday night saw the presentation of a variety of awards to individuals and organisations. These awards were voted for by the readers of Current Archaeology magazine and website, and two Scheme related categories were available for voting.

The Scheme's National Adviser for Roman and Iron Age coins, Sam Moorhead, was awarded the 'Archaeologist of the Year' award, against stiff opposition from Philip Crummy and Tam Ward. Sam's nomination read as:

Sam Moorhead is the National Finds Advisor for Iron Age and Roman coins in the Department of Portable Antiquities at the British Museum. But he is much more than that: his many achievements and the range of his contributions to archaeology are truly phenomenal. He is a specialist and scholar of the highest standards, yet at the same time a very modest, self-effacing colleague, and also a populariser with a missionary zeal about bringing the prehistoric and ancient worlds alive for the general audience. He has been especially prominent over the last year because of his involvement in the AD 410 commemorations, and in the excavation and analysis of the Frome Hoard - the biggest hoard of Roman coins ever found in Britain.

Sam was central to the major two-day conference at the British Museum in March to debate the end of Roman Britain, which saw the emergence of a new academic consensus that is likely to underpin research for a generation. And, despite his extensive commitments, he also found time to co-author a superb narrative history book, AD 410 - The Year That Shook Rome.

Sam, as modest as ever dedicated the award to our late colleague, Geoff Egan. Sam's involvement in archaeology has seen him excavate extensively in Israel (Tel Jezreel and Caesarea), teaching at Ardingly College in Sussex, lecturing all round the country at universities, NADFAS meetings and metal detecting clubs, trustee at the Palestine Exploration Fund and membership of numerous academic societies. He even recently dressed as a slave at the Roman Society's Centenary celebrations at the British Museum and has been awarded Honorary Lecturership status at University College London.

The CA246 coverSecondly, the amazing discovery of the Frome Hoard, was nominated in the 'Rescue excavation of the Year' category, a dig co-ordinated by Alan Graham, which has yielded amazing results and 52,503 coins that will keep the new archaeologist of the year and his colleagues extremely busy for a few years to come. The dig's story was documented in Current Archaeology 246 and Sam Moorhead accepted the award on behalf of all who were involved in the discovery (Dave Crisp - the finder) and excavation (Anna Booth, Alan Graham, Steve Minnitt, Naomi Payne, Katie Hinds). The hoard's excavation and the story behind the discovery are also told in the recent publication - Frome Hoard (Moorhead, Booth and Bland 2010) and it is hoped that following a national fund raising campaign, that it is acquired for Somerset.

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Geoffrey Egan PhD, FSA Archaeologist and finds expert

Published: 7 years ago Author:

19.10.51 - 24.12.10  

Full version of obituary by Chris Catling submitted to the Times

Geoff Egan framed in a hatch

Shakespeare's description of Autolycus, the pickpocket and pedlar in A Winter's Tale, as 'a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles', aptly sums up Geoff Egan, who was a world expert on just the kind of novelties, toys, trinkets, buttons, hooks and bells that would have formed the stock-in-trade of an Elizabethan fairground hawker or packman.

In archaeological parlance, Egan was a 'small finds expert', but where most specialists in this field narrow their studies to one type of object, Egan had an encyclopaedic knowledge of a multiplicity of objects. In the children's toys, dice or pilgrims' badges that he studied, or the lead seals that were the subject of his doctoral thesis, attached to cloth by the maker, sometimes by finishers (eg the dyers) and the taxation authorities as a guarantee of provenance and quality, Egan initially saw stories of daily life and changing fashion and the developing economy of a city that was to become the capital of a worldwide empire, but his interests became much more wide ranging and encompassed the trade, economy and life of all Europe and beyond.

Born in Harrow, Egan was the son of Daphne, who was a lab technician before her marriage and Dr Harold Egan, the distinguished biochemist who had held the position of Government Chemist between 1970 and 1981. Educated at Harrow grammar school, Geoffrey Egan went up to Peterhouse, Cambridge, initially to read Classics. Friends there introduced him to the sociable tea room in the Archaeology and Anthropology Faculty, an institution that has played a catalytic role in the lives of many now-eminent archaeologists, and Egan soon realised how he wanted to spend the rest of his life.

