Jennifer Wexler

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Wonders of the Deep: Bronze Age Finds from the River Thames in the Bronze Age Index

Lady of the Lake drawing by M. Bowley ( ©CC_BY

Our penultimate Bronze Age Index project focuses on Bronze Age swords from the River Thames. Finds from the Thames and other watery locations in Britain and Northern Europe have fascinated scholars for many years, and recent excavations at Must Farm and Flag Fen show the incredible importance of riverine environments to prehistoric peoples. In a sense, Thames finds have been central to the study of later prehistoric Europe over the last hundred years, and there have been a huge amount of studies (see references below) dedicated to the topic, in particular on the increasing deposition of weapons (spearheads, dirks, rapiers, swords) from the Middle Bronze Age onwards (Bradley 1990: 99, 108-109). The idea of depositing weapons in water very much resonates with our popular cultural history. Folk stories and myths of a legendary past often feature the act of throwing costly and beautiful items into the water as both a sacrifice and an offering, most famously depicted in the story of King Arthur’s magical sword Excalibur being returned to the Lady of the Lake (illustrated above), with these stories possibly reflecting echoes of ancient practices.

BMFinds_DirksThames ©Trustees of the British Museum.

The River Thames was famously described as ‘Liquid history’ by the 19th century MP John Burns, and its importance cannot be underestimated as both a natural boundary and, perhaps, the ‘longest archaeological site’ in the UK (York 2002, Cohen 2010). What can the Bronze Age Index (BAI) tells us about Bronze Age metalwork deposition in the River Thames and the collection history of this material? We have over 1,200 records of artefacts connected to the Thames recorded in the Index. Largely it is an antiquarian collection relating to the numerous artefacts recovered from the Thames during the 19th and early 20th century, which were often found by workmen in the course of dredging and the building of bridges and locks. Many of these objects were acquired by private collectors, who often paid handsomely for high quality display pieces but rarely recorded the exact find spots and circumstances of recovery (Cowie & Eastmond 1997: 88).

Examples of BAI cards recording River Thames finds ©Trustees of the British Museum.

We find four notable types of cards related to Thames finds in the Index:

  1. Collectors of Thames antiquities, most notably George Fabian Lawrence the Inspector of Excavations for the London Museum who was very active in the recovery & recording of river finds (he was commonly known as ‘Stony Jack’ to London’s workmen). He produced the first catalogue of archaeological material from the river in 1929. The collections of Layton, Greenwell, and Crooke also feature extensively in the records;
  2. Smaller and regional museum collections, but the majority seem to be objects either in the British Museum’s or London Museum’s (now Museum of London’s) collection;
  3. Private collections, which are especially important as these might not be recorded anywhere else.
  4. Pre-PAS metal-detecting finds, which also might not be recorded anywhere else. Metal-detecting is now closely controlled along Thames foreshore, so these older records might give offer us some key insights into the foreshore record.

Many of the cards contain unique and extensive data about the artefact’s record, which in some cases indicates that its provenance to be connected to another find spot based-on dredging activity. We are still digitising and going through the records, but I wanted to go through some of the preliminary patterns we see in the Index records.

BAI Thames Findspot Distribution


The pie chart above shows the regional distribution of Thames metalwork find spots recorded in the Index. As we can see, Greater London by far represents the largest number of records. Most of these records would be connected to the significant dredging works undertaken between 1895 and 1900 (Port of London Authority). A second capital dredging campaign concluded by 1928, during which some 37 million cubic yards were excavated. There are a number of unprovenanced sites recorded as simply coming from the ‘River Thames’ without exact find spots, though related information seems to indicate that most of the artefacts would have come from London in connection again to dredging and bridge building activities.

We have smaller but significant groups of records from Berkshire and Surrey as well, many of these coming from the Thames Water Collection collected by Thames Conservancy Board during dredging of the non-tidal part of the river up the Teddington Lock and donated to the Reading Museum in 1996.

