8 November 2022

Treasure Trove

 The Snettisham Hoard.....

The Great Torc

Imagine this.  A state of uncertainty, even crisis.  You don't trust the bankers (despite recent hikes the interest rate is still negligible for deposits).  You actually don't trust anyone, as a succession of leaders have proved themselves to be self-serving charlatans without clear ideas....  You have in your possession a certain amount of hard won valuables.  A handful of money and some expensive, if impractical jewellery.  There is a war in Europe and there is talk of an invasion.  You don't want to lose everything. You want to preserve something for your children.  What you gonna do? 

Of course, you dig a hole.  Quite a deep one, and you place your best pieces in a container deep in the hole.  You then infill some of the cavity.  Then you place some of your lesser treasures in another container, place that in the hole and cover everything with soil.  Job done.

Well, near where I now live, there was some unusual activity a few years before Julius Caesar dreamed of extending the Roman Empire beyond the shores of the EU.  Someone (or some persons) decided to bury several crates or containers of treasure (jewellery, ornaments and other various pieces of gold and valuable metal alloys).  And, perhaps in order to confuse potential robbers, the best items were buried well beneath some of the lesser pieces.

It is not known who was responsible for this primitive exercise in safe depositing, nor why such an amount was interred, but when it was unearthed it constituted the single greatest Iron Age treasure trove (I love that otherwise obsolete use of Latin, now still the root of trovare - to find - in Italian) discovered in this part of the world.  One theory is that the rulers of the Iceni Tribe felt the need to conceal much of their important ritual precious metal pieces beneath their treasury.

Fast forward to 1948.  By now, not surprisingly, those who buried the above treasures, or who might have heard rumours of the same, are well dead. But post-war agricultural developments meant that a certain field was no longer planted with lavender and a tractor was employed to drag a modern deep plough across the plot.  The driver (Mr R L Williams) found his plough had snagged some metallic objects, which, on inspection were deemed to be part of an old brass bedstead, and so they were piled at the edge of the field.

The roadside today (no treasure visible from the bus)

A passing expert (who just happened by) thought further excavation was merited, and a number of gold and silver artefacts, including bracelets, torcs - or torques - (a kind of open necklace) and some coins came to light.

Picture courtesy of the British Museum

In 1950, the tractor driver (on this occasion Mr Tom Rout) hit the jackpot and turned up further articles of value, including the finest torc of all.

Tom F Rout

With the help of box scrapers and metal detectors, further work was carried out in 1964, 1968, 1973 and 1989.   The combined finds from this field constituted the first large group of Iron Age metal work to be found in England and Wales which included coinage, and this enabled the finds to be dated between 100 BCE and 25 BCE, with the probable time of concealment being between 25 BCE and 10 CE.  

To quote the magazine Current Archaeology, from May 2007, The best evidence for the dating of the hoards comes from the coins, of which there were some 234 in all: indeed five of the hoards contained coins. They are all Celtic coins, of the early, uninscribed variety, the majority being Gallo-Belgic imports, as well as some early British types. These early Gallo-Belgic are dated to around 70 BC.....

Why is this of interest or importance?  Well one simple reason is related to an examination currently set for those aspiring to British Citizenship. The other day the Times newspaper published ten questions extracted from this test:  look closely at question 3.....

and then look at the answer printed below.  Then compare with the evidence from the Snettisham Hoard (among other Iron Age finds.....)  I am so very glad I am not interested in becoming a British Citizen!

Anyway..... The Snettisham Treasure is a wonder in itself.  Who buried it and why, and how it remained undiscovered for so long remain mysteries.  But the fact that metal workers some two thousand years ago or more were so skilled is to be marvelled at, if only because in this so much more civilised age  some people still understand so little of what it means to be civilised....  And it wasn't just one person.  The Great Torc, for example, is made of strands of twisted alloy that would have taken three to twine.

At the present time, the Snettisham Hoard is divided between Norwich Castle Museum and The British Museum, where it lies alongside other indigenous treasures as the Mildenhall Great Dish and the Sutton Hoo Helmet, not to mention a few bits and pieces looted from the rest of the world....

There were, it should be mentioned, other finds in this area, such as the Snettisham Jeweller's Hoard, buried around 155 CE and discovered in 1985.

And then there are the hordes (Tangles) of Knot that flock across the Wash at exceptional high tides.  (Excuse the pun....)

For most people, however, it is the Iron Age Treasure that is the Torc of the town, and justifiably so..... 

Though, for me, there is only one treasure, and that is personal.....

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

St Matthew, Chapter 6, verses 19 - 21

Imagine this. A state of financial crisis. You don't trust the bankers. You actually don't trust anyone, as a succession of politicians have proved themselves to be self-serving and corrupt with scrambled fantasies.... You have earned a few savings and are paying off a mortgage loan. There is a war in Europe and there is talk of an invasion. There is also talk of austerity, of tax hikes and service cuts.  And there is  rampant inflation. You don't want to lose everything. You want to preserve something for your children. 

What are you going to do?


  1. Yes, we saw those ?s in The Times and are so glad you cleared one of them up! This article makes us all the more determined to visit Norfolk next year. Finally off to see family in Japan next week, J&R x