The periods that interested Egan most - the medieval and post-medieval - were still regarded as 'fringe' territory in the 1970s, the realm of the historian rather than the archaeologist. That began to change with the rapid pace of development in London and the discovery that during the Roman and medieval periods large parcels of land had been reclaimed from the Thames, each plot of new land being infilled with whatever refuse lay to hand.

For archaeologists, these waterlogged wharfs, with their well-preserved organic objects of wood, leather and textile, provided a fascinating insight into the domestic and industrial life of the developing city, and it was to this 'detritus' that Egan devoted his life after graduating in 1976. Employed initially as a 'digger' on those waterfront excavations (intermittently also working as a gardener at Kew), he rose to the rank of site supervisor with the Museum of London's Department of Urban Archaeology before becoming the museum's specialist in medieval and later non-ceramic finds.

It was in this capacity that he published more than 100 papers in academic journals, and an impressive series of books on small finds from London that are now classic reference works, These include such major monographs as Dress Accessories (1991, with Frances Pritchard), Lead Cloth Seals (1995), Playthings from the Past (1996), The Medieval Household (1998), Trifles, Toys and Trinkets (2005, with Hazel Forsyth), Material Culture in an Age of Transition (2006), about everyday objects from the Tudor and Stuart periods, and Meols: The Archaeology of the North Wirral Coast, (2007, co-written with David Griffiths and Robert Philpott) about the enormous number of later medieval and post-medieval finds discovered at the site of a beach market at Meols, on the Wirral Peninsula.

Egan relished nothing better than finding a type of object that had been neglected in recent scholarship. He would then scour libraries and antiquarian bookshops for anything that would throw light on the subject - preferably works contemporary with the objects he was studying. He read voraciously until he had mastered all the facts about the manufacture, use and date of the object. As a result, the house in which he was born in Wembley, and that he had inherited from his parents, was filled with a sea of books.

He taught himself German, Russian and several Scandinavian languages in order to read excavation reports and was an adventurous traveller, visiting museums as far afield as Mongolia in order to add to his store of knowledge, and very often being welcomed on arrival with boxes of objects that he would be asked to identify. One such journey of 100 days took him round the world in 49 plane flights and numerous trains in 1987 and stemmed from his desire to visit a life-long friend working in Papua New Guinea.

His natural gifts as a communicator meant that he was much in demand as a speaker, and he was just as much at home talking to an international conference in Lubeck, Nuremberg or Gdansk as he was talking to a local society or metal detecting club in Blackpool or Liverpool.

He was a founder member of the Finds Research Group in 1984 and served on its committee for 19 years, organising several of its conferences and trips. Having been on the council of the Society of Post-Medieval Archaeology since 1982, he served as its President from 2005 to 2008, co-editing the 50th anniversary volume of the Society's journal in 2009 and organising conferences for that Society - choosing faraway places that he wanted to visit, such as the West Indies or Williamsburg, Virginia.

In 2004, Egan was seconded part-time from the Museum of London to the British Museum as National Finds Adviser on Early Medieval to Post Medieval Finds for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and from July 2010 the post, which he described as his dream job, was made permanent. At the BM, his legendary knowledge was put to effective use in identifying tens of thousands of finds brought to the museum by members of the public every year, the most interesting of which he wrote up in successive Portable Antiquities and Treasure Annual Reports and in the Journal of Post-Medieval Archaeology.

In May 2009, Egan was elected Master of the Company of Arts Scholars, Dealers and Collectors - quite possibly the first time that a professional archaeologist had ever served as the head of a City of London guild. Nobody who was there will forget the Company's Fourth Annual Lecture, given by Egan on 25 October 2010 at Carpenters' Hall on the subject of 'Glorious Mud: treasures from the Thames', made memorable by the playing of a replica of a late 14th-century trumpet, 1.6 metres in length, that Geoff had found whilst undertaking a watching brief at Billingsgate Market lorry park.