©CC_BY/Google Earth

Looking at a smaller sub-set of data of 249 records of Thames Single Finds in the British Museum’s Collections, we can see in the map (above) that the general distribution of find spots with clusters in London (especially West London), London Docklands (representing the general ‘River Thames’ finds), and Maidenhead/Bray in Berkshire.

Looking closer at the London find spots represented in this data, after unprovenanced ‘River Thames’ finds, we have highest concentration of finds coming from Battersea and the Richmond and Wandsworth districts of West London. David Field (1989) famously commented that the “collections of prehistoric artefacts from the river in west London represents one of the most impressive concentrations of archaeological material in the British Isles”. Finds seem to cluster especially around Kingston Bridge, Wandsworth Reach, Hammersmith, Isleworth, Putney, Chiswick, Teddington, Twickenham, and Barnes, with many important sites represented in the records.

Index cards recording small finds from Ivor Noel Hume’s 1955 excavation at Syon Reach ©Trustees of the British Museum.

Many cards feature small finds and ornaments, as shown here, recording Ivor Noel Hume’s 1955 excavation of Late Bronze Age timber & wattle platform at Syon Reach near Isleworth, Richmond, which was unfortunately washed-away by a passing ‘pleasure boat’ while they were in the process of recording it! The Thames Discovery Programme have recorded ‘a significant concentration of Bronze Age material, (possibly representing a trading centre or deliberate votive deposition)’ at Isleworth, possibly in some resemblance to the Vauxhall ‘bridge’ structure dated to the Middle Bronze Age. Many records are also connected to the tributaries of the Thames, and particular concentration from the ‘mouth of the River Wandle’ just above Wandsworth Reach/Bridge.

Thames Artifact Types


Looking more closely at artefacts recorded in the Index, we have 26 categories of artefact types from the Thames that are so far represented in the Index, as shown here. At the moment we have many more spearheads than anything else, but dirks & rapiers, swords, socketed axes, palstaves, and knives all figure prominently. This pattern is repeated throughout studies of Thames material, with not only a massive record of weapons found in the Thames from the MBA onwards but the concentrations of sword deposition (pictured below) by the LBA clustering in the Thames Valley and Fenland of East Anglia, with relatively few deposited north of the Severn-Wash line.

Map ©N. Wilkin after Colquhoun & Burgess 1988.

How is this material being treated? York’s excellent 2002 study looked at both Index and published records in order to reassess the lifecycle and destruction of metalwork from the non-tidal Thames upstream of Teddington. She notes that in conjunction with the rise in weapon deposition there is also an increase in object destruction from the Penard (late MBA) to Wilburton phase (early LBA). Spearheads and swords were being treated differently than other objects deposited in the Thames, with destruction levels increasing over time, and it is clear that Bronze Age communities were perceiving these objects in a new and special light (York 2002: 88-89). Deposition may have been related to a display of wealth, social status, territory, celebratory after battle, or part of a burial or community ritual (for further discussion, see Bradley 1990).

Examples of Thames spearheads in the Index ©Trustees of the British Museum.

We do not know for certain, unfortunately, the complete significance that throwing these special objects into significant bodies of water may have held for prehistoric peoples, we can only see their impact on the archaeological record and our understanding of the past. Hopefully, further research on this major resource will bring to light more information about these wonders from the deep.

In particular it would be key to connect this data to other museum’s collections & archives, especially the Museum of London’s extensive London Archaeological Archive & Research Centre (LAARC) (which also has a complimentary antiquarian records related to Thames finds). Additionally a long-term goal would be to better integrate this data into the Greater London Sites and Monuments Record & other regional HERS, and look further at the connections between sites and objects recorded previously under the Thames Archaeological Survey, & currently by the Thames Discovery Programme.

This blog was based on a paper I presented on 20th April 2015 at the Tales the River Tells: Later Prehistoric Finds from In and Around the Thames Conference run by the Prehistoric Society and the Later Prehistoric Finds Group. Many thanks to Michael Marshall (Museum of London Archaeology) and Courtney Nimura (University of Oxford) for inviting me to speak at the conference.


