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Cornish treasures go on display at Royal Cornwall Museum

By West Briton  |  Posted: July 01, 2013

By Beverley Coumbe

  • Anna Tyacke's favourite find in Cornwall, an Iron Age base-silver (billon) stater. copyright Royal Insititution of Cornwall

  • Finds liaison officer Anna Tyacke with a Medieval silver seal matrix, discovered in Crantock parish, now on show at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.

  • Anna Tyacke with the new display, containing treasure discovered by people in Cornwall, at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.

  • One of 20 Iron Age gold staters found originally at Carn Brea in 1749 and was missing up until the 1970s when it was bought and sold in deals crossing the Atlantic four times. It was recently re-discovered and purchased by the Royal Institution of Cornwall from Celtic Coins for £1,530 - the auction house of Chris Rudd in Norfolk. Five are at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and one is at the British Museum. There are still 13 missing. Copyright Royal Insititution of Cornwall

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THANKS to the efforts of Cornwall's small band of metal detectorists, experts have been able to paint a more detailed picture of how our ancestors lived.

In 2003 the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), overseen by the British Museum, introduced the county's first finds liaison officer.

Since Anna Tyacke's appointment, she has logged 7,443 finds, the majority of which were made by metal detectorists.

The largest number of finds, 3,326, date from 4,000BC to 2,100BC, the next major period for finds in Cornwall is between AD 1500 and AD 1800, with 1,548 finds logged so far. By comparison there are just 109 Iron Age objects recorded, 17 early Medieval and 474 from the Roman period.

Many detectorists can only dream of finding a hoard similar to the Anglo-Saxon gold and silver, worth £3.3 million, discovered in Staffordshire in 2009.

The most recent treasure found in Cornwall is going on display for the first time at Royal Cornwall Museum and includes a Roman gold amulet found in Rame, a Roman gold bracelet discovered in St Buryan and a Medieval bronze brooch found in Gwithian.

Mrs Tyacke said: "Thanks to the scheme we have logged some major Bronze Age hoards and Iron Age finds. It shows us that there was a lot of trade in the Bronze Age from Germany and Switzerland to Brittany and Cornwall. Iron Age objects are exceptionally rare, we now have around four to five being recorded each year.

"We have more information on Roman ports and forts as a result of metal detecting. High status individual Roman finds are also rare in Cornwall but each year more are being found and reported to the scheme, like a gold bracelet fragment or necklace from St Buryan and a gold amulet pestle pendant from Maker with Rame."

But many detectorists shy away from reporting their finds, fearful that the authorities will take over the sites and conduct digs.

Mrs Tyacke added: "This is rare, we don't have the money or the resources to do this sort of work. But it's important for us to know the original context items were found in. Our Bronze Age is our strongest collection and our ceramic finds show Cornwall is not a backwater.

"We were the first to make Iron Age bronze mirrors – 200BC – found in St Keverne and more recently Bryher on the Isles of Scilly. Apart from leading the industrial revolution, in the Bronze Age we have evidence of gold being transported via Cornwall, Ireland and Wales."

One of Mrs Tyacke's most treasured finds is an Iron Age base-silver (billon) stater (coin), 60BC to 50BC, depicting an Iron Age chief with a unique character and hairstyle.

"He is influenced by Greek staters of the time which had the head of Apollo on the obverse with flowing curly hair. He also has a wild boar above his head and these were popular animals, not just as a food source, but also as an adversary, and were often depicted on helmets as this would help the fighting prowess of the wearer.

"Coins are wonderful packages of information and help us to date sites and illuminate political events, but also tell us a story about the people that made them and their personal style and interests, like this coin and others – Iron Age folk liked horses, chariots, boars and lyres.

"As these are individual finds and not therefore treasure (two or more silver or gold coins found together are treasure), it is wonderful that these silver and gold coins are reported by metal detectorists and are donated or sold to the Royal Institution of Cornwall so that everyone can enjoy them and marvel at them."

Metal detectorist Ben Ward, from Camborne, joined the Kernow Search and Recovery Club 18 months ago. In that time he has found several coins – one from the Roman period, an Edward I silver penny and a Portreath regimental button from the 1880s.

He said members all follow the National Council for Metal Detecting code of conduct and enjoy the competition and camaraderie, while keeping their sites top secret.

"We find the items and take them to Anna whose expertise we rely upon."

The club meets on the last Tuesday of every month at the Royal Standard pub in Hayle at 7.30pm.

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