For Egan, that Thames mud was a huge lucky dip that kept on giving up archaeological treasures (in recent weeks for example, volunteers working for the Thames Discovery Programme have found the 30m-long skeleton of a right whale and London's oldest structure, a 6,000-year old timber structure at Vauxhall). At a time when many in the archaeological community were hostile to the activities of mudlarks and detectorists scouring the foreshore for finds, Egan shared their passion for discovery and helped to bridge the two worlds. Such was his rapport with the detectorists that when the History Channel recently made a programme about them ('Mud Men'; to be broadcast in February 2011), they told the producer that Geoff was 'god'. Egan would have been as proud of the tributes paid to him on detectorists' social media sites since his death as of any academic accolade.

Egan died suddenly, of a coronary thrombosis, in the prime of life and with much left to give. Despite his sociability, love of jazz and good food, and large and international circle of friends, his lifestyle was not one easily shared with a companion, and he never married. He came from a loving and supportive family, and he regarded his best friend and next of kin, the landscape architect Graham Martin, as more like a brother than the cousin he was.

Geoffrey Egan, medieval and post-medieval finds expert, was born on October 19, 1951. He died on December 24, 2010, aged 59.

Obituary from The Searcher, and also submitted to the Guardian by Roger Bland

Geoff Egan, who died on 24 December 2010, was the leading expert in medieval and later small finds and pioneered liaison with the 'mudlarks' who search for finds on the Thames foreshore in London. Digging in thick mud against the tide, mudlarks have retrieved a fascinating trove of metal artefacts that had been lost by generations of Londoners on the banks of the Thames. In the 1970s they were shunned by many professional archaeologists, who deplored what they saw as their unscientific methods of retrieval, but many had great expertise in the finds they made and some, like Tony Pilson, donated their collections to the Museum of London and the British Museum.

Geoff had done some mudlarking himself. Together with his colleague Hazel Forsyth, Geoff published the collection of Toys, Trifles and Trinkets that Tony Pilson donated to the Museum of London. This pioneering work studied a class of artefact (children's metal toys made between about 1200 and 1800) that had not been recognised by archaeologists before the discoveries of the mudlarks brought significant numbers to light. 

As the specialist in medieval and later non-ceramic finds in the Museum of London Archaeology Service Geoff played a key role in the series of catalogues on Medieval Finds from Excavations in London which are an essential reference for all specialists in this period, and he was personally responsible for two volumes: The Medieval Household and Dress Accessories (with Frances Pritchard). He also wrote Material Culture in London in an Age of Transition: Tudor & Stuart Period Finds from Southwark.

Another area of interest centred on the lead seals that were affixed to textiles sent out in trade from the 14th to the 18th centuries: Geoff appreciated that recording the find spots of these unprepossessing objects can give us much information about the cloth trade, for a long time was the main source of the England's prosperity. Geoff's study of these led to a doctorate from the Institute of Archaeology London and also resulted in a publication of a catalogue of seals in the British Museum. Geoff was also a key player in the project to catalogue the unique series of finds from the enigmatic site of Meols on the Wirral coast: the settlement itself has disappeared into the sea (it is thought to have been a beach market) and it is known mainly to us through the finds. The monumental catalogue, written with David Griffiths and Rob Philpott, is another key reference for specialists. In all Geoff contributed more than 100 papers and notes to both national and county journals.

Geoff Egan was born in Wembley in north-west London on 19 October 1951, the only son of Daphne and Dr Harold Egan, who was the Government Chemist between 1970 and 1981 and later wrote the history of the Laboratory of the Government Chemist. Geoff was educated at what he described as the 'academic hothouse' of Harrow County School, and gained a place at Peterhouse College Cambridge to study Classics, although he subsequently switched to Archaeology and Anthropology, which he found more congenial. This change was to dictate the course of his career. 

After graduation in 1975 Geoff worked for a while at Kew Gardens, but a life-long love of travel took him to Norway, where he ended up working on an archaeological excavation in Trondheim and his future career as an archaeologist was set. On his return to England in 1976 he obtained a job as an archaeologist at the Museum of London, and he stayed there for the next 34 years. Starting on the bottom rung, Geoff worked his way up to be a fieldwork director before becoming a finds specialist.

The 1970s were great days in the excavations of London as the boom in the redevelopment of the City led to an enormous upsurge in archaeological excavations and the Department of Urban Archaeology at the Museum of London, as it then was, was created to respond to this need. 