  • BRADLEY, R. 1990: The Passage of Arms (Cambridge University Press).
  • BRADLEY, R. and GORDON, K. 1988: Human skulls from the River Thames, their dating and significance. Antiquity 62, 503–9.
  • COHEN, N. 2010: Liquid History: Excavating London’s great river, the Thames. Current Archaeology 244 (July 2010):
  • COLQUHOUN, I. and BURGESS, C. 1988: The swords of Britain. Prähistorische Bronzefunde IV.5. Munich: Beck.
  • COTTON, J. 1999: Ballast-Heavers and Battle-Axes: The ‘Golden Age’ of Thames Finds. In Coles, A. and Dion, M. (eds.), Mark Dion: Archaeology (Black Dog Publishing), 58–71.
  • COWIE, R. and EASTMOND, D. 1997: An archaeological survey of the foreshore in the Boroughof Richmond upon Thames. London Archaeologist 8 (4-5), 87-93, 115-121.
  • EHRENBERG, M.R. 1977: Bronze Age Spearheads from Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire (Oxford, BAR Brit. Ser. 34).
  • EHRENBERG, M. 1980: The Occurrence of Bronze Age Metalwork in the Thames: An Investigation. Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society 31, 1–15.
  • FIELD, D. 1989: Tranchet axes and Thames picks: Mesolithic core tools from the west London Thames. Trans London Middlesex Archaeol Soc 40, 18.
  • NEEDHAM, S. 1988: Selective deposition in the British Early Bronze Age. World Archaeology 20(2), 229–48.
  • NEEDHAM, S. and BURGESS, C. 1980: The later Bronze Age in the Lower Thames Valley: the Metalwork Evidence. In Barrett, J. and Bradley, R. (eds.), The British Later Bronze Age (Oxford, BAR Brit. Ser. 83 (i)), 437–70.
  • O’CONNOR, B. 1980: Cross-Channel Relations in the Later Bronze Age (Oxford, BAR Int. Ser. 91 (i) and (ii)).
  • PEARCE, S. 1984: Bronze Age Metalwork in Southern Britain (Princes Risborough).
  • ROWLANDS, M.J. 1976: The Production and Distribution of Metalwork in the Middle Bronze Age in Southern Britain (Oxford, BAR 31).
  • THOMAS, R. 1984: Bronze Age Metalwork from the Thames at Wallingford. Oxoniensia 49, 9–18.
  • YORK, J. 2002: The Life Cycle of Bronze Metalwork from the Thames. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 21(2), 77-92.
Posted by Jennifer Wexler on

A Hollow Human Head of Bronze

EthiopianHead copy

© Trustees of the British Museum

DSC_0840 ED

EES Egyptian scholars are (l to r) Yasser Abdel Razik Al Hammami, Ahmed Ali Nakshara, Hoda Kamal, Hesham Hussein, Fatma Keshk, and Mohamed Abuelyazid. (Photo courtesy of Hazel Gray/EES)

This September we were lucky enough to have a visit from a group of Egyptian scholars organised by the Egypt Exploration Society ( The Egypt Exploration Society (EES) has been one of main crowd-sourcing collaborators, asking MicroPasts’ contributors to transcribe early 20th century excavation records from Amarna West and Amara, and we have now done 18 crowd-sourcing projects together with over 20,000 tasks completed! The Egyptian scholars were based at the EES’s London office for six weeks conducting research and training relevant to their research projects and working roles in Egypt, and in conjunction we ran a series of training sessions with them on crowd-sourcing, GIS, and 3D photography at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL and the Department of Britain, Europe, & Prehistory (BEP), British Museum.

