London’s Largest Cache of Bronze Age Objects Is on View for the First Time

The Havering Hoard includes 100 pounds of artifacts recovered from an ancient enclosure ditch

Havering Hoard
The hoard includes 453 bronze objects, including axe heads, spearheads, sword fragments and bracelets Museum of London Docklands

Editor's Note, September 11, 2020: Archaeology enthusiasts can now see the Havering Hoard—a trove of 453 Bronze Age artifacts unearthed in London in 2018—in person for the first time. Per a statement, the collection of axe heads, sword fragments and other ancient objects will be on view at the Museum of London Docklands through April 18, 2021.

Read more about the intriguing find, which Smithsonian covered following the exhibition's announcement last October, below.

The largest hoard of Bronze Age items ever found in London—and the third-largest hoard ever found in the United Kingdom—is slated to go on view for the first time next spring at the Museum of London Docklands.

Archaeologists discovered the “Havering hoard,” named after the London borough in which it was found, last year. The local council had commissioned excavations ahead of a major quarrying project.

Per a press release from Historic England, the team found four piles of bronze objects in an ancient enclosure ditch at the site. In total, the archaeologists recovered 453 individual artifacts, most of which are damaged weapons such as axes, spearheads, daggers, swords and knives. Other finds, according to the Guardian’s Nicola Davis, include bracelets and woodworking tools. Researchers believe the objects date to between 900 and 800 B.C.

“It’s incredibly rare to have uncovered four separate hoards of such size on one site,” Roy Stephenson of the Museum of London says in a Havering Museum press release. Typically, similarly ancient hoards are found in isolation.

“This discovery is … of huge importance due to the deliberate placement of each deposit,” Stephenson adds, “and raises questions as to why this treasure was buried in this way and why it was never recovered.”

The Havering hoard is far from the first Bronze Age cache found in the region. As exhibition curator Kate Sumnall tells Davis, archaeologists have previously unearthed Bronze Age enclosures, settlements and field systems in the surrounding area. And while aerial photographs taken during the 1960s revealed an intriguing square-shaped enclosure at the site where the hoard was later discovered, no one had conducted a formal investigation until recently.

London's Largest Cache of Bronze Age Objects Is on View for the First Time
Archaeologists found the hoard in an ancient square enclosure © Archaeological Solutions Ltd

The axes found at the site appear to be from the European mainland, meaning the individual who deposited them there was likely part of a much larger interconnected network.

“Our site is not a little isolated site,” Sumnall explains. “It is … part of a bigger European connection, with a lot of trade, a lot of movement, a lot of communication of ideas and also of goods as well.”

She adds, “Either it is trading or it is people coming across, bringing their own stuff with them.”

One unanswered question regarding the Havering hoard is why someone buried roughly 100 pounds of bronze goods. Sumnall says there are several possibilities: The objects may represent a religious offering or the discarded remnants of a rubbish pile. (When artisans started crafting stronger iron tools and weapons, many abandoned softer bronze in favor of the new metal.) They could also belong to an itinerant metalworker’ s toolkit perhaps mistakenly left behind.

“It is guesswork pretty much as to the intentions,” the curator tells the Guardian. “We have got the evidence, we will be putting forward our best theory. [But] we can never definitively know.”

The Havering hoard isn’t the only significant treasure trove recently found in the U.K. In August, metal detector enthusiasts searching Somerset’s Chew Valley discovered a cache of 2,528 silver coins dating to the time of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. And in July 2017, archaeologists in the village of Rauceby, Lincolnshire, found more than 3,000 copper coins dating to the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine, which began in 306 A.D.

The most spectacular cache discovered in Britain in modern times is the Staffordshire Hoard, a collection of some 3,500 items unearthed in a field in 2009. The hoard—featuring intricately crafted gold and silver objects inlaid with gems and jewels—has completely rewritten historians’ understanding of Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship, and in 2014, the Birmingham Museum opened a permanent gallery displaying many of the broken but still beautiful objects.

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