Geoff's encyclopaedic knowledge of finds and his experience in working with the mudlarks meant that his expertise was of great value to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, established in 1997 to record finds made by members of the public. Geoff had had a part-time role with the Scheme since 2004 and in July 2010 he was appointed to a full-time post as Finds Adviser for the Scheme, based at the British Museum. He said this was his dream job and it is a tragic loss that he held it for so short a time, dying of coronary thrombosis at his home just before Christmas. Geoff was always keen to share his encyclopaedic knowledge of finds with experts and amateurs alike. He was in great demand as a speaker and he was as much at home talking at an international conference as to a local society or metal detecting club - in the month before he died he had spoken at an archaeological colloquium in Lübeck, advising Gdansk museum on their collections, while the next week he was back speaking at a metal detecting club in Blackpool. His sheer enthusiasm and knowledge was infectious. When ITN proposed to make a series of programmes called Mud Men on finds from the Thames foreshore, shortly to be screened on the History Channel, the mudlarks urged ITN to engage Geoff's services - they said that as far as they were concerned he was 'god'.

Geoff did not have great respect for authority, whether that was Peterhouse College Cambridge, or his managers in his professional life, but he loved working with fellow-archaeologists and researchers through societies. He was greatly loved by his peers and of the many people I have spoken to about him, no one had a bad word to say about him. A Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, he was also a linch-pin of the Finds Research Group, organising several of its conferences and visits and speaking at most of them. He had been on the council of the Society of Post-Medieval Archaeology since 1982 and served as its President from 2005 to 2008. He also organised conferences for that Society - preferably in faraway places such as the West Indies or Williamsburg, Virginia. He had a great love of travel and built up many friends in European and American museums: he had accompanied the Finds Research Group on a trip to Nuremberg two weeks before he died. But perhaps the organisation that gave Geoff greatest pleasure was the Company of Arts Scholars, Collectors and Dealers, one of the newest of the city guilds. Geoff served as its master in 2009-10 and one of his proudest moments was last summer when he joined members of the guild who exercised their right as freemen of the City of London and to drive a flock of sheep across London Bridge.

Geoff was a magpie. His home in Wembley, where he lived all his life, was crammed full of the fruits of his collecting, from his childhood collection of pottery sherds and other antiquities, all neatly classified in metal cabinets, to a massive collection of books.

He even kept the many tickets he accumulated from his extensive travels. He never took to modern technology. ITN were surprised to learn that he did not possess a mobile phone and the ways of computers were a bit of a mystery to him: he continually battled with his e-mail inbox. Geoff would have been more at home with a quill pen in the tradition of 18th century gentleman scholars such as William Stukeley.


Donations in memory of Geoff may sent to The Company of Arts Scholars Charitable Trust, c/o The Clerk, 28 AldebertLondon SW8 1BJ (

Memorial event

There will be a memorial event for Geoff in the BP lecture theatre at the British Museum from 2 to 5.30 pm on 24 March at which his friends and colleagues will contribute their memories of him and there will also be clips from the TV series Mud Men.

All are welcome and there is no charge; please contact to reserve a place.

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CBA Community Archaeology bursaries

Published: 7 years ago Author:

CBA logo, text in a green backgroundThe CBA is advertising nine 12-month-long training placements in community archaeology across England, Wales and Scotland.

The Council for British Archaeology, a registered charity (287815) with a secretariat based in York, is advertising nine 12-month-long training placements in community archaeology, supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional support from English Heritage, Cadw, Historic Scotland and the Welsh Archaeological Trusts.

The Community Archaeology Bursaries Project supports work-based training placements across the UK which aim to provide valuable workplace learning opportunities for individuals with a background in archaeology who are seeking to develop their skills in working with community groups and running community archaeology projects.