While preparing the 3D photography session (see for more information about our 3D photography technique) I asked Georgi Parpulov for ideas of some interesting Egyptian or related objects for possible photomasking. As the Project Curator for Empires of Faith Project, Georgi has been in the process of cataloguing all the Byzantine and Coptic objects in the British Museum’s collections from across the Byzantine world. Through his work Georgi has brought to light a mysterious relic head, which he describes to us here:

“In the course of museum work, one sometimes hits upon objects which, while clearly not being modern forgeries, cannot be easily assigned an accurate date and geographic origin. This head is certainly the most vexing objects of this kind that I have encountered since I began working at the British Museum just about a year ago. The only piece of information that accompanied it was a paper label stating it was “Abyssinian”. Abyssinia is, of course, an old name for Ethiopia, and the head does bear a general resemblance to works of Christian Ethiopian art that I have seen. But what about the precise time of its manufacture? What purpose did it originally serve? Who is the man portrayed, and why is he bearded and tonsured? These are all questions that elude me. I am not a specialist in Ethiopian art; I know a couple of scholars who are, but they are equally puzzled by our head. The only way to solve the mystery would be to make the objects accessible for study to a wider circle of interested people, not least in Ethiopia itself. Three-dimensional photography of the head would allow one to see it fully without travelling to London. It is pretty to look at and will, I hope, not only arouse curiosity, but also bring some visual delight.”

We thought we might be interesting to photograph this mysterious head with the Egyptian Scholars, in the hope to bring more attention to this fabulous object for further research. Help us make the 3D model here!



© Trustees of the British Museum

Jennifer from the MicroPasts Team in conversation with Georgi Parpulov, Project Curator: Empires of Faith, Middle East Department, British Museum. Many thanks to the EES and the Egyptian scholars for their help with the project!

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The Devizes/Wiltshire Museum Collection in the Bronze Age Index

In the process of digitising the Bronze Age Index ( we have come across a small collection of Index cards recording artefacts in the Wiltshire Museum (formerly the Devizes Museum: This was recently written up by Culture24 (, highlighting our ongoing collaboration with the Wiltshire Museum as we continue to research this collection.

"Stonehenge World Heritage Site map 2" by RobinLeicester building on OS OpenData VextorMap District Raster files - OS Open Data with additional material cited at World Heritage Site list No 373. Via Wikimedia Commons -

Map of the Stonehenge region, showing some of sites (Lake Down, Normanton, Durrington, Cursus) represented in the Index © Robin Leicester Via Wikimedia Commons –

These cards illustrate over a hundred bronze objects found largely during 18th and 19th century antiquarian investigations of various barrow groups in the regions surrounding the monumental landscapes of Stonehenge and Avebury. These include some of the famous barrow cemeteries found in Salisbury Plain (pictured above), such as the Lake Down Group, Normanton Group (Bush Barrow), and Amesbury Curses, for example:


Riveted dagger from Bush Barrow, Normanton Barrow Group, Salisbury Plain © Trustees of the British Museum


Artefacts from Bush Barrow on display in the Wiltshire Museum © Courtesy Wiltshire Heritage Museum

Artefacts from Bush Barrow on display in the Wiltshire Museum © Courtesy Wiltshire Heritage Museum


Dagger from a barrow found inside the west end of Stonehenge Cursus. © Trustees of the British Museum



Dagger from Lake Down barrow group, Salisbury Plain. © Trustees of the British Museum

Finds from less well-known sites, such as Silk Hill (below) near Durrington, are also represented, with the individual cards compiling the early publication record for each object:


Rare dagger from Silk Hill barrow group, near Durrington. © Trustees of the British Museum



Rare pin from Silk Hill barrow group, near Durrington. © Trustees of the British Museum

As we continue to expand our research into the BA Index, we are planning to connect into new research and developments in British archaeology. For example, the crutch-headed bronze pin pictured (above, and close-up below, right) from Silk Hill, is an infrequent type found in both ‘Wessex 1 and 2’ graves during the later part of the Early Bronze Age. Recent research (S. Needham, M. Parker Pearson, A.Tyler, M. Richards, M. Jay, Antiquity J. 84 (2010)) reassessing antiquarian records and collections at the Wiltshire Museum, showed that another crutch-headed pin (pictured below, left) from West Overton G1 barrow, near Avebury was found with a radiocarbon-dated burial, allowing us to date the Silk Hill burial with a similar pin to around 2020-1770 cal BC.


