Metal Detectorist Finds a Rare 3,000-Year-Old Dress Fastener

The gold accessory is one of only seven artifacts of this kind discovered in England and Wales

Bronze Age Dress Fastener
The five-inch-long Bronze Age dress fastener may have once been worn by an "important person," British Museum

A metal detectorist in Staffordshire, England, has unearthed a gold Bronze Age dress fastener, according to a recent report from the British Museum.

Jonathan Needham, a 54-year-old retired tree surgeon, found the artifact on May 6, 2022—the same day as Charles III’s coronation.

Officials say the fastener was likely made in Ireland. It’s one of only seven artifacts of its kind discovered in England and Wales.

“This remarkable gold object illustrates cultural links between Ireland and Britain during the Bronze Age,” writes the museum. “At this time, Irish smiths were producing some of the most exquisite goldwork in Europe.”

The Bronze Age in Britain lasted from around 2300 B.C.E. to 800 B.C.E. The region has also revealed other nearby Bronze Age finds, including a pair of axes called palstaves.

The newly discovered fastener is five inches long and weighs about a quarter of a pound. It is lightly scratched, which could indicate wear, and doesn’t appear to have any decorative embellishments.

The fastener looks a bit like a modern-day bracelet, but experts with the British Museum have confirmed that it was meant to secure women’s clothing. “The large, enigmatic fastener is formed of a solid, cast, bow-shaped body connecting two skillfully raised cone-shaped terminals,” per the report. “It may have been worn on the body to hold together the cloak, skirt or dress of an important person.”

When Needham first uncovered the artifact, he wasn’t quite sure what he’d found, according to BBC News’ Simon Hare and Jude Winter. Perhaps, he wondered, it was some sort of aluminum drawer handle. He posted an image of the object online.

“Straight away, people said it was 3,000-year-old gold. And at that point, we were able to celebrate,” Needham tells BBC News. “We were punching the roof at what we had found.”

Once the item’s historic value became apparent, Needham gave it to the Derby Museum. (The Treasure Act of 1996 requires individuals who find certain treasures over 300 years old to report their discoveries.)

How much the fastener is worth is still unclear, but Needham tells BBC News it could be a “life-changing amount.” Once sold, Needham will split the finder’s fee with the landowner.

The British Museum’s report lists archaeological finds from England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2022. Of the 53,490 discoveries, 1,378 were “treasure” cases—the highest number ever reported in a single year.

“The record-breaking figures highlight the huge contribution that members of the public are making to increasing archaeological knowledge in the U.K. today,” writes the museum. “Most objects have been found by people metal-detecting, and most of the finds were made on cultivated land where they otherwise could be lost to plowing.”

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