This is the first round of such placements over the next three years. The host organisations and locations for the Year one Community Archaeology Training Placements (CATPs) are:

  • Cadw (Cardiff)
  • Centre for Applied Archaeology, University of Salford (Manchester)
  • Dyfed Archaeological Trust (Llandeilo)
  • Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust (Swansea)
  • Gwynedd Archaeological Trust (Bangor)
  • National Museums Liverpool (Liverpool)
  • Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (Edinburgh)
  • Surrey County Archaeological Unit (Woking)
  • York Archaeological Trust (York)

Bursary: See individual job descriptions

For complete details of these training placements (including the application forms) please download the relevant application pack via our Community Archaeology Training Placements page (, or visit the host organisation websites.

Closing date for all CATP applications: Friday 11th February
Interview dates: See individual application packs.

For specific queries about the Community Archaeology Bursaries Project, email us on

Memorial event for Geoff Egan

Published: 7 years ago Author:

Geoff in his Guild regaliaThere will be a memorial event for Geoff Egan from 2 to 5.30 pm on 24 March in the BP lecture theatre in the Clore Education centre at the British Museum when Geoff's friends and colleagues will contribute their memories, followed by a party. Speakers include John Cherry of the Finds Research Group and formerly of the British Museum, Hazel Forsyth of the Museum of London, Gus Milne of the Institute of Archaeology, Paul Courtney of the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology, a representative of the mudlarks and Mark Bridge of the Company of Arts Scholars. All are welcome. Admission is free but booking is required; please contact

The following is the text of the address that Roger Bland gave at Geoff's funeral on the 14th January:

Graham has asked me to say a few words on Geoff as a professional colleague, but I am very conscious that there are many people here - colleagues from the Museum of London, from the other organisations with which he was involved, representatives of the mudlarks - who have known him for much longer than me.

So I will talk mainly about my own knowledge of Geoff since he first came to work for PAS in 2004, at first on a part-time basis on secondment from the Museum of London, and then full-time since last July when we were able to create a full-time post for him at the British Museum. It might be a cliché to say this, but in Geoff's case it is literally true: he leaves a gap that cannot be filled. We created a post for him at the British Museum because of his immense knowledge of medieval and post-medieval finds, and we do not think that we will be able to replace him.

I'm not an expert in Geoff's field but when I came to set up the network of staff in the Portable Antiquities Scheme in the late 1990s more and more people told me about this legendary character at the Museum of London Archaeology Service who had pioneered liaison with the people who search for finds on the Thames foreshore - the mudlarks - in the 1970s and who knew all there was to know about small finds from London. The mudlarks have retrieved a fascinating trove of metal artefacts lost by generations of Londoners on the banks of the Thames and Geoff was one of the first archaeologists to recognise the importance of what they were finding and actively to seek their co-operation. I learned from Graham that he and Geoff had done some mudlarking themselves, many years ago. Geoff's approach has undoubtedly paid off.

Together with his colleague Hazel Forsyth, Geoff published the collection of Toys, Trifles and Trinkets that Tony Pilson donated to the Museum of London. This pioneering work studied a class of artefact (children's metal toys from 1200 to 1800) that had not been recognised by archaeologists before the discoveries of the mudlarks brought significant numbers of them to light. This book is an excellent example of the collaborative way in which Geoff worked: it was written jointly by himself and his colleague Hazel Forsyth, based on the collection that he had encouraged the mudlark Tony Pilson generously to donate to the Museum and the volume was funded by the late Jonathan Horne, an antiques dealer who was to introduce Geoff to the Guild.

Geoff also played a key part in the great series of catalogues of medieval finds from London excavations, written with colleagues from the Museum of London, and he wrote two of them himself: Dress Accessories and The Medieval Household. He opened our eyes to the significance of cloth seals - the lead seals affixed to textiles sent out in trade from the 14th to the 18th centuries. He appreciated that recording the findspots of these unprepossessing objects can give us much information about the cloth trade, for a long time was the main source of the England's prosperity. His study of these led to a doctorate from the Institute of Archaeology London and also resulted in a publication of a catalogue of seals in the British Museum.

Geoff was a key player in the project to catalogue the unique series of finds from the enigmatic site of Meols on the Wirral coast: the settlement itself has disappeared into the sea (it is thought to have been a beach market) and it is known mainly to us through the finds. The monumental catalogue, written with David Griffiths and Rob Philpott, is another key reference for specialists. Geoff also contributed more than 100 papers and notes to both national and county journals. This would be an extremely impressive body of scholarship for anyone, but even more so for someone who for most of his career was a finds expert at the Museum of London Archaeology Service and who was snatched from us prematurely. There is no doubt that his published work will stand as Geoff's most lasting legacy.