MBA pins from West Overton G1 barrow (left) and Silk Hill barrow (right). © Trustees of the British Museum

Casual finds from the antiquarian record are also recorded in the Bronze Age Index, including artefacts which have now unfortunately been lost (below) or not well-research.


Lost object recorded in the Index © Trustees of the British Museum

While some of these cards are now out of date information, they do offer us an excellent picture of the early antiquarian discoveries found in the region over 200 years ago, especially those of William Cunnington and Sir Richard Colt Hoare.  Many of these sites would have never been recorded if not for their hard work!

Further collaboration with the Wiltshire Museum, and the integration of the digital resources available via their collection portal ( will allow us to update and expand our records as we continue to expand our research. This information will eventually be integrated into the PAS ( database, making it one of the largest records of prehistoric objects in the UK and the world!

Many thanks to the Wiltshire Museum and Culture24 for collaborating with us on this collection!

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Things that go bump in the night: The Selborne-Blackmoor Hoard & the significance of LBA weapon hoards

Part of the Blackmoor Hoard in the British Museum Collections © Trustees of the British Museum

Our new app focuses on the wonderful Blackmoor Hoard (partially pictured above). Known also as the ‘Blackmoor-Wolmer Forest’ or ‘Selborne’ Hoard, the hoard was found near the hamlet of Blackmore (just east of Selborne, Hampshire) on the land that was originally part of Lord Selborne’s estate. Multiple hoards from different periods, including various Romano-British coin hoards, have been found in this region and the area was clearly a focus for prehistoric activity. There is a high concentration of Bronze Age barrows within the area of Woolmer Forest as well as a number of Bronze Age hoards which have been found in the vicinity at Woolmer Forest, Woolmer Pond, Hogmoor, Longmoor Camp and Whitehill Village Hall. The connection between the ritual deposition of bronze weapons and the barrow cemeteries together constitute a particularly well-preserved ritual landscape of the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age periods (Allen 2007).

Like many of the hoards found in the Bronze Age Index (we wrote about the Arreton Down hoard earlier), Selborne is an antiquarian collection, connected to a series of famous collectors of archaeological antiquities including Rev. Greenwell, George Roots, General Pitt-Rivers, and Lord McAlpine.

Both Middle Bronze Age (MBA) and Late Bronze Age (LBA) hoards (an overview of Bronze Age chronology was discussed previously) from the area are featured in the Bronze Age Index. The MBA hoard was found in 1840 and contains two small torcs, four bronze rings and one palstave (pictured below):



MBA hoard from Blackmoor (pictured top), and two BA Index cards illustrating objects from the hoard (bottom) © Trustees of the British Museum

The LBA weapon hoard, discovered in the garden of a cottage near Blackmoor in the spring of 1870, is more famously-known. This hoard has a complicated history of collection. A large part of the hoard was handed over to Lord Selborne, as it was found on his land. He displayed it in the former billiard room of his home Blackmoor House. It currently makes up part of the Selborne Collection now in possession of the Gilbert White Museum, the home of the 19th century naturalist who wrote The Natural History of Selborne (the earliest reference to the hoard was first mentioned Bell’s updated 1877 edition of the volume (White 1877)). This included sword fragments, over twenty large and small spearheads, three rings, some ferrule fragments, and one mysterious ‘grooved socket’ not found anywhere else in BA Britain.

