Treasures of our nation

ANGI KENNEDY From treasure hunters’ to valued partners – Norfolk has led the way in working with metal detectorists and amateur archaeologists. And an impressive exhibition reveals some of the amazing benefits.


The golden torcs of the Snettisham Hoard, the Roman silver of the Mildenhall Treasure, the gold and silver coins of the Hoxne Hoard. What do they have in common - other than being fantastic East Anglian finds which have illuminated our knowledge of the past?

The link is that each one is the ultimate result of a lucky discovery, not by an archaeologist but by a member of the public.

And at Norwich Castle a spectacular exhibition will show the importance of such finds, some of which were literally stumbled upon by ordinary men and women.

Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past promises a wonderful look at some of the precious pieces of our past which have been unearthed over the decades by farmers, labourers, beachcombers and, of course, metal detectorists.

These are the sorts of finds that have the power not only to alter accepted wisdom about a certain period, place or peoples in history, but also to transform the lives of their finders.

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There is, of course, the exhilarating thrill that will tingle for a lifetime. Becoming the first person to touch an object in thousands of years, or even to be the first human ever to set eyes on the fossilised bones of some ancient beast.

Then, perhaps, comes the fame as the find becomes public knowledge.

And, should there be an inquest that finds that the discovery is treasure trove, there is the possibility of it bringing fortune to its finder, too.

Of course, these are the deliciously rare, headline-grabbing finds.

For most of us though, to find even a most insignificant piece of history, a battered coin, a twist of aged metal, brings heady excitement enough.

But even these little remnants of lives and ages gone by can be precious clues to our region's history.

Each year around 20,000 objects uncovered by metal detectorists and other amateur archaeologists are brought in to Norfolk's Identification and Recording Service team.

Such a large collection of items presents the archaeologists with the possibility of being able to piece together a little more of history's hidden jigsaw.

John Davies, chief curator at the Norwich Castle, explained: “The sample base is huge compared to a generation ago. We have so much more on which to build our conclusions.

“One such area is the Iceni coinage in Norfolk and Suffolk at the time of Queen Boudica,” he said. “We have made huge strides in our understanding of what was going on.

“We used to think it was a non coin-using community but now, thanks to the many coins that have been discovered from this period, we know that not only did they use coins, but that it was a proper bimetallic multi-denominational coinage system through the 150 years to Queen Boudica.

“We know that coins were being used for trade, and all that really is because of the things that people have found and brought in to show us.”

It is this expansion in archaeological knowledge that will be celebrated and featured large in the exhibition, which begins on Saturday July 23, 2005, and runs till January 15, 2006.

The exhibition has been put together in partnership with the British Museum and other major museums, and will feature objects from around the country as well as some of Norfolk's finest finds.

The county has, of course, produced some of the most extraordinary archaeological discoveries in the past 50 or so years. Almost two-fifths of all treasure cases reported under the Portable Antiquities Scheme come from Norfolk. And there are 41,000 known sites of archaeological finds in Norfolk, with more being identified almost every week.

One of the major reasons for such a wealth of finds in the county is that Norfolk has been colonised by Neanderthals, early humans, Middle Stone Age hunters, Neolithic farmers, Bronze Age barrow builders, Iron Age tribes, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Danes, Normans - all of whom have left their mark.

Another reason is the Norfolk Way - as it is called in metal-detecting circles - which has transformed the relationship between professional archaeologists and amateur finders, including metal detectorists.

“We do very much champion our partnership with metal detectorists and amateurs interested in archaeology,” said Dr Davies, who explained he had been the first person in Norfolk's archaeology department with the specific job description that included going out and talking to the metal detectorists and enthusiasts.

This tradition of co-operation between archaeologists and amateurs really came to the fore in the mid-1970s.

The late archaeologist Tony Gregory had come to Norfolk as assistant keeper at Norwich Castle, where part

of his role was to deal with public inquiries.

The importance of the metal detectorists began to dawn on Mr Gregory as he saw more and more objects being brought in for identification.

So he set about building links with metal- detector groups around the area, explaining how important it was to report their finds and to work responsibly with the archaeological service.

It seems a natural working relationship today, but back then it was ground-breaking stuff.

There was little understanding or respect between most archaeologists and metal detectorists.

The latter were often seen as treasure-hunters.

“Nighthawks” who descended on historical sites under cover of darkness, ruining archaeological evidence and stripping them of all they could find, had sullied the reputation of metal detecting.

And many of the metal detectorists felt resentful about the attitude of some archaeologists, claiming they behaved as though they were the only ones with a right to look for archaeological material.

From this uneasiness gradually grew a working relationship between the archaeologists and metal detectorists that has gone on to bring remarkable benefits for both sides.

Mr Gregory died in 1991 from cancer, at the age of 42, but the legacy of the Norfolk Way continues as metal detectorists proudly work alongside the county's archaeologists to share information and find thousands of objects of importance and interest to further the quest for knowledge.

During the Buried Treasure exhibition, several projects will be taking place to include these enthusiastic amateurs.

Dr Davies explained: “We will be setting up a brand new project to interview some of the finders of these treasures.

“This has never been done before but I believe it will build into a major archive to convey the excitement of actually finding something.

“There is a huge debt owed to these people.

“They have revolutionised our view of archaeology and we are very proud to be involved in such a wonderful sea-change in British archaeology.”


Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past is at Norwich Castle from Saturday July 23, 2005, until January 15, 2006.

Sponsored by Tarmac, and a Partnership UK Project with the British Museum, the exhibition brings some of the country's most spectacular archaeological treasures to Norfolk.

Many of the extraordinary finds will be returning to East Anglia, including glittering Roman coins from the Hoxne Hoard and marvels of ancient craftsmanship from the Mildenhall Treasure.

The artistry of the 2000-year-old gold neckbands discovered at Snettisham will also be on show.

And there will be examples of other amazing finds from around Britain. There will be a chance to see the 12th century Lewis Chessmen, featured in the first Harry Potter film.

And the Amesbury Archer, buried 2300 years BC, will be at the castle too. Could this be the remains of an important leader who witnessed the raising of Stonehenge?

Buried Treasure marks the British Museum's 250th anniversary and is the first major national exhibition of British archaeology in more than 20 years. Norwich Castle is the final venue on the exclusive UK tour.

Norwich Castle opening times:

t School summer holidays and October half-term: Monday to Saturday 10am to 5.30pm, Sunday 1pm to 5pm.

t Rest of the year: Monday to Friday 10am to 4.30pm, Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday 1pm to 5pm.

Admission: All zones: adult £5.95, concessions £4.95, child £4.45.


The EDP has produced a fascinating 60-page magazine to complement the Buried Treasure exhibition.

It is a real must-have for anyone interested in archaeology and the rich and varied history of our area.

Treasure Your Past tells the stories behind many of the amazing objects on view in the exhibition.

And it is packed with features about other great archaeological discoveries from around the county, such as the mysterious Seahenge on the north-west Norfolk coast, and the fossilised remains of the massive West Runton elephant.

Treasure Your Past also includes a child-friendly guide to Norfolk's museums and plenty to inspire you and your family to find out more about East Anglia's past.

The magazine costs £2.50 and will be available from the Norwich Castle and from the EDP's offices.

The EDP is the media partner for the Buried Treasure exhibition.

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