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The Havering Hoard: Museum of London hoping to purchase all 453 Bronze Age objects discovered at Rainham gravel works

PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 July 2019

A set of Bronze Age composite rings dating back to 1300-1150BC. Picture: York Museums Trust/ Creative Commons

A set of Bronze Age composite rings dating back to 1300-1150BC. Picture: York Museums Trust/ Creative Commons

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The Museum of London is hoping to buy a hoard of 453 Late Bronze Age items discovered at a gravel works in Rainham last year.

This Bronze Age copper alloy axe head was discovered in Rainham in 1990. No pictures of the newly discovered artefacts have yet been released. Picture: Finds UK database/Creative CommonsThis Bronze Age copper alloy axe head was discovered in Rainham in 1990. No pictures of the newly discovered artefacts have yet been released. Picture: Finds UK database/Creative Commons

The almost 3,000-year-old artefacts - the vast majority of which are made of copper alloy - were discovered by an archeological excavation team at a gravel works in the Rainham area on September 21 last year, it was revealed at an inquest yesterday (Tuesday, July 23).

It is a convention of treasure inquests that a more precise location is not given to prevent treasure hunters flocking to the area.

A board of independent experts is still examining the hoard to determine its monetary value.

The items - which preliminary examination dates to between 900 and 750BC - were discovered in a historic ditch that had become visible as a crop marking, and excavation of the site had been a condition of Havering Council granting the gravel works planning permission.

Once the first set of items were discovered, the entire ditch was excavated by hand, with all soil removed from the earth sieved by hand to make sure no objects were missed.

During this process, fragments of pottery and struck flint were also recovered.

All in all, four separate hoards were discovered in close proximity.

In total, 453 items were discovered - although only 77 were recovered intact.

The inquest at Walthamstow Coroner's Court was held by assistant coroner Ian Wade QC, who opened proceedings by stressing how rare treasure inquests are.

"This is indeed an honour," he told the court.

"We don't get many treasure inquests here in the eastern area of London and today the honour has fallen to me."

More details about the specific items unearthed were given by the coroner, although no pictures of the finds have yet been released.

As well as copper ingots and smelting remnants, a large number of weapon fragments have been discovered.

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These include spear heads, axe heads and swords - both hilts and blades were found.

The rarer finds include a number of decorated rings, a bracelet and the survival of a wooden dowel.

All four hoards were examined by Dr Sophia Adams, an expert in Late Bronze Age artefacts who works for the University of Glasgow.

In her formal reports to the coroner, she determined the finds met the statutory requirements to be declared treasure.

Dr Adams wrote: "As a find of more than two objects composed of prehistoric base metals, these objects qualify as treasure under the strictures of the Treasure Act 1996."

The Bronze Age expert also noted that the Rainham find "compared favourably" to a similar batch of artefacts previously unearthed in Grays, Thurrock.

Concluding the inquest after formally declaring the find treasure, Mr Wade told the court: "All these items were found on September 21, 2018.

"They were found in an area broadly known as Rainham, an as they are treasure someone has rightly given them the rather catchy title of The Havering Hoard."

Now, the hoard will be presented to the British Museum's Board of Antiquities, who will conduct a valuation.

Once the hoard has been priced, interested museums such as the Museum of London will have the option of paying that amount to the finders - in this case the archeological company that carried out the excavation.

If no museum is willing to pay the price set by the British Museum, the finders are entitled to keep the treasure.

Two representatives of the Museum of London were present at the inquest. No other museums were represented.

The area around Rainham and South Hornchurch is believed to have been well-inhabited around 3,000 years ago.

In the 1990s, a large number of Bronze Age artefacts were discovered, dated to between 1,000 and 800BC.

Many of those items were found surrounded by pottery fragments, leading experts to believe these artefacts were purposely buried inside ceramic containers.

One of the British Museum's best examples of an Anglo Saxon drinking horn - made of glass - was also discovered in Rainham back in 1952.

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