Example of a LBA socketed spearhead (1891,0514.6) originating from the Roots Collection, now in the BM © Trustees of the British Museum

Somehow two large groups of objects from the hoard were separated from the Selborne collection. We have no records of what exactly happened, but some of the hoard was disposed of soon after discovery and sold to two prominent antiquarian collectors, George Roots and Rev. William Greenwell. The Greenwell collection (BM accession numbers WG. 2100-2112, 1269) is composed largely of various spearheads associated to ‘Blackmoor-Woolmer Forest’ and was donated to the British Museum by John Pierpont Morgan in 1908. The Roots collection is larger and more diverse in object types, it is largely composed of spearheads, sword and sword fragments, and cast rings, though it was originally associated to the ‘south of England’ and then ‘Woolmer Forest’. Evidence suggests that the Selborne, Greenwell, and Roots assemblages were all part of the same deposit. Spearhead fragments from the Selborne and Roots Collections fit together, and a number of the short stumpy spearheads in all three collections appear to be made from the same mould (Colquhoun 1979; Colquhoun and Burgess 1988).

Lunette spearhead originating from the Blackmoor Hoard, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art © MET Museum

The Roots collection was sold by Christies (Christie’s London April 20, 1891, lot 33) to the British Museum in 1891 (BM accession numbers 1891.0514.4-58).  At this sale, one extraordinary example of a lunette spearhead (pictured above and currently part of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) collection 1998.540.1) was bought by General Pitt-Rivers and displayed in his museum on the Rushmore Estate in Farnham, Dorset. This was a secondary institution founded just after the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford) in 1885 focusing on local history and prehistoric crafts from Europe & Asia (MacGregor 1987). The spearhead’s origins in the Roots collection as well as its typological similarity to spearheads found in the Selborne/Blackmoor hoard, for example the slightly smaller lunette spearhead featured in figure 1, suggests that this spearhead does probably come from the same region and hoard. Metallurgical analysis (Northover 1982; Hughes, Northover & Staniaszek 1982) also appears to indicate a similar composition to spearheads directly associated with the Selborne/Blackmoor hoard.

Pitt-Rivers’ personal catalogue entry for the lunette spearhead (1891), courtesy of Prof. Dan Hicks (©Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford).

This spearhead remained in the Pitt Rivers collections until the Farnham Museum closed down in 1966, and much of collections were dispersed to the Salisbury Museum and South Wiltshire Museum as well as some private collectors. Sometime after, the spearhead became part of Lord McAlpine’s extensive collections, published in Antiquities from Europe and the Near East in the Collection of the Lord McAlpine of West Green (MacGregor 1987). After he got involved in the restoration of the Victorian town of Broome in Western Australian, Lord McAlpine sold off much of his private estate and collections, including the spearhead to the New York art dealer Peter Sharrer (The Art Newpaper, 19 January 2014). Sharrer donated the spearhead to the MET in 1998, along some other BA objects originally from the Roots Collection, where it is on display in Room 301, one of the few representations of the British Bronze Age in the museum.

Why is the Selborne/Blackmoor hoard is interesting, and why do we view these LBA weapons, particularly the MET spearhead, as objects of beauty? Extensive analysis by Colquhoun (1979) identified that the typologies of the main artefact groups (spearheads, swords, rings, and chapes) from the hoard fit well into the end of LBA Wilburton (c. 1,140-1,020 B.C.) and beginning of the Ewart Park (1,020-800 B.C.) metalworking traditions.  In fact, the Blackmoor hoard is a sub-period of the Ewart Park phase dating to around 1000-900BC, and it is an important hoard to show the transition between Wilburton and Ewart Park metalworking traditions, which is also seen at a few other sites (Isleham&  Fulbourn Common (Cambridgeshire), Sturry (Kent), and Marston St. Lawrence (Northamptonshire)) in southern England.

Hoards from this period are composed largely of weapon types. In SE England metalwork hoards tend to be more dominated by weapons along the tributaries of the Thames Valley, including the Wey River catchment where the Selborne-Blackmoor hoard was found (Yates and Bradley 2010: 61). While Colquhoun originally interpreted the ‘scrap nature of this hoard’ as representing a ‘founder’s hoard’ (e.g. containing a mix of broken metal objects, ingots, casting waste, and complete objects often for retrieval and/or remelting at a later time), recent research suggests that these objects were being purposely deposited in the ground in a particular, possibly ritualistic, manner.

