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Ulster Museum

Hoards: The hidden history of ancient Britain and Ireland

A British Museum and Salisbury Museum Partnership Exhibition
Generously supported by the Dorset Foundation in memory of Harry M Weinrebe

Fri 18 Jan 2019 - Sun 31 Mar 2019

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The idea of uncovering buried treasure is the stuff of dreams, but beyond this excitement lies stories of changing fortunes, economic upheaval and gifts to the gods. This touring exhibition brings together finds from the British Museum and Salisbury Museum to explore the reasons why hoards were buried. The Ulster Museum is the only venue in Ireland where it is on display.

Image: Westerham hoard, Kent (80-60 BC). This hoard of 14 gold coins was found inside a hollow flint nodule in 1927 by a gravel digger on his lunch break. When he poked at the hole with a stick a gold coin fell out; he then poured some tea into the hole and shook it to release the others!
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Westerham hoard, Kent (80-60 BC). This hoard of 14 gold coins was found inside a hollow flint nodule in 1927 by a gravel digger on his lunch break. When he poked at the hole with a stick a gold coin fell out; he then poured some tea into the hole and shook it to release the others! © The Trustees of the British Museum

With material ranging in date from the Neolithic (4000 BC) to more recent times, most of the objects on display are from Britain and will be new to visitors. Taking account of our local audience, the British Museum have also selected a number items from Irish hoards and we have highlighted hoard material from our own collections.

Image: On display for the first time from our own collection is this rare hoard of gold Roman rings and a silver belt buckle from Murlough, County Down (AD 375-425).
On display for the first time from our own collection is this rare hoard of gold Roman rings and a silver belt buckle from Murlough, County Down (AD 375-425).

Irish material features prominently in the section on Bronze Age hoards. No party would be complete with buckets for holding drinks, musical instruments and a few weapons in case things get out of hand. No, this is not a description from Game of Thrones but just some of the contents of the Dowris hoard from County Offaly.

Image: Bronze bucket from the Dowris hoard – a treasured item repaired many times and large enough to satisfy the thirst of many guests! (950-700 BC).
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Bronze bucket from the Dowris hoard – a treasured item repaired many times and large enough to satisfy the thirst of many guests! (950-700 BC). © The Trustees of the British Museum

Dressing to impress in the Bronze Age is also reflected in the array of gold jewellery on display.

Image: Gold bracelets from the Mooghaun hoard, County Clare (950-700 BC) – one of the largest gold hoards in Europe.
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Gold bracelets from the Mooghaun hoard, County Clare (950-700 BC) – one of the largest gold hoards in Europe. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Iron Age material from Britain is much more varied than from Ireland and objects include spectacular gold torcs (neck-rings) from Snettisham and Ipswich. Similarly coins, often buried in huge quantities occur for the first time.

Image: Part of the Snettisham hoard, Norfolk, as discovered (150-50 BC).
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Part of the Snettisham hoard, Norfolk, as discovered (150-50 BC). © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Roman material deserves special mention. As the Romans never invaded Ireland our collections are poor in comparison to those across the water. Glimpses into the lives of the rich towards the end of Roman rule are reflected in the silver spoons and gold bracelets from the Hoxne hoard, Suffolk, which included over 15,000 coins.

On the topics of coins did you know that Roman soldiers carried purses, worn on the arm as in the example from Farndale, Yorkshire or that there were Roman money boxes!

Image: ‘The Roman hoard from Muswell Hill, London, contained 654 silver coins and a purpose-made ceramic money box with a silver spoon. It was discovered in 1928 by a boy digging in the garden (after AD 209-211). 
© The Trustees of the British Museum
‘The Roman hoard from Muswell Hill, London, contained 654 silver coins and a purpose-made ceramic money box with a silver spoon. It was discovered in 1928 by a boy digging in the garden (after AD 209-211). © The Trustees of the British Museum

As to why hoards were buried and not recovered, they may have been accidentally lost or stolen, discarded as worthless, saved for recycling, hidden for safekeeping in time of trouble, or offered up to the gods. Whatever the reason the careful study of these finds has revealed a wealth of information about the past.

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