But Geoff did so much more than write books and articles. He was in huge demand as a speaker and he was just as much at home talking to an international conference or to a local society or metal detecting club - in the month before he died he had spoken at an archaeological colloquium in Lubeck and he had also been asked to advise the museum in Gdansk on their collections, while the next week he was back speaking at a metal detecting club in Blackpool. His sheer enthusiasm and knowledge was infectious. When ITN came to us because they were making a series of programmes called Mud Men on finds from the Thames Foreshore, presented by Steve Brooker and Johnnie Vaughan, Steve, an experienced detectorist on the Thames, told the TV people that they needed to engage Geoff's services - he said that as far as mudlarks were concerned Geoff was 'god'. ITN soon realised that Steve was right, even though they sometimes had a bit of a job working with someone who didn't own a mobile phone. The series will be shown on the History Channel next month and will serve as a memorial to Geoff.

In fact I don't think Geoff ever really got to grips with modern technology - computers were scary objects whose ways were a bit of a mystery to him. Although he was a great lecturer PowerPoint was not for him: Geoff preferred to stick to slides if he could, even though slide projectors are beginning to become hard to find. Graham told me how he found a very smart laptop at Geoff's home, but it didn't have a single file on it. And as for e-mails - his battles with the message 'your e-mail inbox is full' were legendary. I think Geoff would really have been more at home with a quill pen and in many ways one could imagine him as an antiquarian gentleman scholar of the 18th century in the tradition of William Stukeley.

Geoff didn't always have a great respect for authority - whether that was Peterhouse College Cambridge, where he took his degree, although he made life-long friends there - or his managers in his professional life. But he loved working with fellow-archaeologists and researchers through societies. He was a founder member of the Finds Research Group in 1982 and served on its committee for 19 years, organising several of its conferences and visits and speaking at more of them. He had been on the council of the Society of Post-Medieval Archaeology since 1982 and served as its President from 2005 to 2008. He also organised conferences for that Society - preferably in faraway places such as the West Indies or Williamsburg, Virginia. Geoff loved travel and built up many friends in European and American museums: he had accompanied the Finds Research Group on a trip to Nuremberg just before he died.

Geoff was an active Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a prominent member of the Essay Club and was in demand to speak on new finds at the Society's ballot meetings. But perhaps the organisation which gave Geoff greatest pleasure was the Company of Arts Scholars, Collectors and Dealers, one of the newest of the city guilds. Geoff had just served a term as its master and, although one would not normally associate the term 'sartorial elegance' with Geoff there is a magnificent image on the Guild's website showing Geoff in a suit wearing his chain of office. One of his proudest moments was last summer when members of the guild exercised their right as freemen of the City of London to drive a flock of sheep across London Bridge. I think the verdict of those who witnessed this event was that Geoff had better stick to his day job than look for a new career as a shepherd.

There is so much more that could be said about Geoff as a colleague and a scholar and we are going to hold a memorial event for him in the British Museum on the afternoon of March 24th. We have booked the biggest lecture theatre and I expect that it will be full, because he had so many friends. I hope you will be able to come.

It is hard to think that we here at the funeral of someone who was so recently so full of life.

I think that this passage from that great work of history, Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People is apt here. It was advice given to Edwin, King of Northumbria, by one of his courtiers when the King was considering whether to convert to Christianity:

"This is how the present life of man of earth, King, appears to me, in comparison with that time which is unknown to us. You are sitting feasting with your ealdormen and thegns in winter time; the fire is burning on the hearth in the middle of the hall and all inside is warm, while outside the wintry storms of rain and snow are raging; and a sparrow flies swiftly through the hall. It enters in at one door and quickly flies out through the other. For a few moments it is inside, the storm and wintry tempest cannot touch it, but after the briefest moment of calm, it flits from your sight, out of the wintry storm and into it again. So this life of man appears for a moment; what follows or indeed what went before, we know not at all."