Rather than actually being weapons used exclusively in everyday struggles or battles, the weapons found in these types of hoards may more likely be representative of social status and a ‘warrior aesthetic’ that developed later in the Bronze Age (Treherne 1995). A recent analysis by Schulting & Bradley (2013) of MBA-EIA skulls found in the Thames shows that almost all exhibit blunt force injuries at a time when the archaeological record is dominated by edged weapons (e.g. swords and spears). This suggests that the main form of injuries in this period were not necessarily caused by sharp bronze weapons, but rather blunt objects!  Not only does this have implications for the massive record of elaborate bronze weapons found in the Thames and other watery locations, but for all weapon hoards.  Perhaps this explains why we get such elaborate and beautiful examples of weapons both from the Thames and from LBA hoards, as the MET describes the Selborne spearhead representing the highest tradition of the British Bronze Age. The piece is undeniably beautiful: its shape is elegant and spare to the point of evoking modern art. The raised rib in the middle, which also outlines the half-moon or lunette openings, may have been designed as a blood channel.

Special thanks to Dan Pett and Neil Wilkins for their assistance on this post!


Burgess C. and D. Coombs, eds.1979. Bronze Age Hoards: Some Finds Old and New. Oxford: BAR British Series 67.

Colquhoun I, 1979. “The Late Bronze Age hoard from Blackmoor, Selborne”, In Burgess and Coombs (eds). Bronze Age Hoards: Some Finds Old and New. Oxford: BAR British Series 67: 99-115.

Colquhoun, I.  and C. Burgess, 1988. The Swords of Britain. Munchen: Prähistorische Bronzefunde (C.H.Beck).

Coombs, D.G., 1975. “Bronze Age Weapon Hoards in Britain”. Archaeologia Atlantica 1: 49-81.

Hughes, M.J., J. P. Northover, and B. E. P. Staniaszek, 1982. “Problems in the Analysis of Leaded Bronze Alloys in Ancient Artefacts”. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 1: 359-364.

MacGregor, Arthur, 1987. Antiquities from Europe and the Near East in the Collection of the Lord McAlpine of West Green. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum.

Needham, S., 1996. “Chronology and Periodisation in the British Bronze Age”. Acta Archaeologica 67, 121–40.

Northover, Peter, 1982. “The Metallurgy of the Wilburton”. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 1: 69-109.

The Art Newspaper, 19 January 2014. Art collector and political fundraiser extraordinaire, Alistair McAlpine has died, aged 71. Obituaries Section:–/31577

Treherne, Paul, 1995. “The Warrior’s Beauty: The Masculine Body and Self-Identity in Bronze-Age Europe”. Journal of European Archaeology 3: 105-144.

White, Gilbert, 1877 The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, in the county of Southampton. Edited by Thomas Bell.  London: John Van Voorst.

Yates, David and Richard Bradley, 2010. “The Sitting of Metalwork Hoards in the Bronze Age of South-East England”. The Antiquaries Journal 90: 41-70.



Posted by Jennifer Wexler on

3D Modelling of the Arreton Down Hoard

We are in the process of adding a new photo-masking application to the MicroPasts site. This is going to be a bit of a ‘pop-up shop’ as it will only include one Bronze Age British hoard, although it is one of considerable importance.

A hoard is an archaeological terms for two or more objects, normally of metal, deposited together. In some cases these were buried with the intention of recovery, but in other cases they were intended as ‘gifts to the gods’ or suitably auspicious ways of casting off old fashioned or damaged objects.

This particular hoard was found on Arreton Down on the Isle of Wight sometime before 1735, and we think that it was associated with a series of aligned pits. It constitutes a major group of Early Bronze Age spearheads and axes (as well as at least one dagger) that was probably placed in the ground around 1700-1500 BC.

