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Priddy Awesome

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Today marks 20 years since the Treasure Act was implemented in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, making it law for all finders of gold and silver objects and hoards of coins over 300 years old to report them. Hence the initiative: Treasure 20.

20 years of treasure.jpg

This has ultimately shaped the course of archaeology in this country and now the vast majority of archaeological finds come through the Portable Antiquities Scheme, contributing thousands of Treasure pieces to the country’s archaeological archives.

Treasure cases feature heavily in my work, as since 2003 Bronze Age hoards are also considered treasure. Much of what I write about on this blog constitutes Treasure cases (think the Long Bredy hoard or the hoards of Cornwall). Without the Treasure Act, who knows how much of this archaeology would never have been found or worse, found but not reported.

So I thought I’d celebrate this event by writing about one of my favourite pieces of Treasure: the Priddy Hoard in Somerset, dating to the Middle Bronze Age (c.1400-1100 BC).

Priddy Hoard

Priddy Hoard (image courtesy of the Portable Antiquities Scheme)

I’ve mentioned this hoard before. It is made up of 17 gold bracelets (in 19 pieces) that were found crushed into a ball. Some of them were broken and some appear to have been tightly coiled before they were buried. This represents a deliberate destruction of these objects.

After all, how can you wear a crushed up bracelet?

However, these bracelets are very special as some represent previously unknown types and a variety of manufacturing techniques. It’s possible they indicate the work of a single individual experimenting with different styles, or several different goldsmiths.

Ribbon bracelet cropped.jpg

This, believe it or not, is a rare form of bracelet made from gold ribbon

The number of gold bracelets is also pretty spectacular. Some theories suggest this hoard represents the possessions of a single individual, but 17 gold bracelets seem like a lot for one person! Could this have been a family deposit? Or represent the contributions of other communities?

In England, there is only one Middle Bronze Age hoard that contains more gold objects, which is from Cirencester, Gloucestershire. That hoard contained 57(!) gold objects and five bronze objects in a variety of conditions. Some of the goldwork had been deliberately cut down into very small fragments.

Deliberately damaging gold ornaments in the Middle Bronze Age is not uncommon, though I only know of one other hoard in which the ornaments had been crushed together. This was a hoard found in Heyope in Wales, containing 3 ribbon torcs.

How can we interpret these acts of destruction then?

This is where it gets trickier. A functionalist approach is that acts such as fragmented, crushing, and folding or serves to make the objects easier to fit into a crucible. However, the Priddy Hoard would have formed a pretty sizeable ball, and a large combined weight.

Priddy bracelets.jpg

Five tightly coiled bracelets from the hoard

On the other hand, this might represent an act of safe keeping, by someone depositing their wealth for collection later – but then why crush the bracelets together? And why was it never collected?

If you want to go ritualistic, you could argue that the entangling of bracelets represents the entangling of different individuals and communities. Though this of course relies on the assumption that the bracelets are metaphors for people.

These are some of the theories that have been circulating amongst archaeologists for over a hundred years. I wish I had a conclusive answer, but odds are we will never know.

Regardless, the Priddy Hoard represents one of the most interesting Treasure Cases to have come up in south west England in the last twenty years – at least from my perspective.

The Treasure Act has done huge amounts for protecting important finds and making sure they are reported properly. And I look forward to seeing what comes up in the next twenty years!

Notes and Acknowledgements

This hoard was one of my inspirations for undertaking my PhD and I have to thank Steve Minnitt for actually taking it off display for me to look at it! It was a fantastic opportunity and I urge everyone to go check it out in its full glory at Taunton Castle Museum.

Be sure to follow the hashtag #Treasure20 on Twitter for other updates!


2 Comments

  1. Edwin Deady says:

    We know how many artefacts have been lost approximately since the Treasure Act without great outcry even from PAS. It is not a success and pandering to detectorists exacerbates the problem. Basic requirement should be that all finds are shown to the landowner and reported. Too burdensome? Then they should take up stamp collecting and stop destroying our heritage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mgknight21 says:

      While I agree with you that some regulation on metal-detectorists would have its benefits (perhaps licensing to ensure there is a set of guidelines to adhere to), I would disagree that the Treasure Act has not been a success. The contribution to archaeology, with the discovery of otherwise unknown sites, artefacts and contexts has been demonstrated on several occasions, and responsible reporting has increased massively over the previous Treasure Trove system. Though I do agree that there is still a long way to go with encouraging responsible detecting that protects the archaeological context. You mention that we know how many artefacts have been lost approximately – how do we know this?

      Like

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ABOUT ME

I’m Matt, 26 years old, a glutton for academic punishment, a lover of all things Bronze Age, always willing to continue talking even when my friends have lost interest, and never happy unless overwhelming busy. Find out more here and be sure to follow me on Twitter @mgknight24 and Facebook

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