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Geoff Egan RIP

Published: 7 years ago Author:

London Bridge Anniversary Fayre

The Scheme is very sad to announce the untimely death of our friend and colleague Geoff Egan. Geoff died shortly before Christmas from a coronary thrombosis at home. He will be missed by all who have been touched by his presence. An appreciation of Geoff has been posted by Paul Courtney, Society for Post-medieval Archaeology at

In due course more tributes will be collated on our site.

Requiescat in pace.

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Ashmolean Museum acquires a hoard of Angels this Christmas

Published: 8 years ago Author:

No. 174: Richard III '(boar's head 2 / sun and rose no. ?)' - you can see his insignia, the boar's head, on the prow of the ship on the reverse.Today, the Ashmolean Museum is delighted to announce the acquisition of a spectacular Tudor hoard of 210 English gold angels and half-angel coins, found in the Cotswolds, Oxfordshire. Spanning the period from 1470-1526, covering the Wars of the Roses to ten years before the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the hoard is the largest intact assemblage of its kind. It contains some rare pieces, most notably from the reign of Kings Henry VI, 2nd reign (1470-1471) and Richard III (1483-1485).

The Ashmolean successfully secured more than half of the hoard's asking price through private, philanthropic giving with the remaining monies raised through government funding and grants from public sources. Over and above the £64,000 from NHMF, the following helped to raise the money: £28,000 from The MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund; £10,000 from The Headley Trust; and £178,000 from the following: Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Seaman; Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza; The Mougins Museum of Classical Art; The Carl and Eileen Subak Family Foundation; The Friends of the Ashmolean; The Elias Ashmole Group; The Tradescant Patrons Group.

Dr Christopher Brown, Director of the Ashmolean, said

We are extremely grateful to the individuals and funding bodies for their very generous contributions towards this remarkable hoard. Not only will the hoard be a great addition to our renowned collection but it makes a significant contribution to the history of Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds, and to our understanding of the production and circulation of gold coinage in the early Tudor period.

Dame Jenny Abramsky, Chair of the NHMF, said:

This is clearly an inspirational collection. That it has now been saved for future generations to enjoy is testament to how private philanthropy, government funds such as the National Heritage Memorial Fund and public funding bodies can effectively come together to secure our most important heritage treasures.

Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, said:

This is great news. Safeguarding this rare collection shows how philanthropy, with the support of Government money through NHMF and additional corporate subsidy, can come together to help protect our rich and irreplaceable heritage for everyone's benefit and for all time.

The hoard was discovered in the summer of 2007 during building work in the village of Asthall, near Burford. It was declared Treasure in April 2010 and was valued by Treasure Valuation Committee at £280,000 on 12 August. It was unearthed on land which belonged to Eton College at the turn of the sixteenth century. The Tudor gold was buried in the early period of Henry VIII (1509-1547); it is possible this was connected to the hiding of Church wealth, in the context of the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII. Alternatively, it may represent a merchant's wealth - whatever the reason, the Asthall hoard is testimony to the accumulation of wealth in the region, made particularly rich from the wool trade.

Angels and half-angels were first minted in 1465, bearing the Archangel Michael slaying the dragon on the obverse. It has been suggested that this is an allegory of the overthrow of Lancaster by York. European culture in the fifteenth century was a time of chivalry and lay piety. This religious theme continues on the reverse design,where the traditional ship borne by the gold nobles since 1344 is super-imposed by a cross, and by the inscriptions:

  • Per Crucem Tuam Salva Nos Christe Redemptor: - Through thy cross save us, Christ Redeemer (on the angels);
  • O Crux Ave Spes Unica - Hail! O Cross, our only hope (on the half-angels).

In the second half of the fifteenth century, the introduction of the angel with its overtly pious message coincided with the popular practice of the Royal Touch. Since medieval times, kings have been involved in the healing of tuberculosis of the neck (scrofula, the King's Evil), a practice which involved touching (Royal Touch), and the giving of alms in the shape of coins. Touch pieces retained the design of angel coins for centuries.

Following conservation, the hoard will go on display in a special exhibition in the Ashmolean's new Money Gallery for a year from 22 March 2011. It will become a key part of the Museum's permanent collection of coins, one of the leading currency collections in the world.

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