Antiquarian drawing of the Arreton Down Hoard, from the The Antiquaries Journal XXVII (1947)

Antiquarian drawing of the Arreton Down Hoard, from the The Antiquaries Journal XXVII (1947)

The Arreton Down hoard represents the final metalwork traditions of Early Bronze Age (EBA) in southern England, c. 1700-1500 BC (Britton 1963, 284-97; Burgess & Cowen 1972; Needham 1986). The hoard gave its name to the ‘Arreton phase’ of Early Bronze Age metalwork. This arguably represents the first large scale and frequent burying of metalwork in prehistory, a practice that would continue for many centuries (and millennia) to come.

Arreton Decorated Socket Spearhead

Decorated socketed spearhead description in the BA Index

The Arreton phase gained its important position in the EBA chronology partially due to its early discovery in 1735, and its extensive documentation and exhibition by the Society of Antiquaries of London, the foremost archaeological body of its day (Society of Antiquaries Minutes 1732-7,128-9; Cooke 1737). Arreton Down belongs to a sub-set of hoards which are dominated by spearheads and have been assigned to a particular sub-phase of the Bronze Age (MA VI), and it has one of the best ranges of bronze equipment known from a single EBA context. This rare combination of metalwork types in combination with what appears to be purposeful deposition in a series of aligned pits suggests that the hoard was deposited in the course of ritual practices.

The Arreton hoard includes 16 objects of which 13 are currently in the BM collections: 2 tanged spearheads with rivet, 6 tanged spearheads, 1 tanged and collared spearhead with rivet, 1 socketed spearhead, 1 halberd or dagger, 1 dagger, and 4 flanged axes (illustrated below).

Photograph of the Arreton Down Hoard, as it currently exists in the BM collections © Trustees of the British Museum

Photograph of the Arreton Down Hoard, as it currently exists in the BM collections © Trustees of the British Museum

The fun thing about this assemblage from a specialist point of view is how it shows the evolution from low-flanged axes (Arreton-flanged axes) in the Early Bronze Age towards something closer to the earliest palstaves (a type of axe with cast flanges and a stop-ridge that is currently also the subject of much work by contributors on the MicroPasts site; see (Roberts 2008, 75).  Unfortunately, for a long time the provenance of the hoard was subject to great confusion, with some of the bronze finds actually given false provenances to other parts of the UK! Fortunately, research by Stuart Needham, a former British Museum curator of Bronze Age Collections, allowed for the original provenance to be re-established for all but three of the Arreton finds (Needham 1986). Subsequent, responsibly-reported metal detecting in the Arreton area have led to the discovery of additional bronze implements, adding to our understanding of this region in the Bronze Age.

Adi, Chiara, & Andy preparing a decorated socketed spearhead from the hoard for 3D scanning

Adi, Chiara, & Andy preparing a decorated socketed spearhead from the hoard for 3D scanning

This will be the first complete hoard photographed for 3D modelling and a major challenge will be how well this modelling approach handles the thin edges of the spearheads and internal socket of the dagger. Last week we took hundreds of photos of these objects in the hoard at the BM’s store, including both in very controlled photo-capture conditions and the more ad hoc set-up you see in the image above!

Close-up of the spearhead

Close-up of the spearhead

Soon these files will be uploaded as a new MicroPast’s photomasking application, allowing us to create for the first time a full set of 3D models of a Bronze Age hoard! Later this year, we hope to use these photomasked models to potentially make 3D printable models of the hoard on a 3D printer at one of the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre’s ( sessions at the BM.


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  • Cooke, B. 1737. “Letter to Peter Collinson”, dated 1 Jan 1736/7, Society of Antiquaries Minutes, Vol. II: 285.
  • Needham, Stuart P. 1986. “Towards the Reconstitution of the Arreton Hoard: A Case of Faked Provenances”. The Antiquaries Journal LXVI: 9-28.
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  • Roberts, B.W. 2008. “The Bronze Age”. In L. Atkins, R. Atkins and V. Leitch (eds) The Handbook of British Archaeology, 63-93. London: Constable and Robinson.