Yet again, the focus on ancient artefacts found in the UK relates (quite rightly in most cases) to re-locating them back to their place of discovery , and highlighting the work that needs to be done locally to discover more about their origins – yet when we look at foreign artefacts here only as the result of looting, the contextual arguments are regularly ignored.
Bronze Age treasure returns to Ambleside
Swords, dagger and spear are re-identified after years on private display in Royal properties. Guest blogger Eileen Jones reports from the shores of Windermere
Posted by Eileen Jones
Monday 28 November 2011 11.00 GMT
Yet another Northern hoard is making news, following recent discoveries in Yorkshire and Furness, the historic slice of Lancashire gobbled up by Cumbria in 1973/4.
This time it is Ambleside in the Lake District which is making news – and with a curious twist. Its collection of Bronze Age weaponry was discovered 270 year ago. Archaeologists are now trying to find out exactly where.
Thought to be around 5000 years old, the finds are at last coming back to the town where they will go on show at the Armitt Museum in time for the building’s centenary celebrations next March. They have spent most of their life in the Royal Collection which is loaning them back, after 34 years on display down south in the British Museum.
The weapons – a sword, sword blade, dagger and spear head – were found two feet deep in a peat bog in the Ambleside area in 1741. The discovery was recorded at the time, and the items sketched by a man called Peregrine Bertie whose nephew unwrapped them from ‘a kind of bundle, two feet deep in a peat bog’.
Bertie’s account was published, curiously, in the journal of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society, and then the hoard disappeared. More than 200 years later, the pieces were ‘re-discovered’ at the BM by historian Stuart Needham, who found photographs of them in the department of prehistoric and Romano-British antiquities which he compared with Bertie’s sketch.
Needham squirreled on and found that the hoard had been kept as part of the Royal Collection at Carlton House and subsequently on display at Windsor Castle. With the Queen’s permission, the weapons were transferred to the British Museum in 1977 where they have formed a prominent part of the permanent exhibition on the Bronze Age.
Deborah Walsh, curator of the Armitt, says:
The mystery of how they came into the Royal Collection is part of the excitement of this find. There is evidence that the weapons were around the town for a while after they were found, people trying them out to see how sharp they were, but then there are no further records.
The weapons are thought to be ceremonial and were probably buried in standing water as a votive offering to the gods, as was the custom. The hoard is the only discovery of its kind in southern Lakeland, though there have been Bronze Age finds in northern Cumbria, near the Solway.
We are looking at various sites around the area to try and establish where they were found. It should be possible to find the site, by working out where people were cutting peat at that time in the 18th century. The hoard is made up of high status items and tells us that there was a very structured society here.
More evidence, following Yorkshire’s gold, Lancashire’s silver and the discovery of the Roman amphitheatre at Aldborough, near York, that the North was busier and more prosperous in ancient times than conventional history suggests.