the hidden history of ancient Britain

3 December 2015 – 22 May 2016

Supported by Stephen and Julie Fitzgerald

Research funded by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

The Selby hoard of ceramic vessels and Roman silver coins dating up to AD 181. Found in Yorkshire in 2010. Acquired with the support of Richard Witschonke and the American Friends of the British Museum.

Discover buried treasure in a display that focuses on hoarding in prehistoric and Roman Britain. Find out the various reasons why ancient people put precious objects into the ground and why they did not retrieve them.

People have been placing metalwork and valuable objects in the ground and in water since the Bronze Age (c. 2200–800 BC). These prehistoric hoards are widely accepted as having been deposited as part of ritual practices. Later hoards were traditionally seen as a response to invasion threats and economic upheaval – riches buried in the ground to be retrieved at a later date. The 2010 discovery of a huge Roman coin hoard in Frome in Somerset raised many questions about this traditional interpretation, suggesting that ritual practices also played a part in the burial of Roman hoards.

Coins of the usurper Roman emperor Carausius dating from AD 286–293 from the Frome hoard. Found in Somerset in 2010.

Archaeologist Alan Graham excavating the Frome hoard in 2010. © Somerset County Council

This display showcases some recent discoveries of hoards reported through the Treasure Act and studied at the British Museum. It begins with the large metalwork deposits of the Bronze and Iron Ages such as the Salisbury hoard and weapons found in the River Thames at Broadness.

The Fenny Stratford hoard of Roman forger’s equipment. Milton Keynes Council.

The display finishes with objects from the hoards found at Oxborough and Hoxne, buried in the years following the end of Roman Britain (in AD 410). These treasures have varied stories and interpretations – they may have been accidentally lost or stolen, discarded as worthless, saved for recycling, hidden for safekeeping, or even offered up to the gods. Together, they tell a fascinating story – a hidden history of ancient Britain.

Spearheads from a late Bronze Age hoard of tools and weapons, 1000–750 BC. Found in the River Thames at Broadness in Kent.

Miniature Iron Age shields from the Salisbury hoard, c. 200–100 BC. Found in Wiltshire in 1985.

The display draws on the results of the joint British Museum/Leicester University AHRC-funded research project Crisis or continuity? Hoarding in Iron Age and Roman Britain which is investigating the places hoards were buried and what they can tell us about wider social and economic changes.

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Hoards: hidden history

This fascinating book investigates a broad selection of hoards that have come to light in recent times across the British Isles.

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