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A new exhibition opening at the British Museum this month spotlights some of the finest trophies of British archaeology, as well as the people who found them. Charlotte Crow investigates.
‘Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past’ is the first major British archaeological exhibition at the British Museum in over twenty years, but unlike previous exhibitions, which have concentrated on finds from professional excavations, it celebrates the chance discoveries made by ordinary people, from farmers to metal detectorists.
It tells, for example, how Cliff Bradshaw, an amateur archaeologist and metal detectorist, unearthed a crumpled gold, round-bottomed cup in a field in Kent in 2001. The cup is only the second of its kind to be found in Britain and dates from c.1700-1500bc. Its discovery sheds new light on the early Bronze Age in terms of craftsmanship and burial patterns. The Ringlemere cup, as Bradshaw’s find is known, is so significant that the British Museum raised the sum of £270,000 to acquire it earlier this year.
All the objects on display have come from the British Isles. ‘This is an opportunity to put the “British” back into British Museum’ says Curator Richard Hobbs. ‘The BM in particular is probably perceived as the receptacle of the Parthenon marbles, Egyptian mummies, the Rosetta Stone. Good British material like the great torc of Snettisham, symbol of the Iron Age, often gets overlooked.’ Other examples of such material highlighted here include two very different, remarkable discoveries made in 2000, the exquisite Iron Age jewellery known as the Winchester Gold, and a 550,000 year-old hand-axe, the earliest known artefact made by a human ever to be found in Britain.