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A photograph of the Ringlemere Gold Cup.

Amateur Treasure Hunter Hit the Jackpot with The Ringlemere Cup Find

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The Ringlemere Cup is a highly valuable artifact that was discovered by a lucky treasure hunter in the Ringlemere barrow, an archaeological site in the southeast English county of Kent. Dating to the Bronze Age, the Ringlemere Gold Cup is arguably the site’s most famous find.

Discovery of the Ringlemere Cup

On the 4th of November 2001, a metal detectorist by the name of Cliff Bradsahw made the find of a lifetime when his metal detector signalled gold while scanning the fields of Ringlemere Farm, near the historic town of Sandwich in Kent.

In accordance to the Treasure Act 1996, Bradshaw reported his discovery to the local Portable Antiquities finds liaison officer. The Portable Antiquities Scheme, incidentally, was established in 1997, a year after the Treasure Act 1996 was passed. This scheme is aimed at recording the small finds of archaeological interest that are made by the public. Thus, the Ringlemere Gold Cup was recorded, and in 2002, was declared a treasure.

Detail of Ringlemere Cup showing rivets and lip decoration. (CC by SA 3.0)

Detail of Ringlemere Cup showing rivets and lip decoration. ( CC by SA 3.0 )

Finder Makes a Fortune

Due to its archaeological significance, the Ringlemere Cup was purchased by the British Museum for £270,000. The sum required to buy this artifact was raised through donations by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Art Collections Fund and The British Museum Friends, and the money was then split between Bradshaw and the Smith family, who owns Ringlemere Farm.

Made From a Single Block of Gold

The cup, which dates to between 1700 and 1500 BC, resembles a late Neolithic (2300 BC) ceramic beaker with Corded Ware decoration (named after cord-like impressions), and may have drawn inspiration from this older style.

A corded ware vessel from the late Neolithic, with its characteristic cord-like decorations (CC by SA 3.0)

A corded ware vessel from the late Neolithic, with its characteristic cord-like decorations ( CC by SA 3.0 )

According to researchers, the Ringlemere Gold Cup was created from a single ingot of gold, which was beaten into the desired shape. The British Museum’s description of the cup is as follows:

“With sub-conical body tapering to an omphalos base; the rim is flaring; the single rivetted strap handle links the rim to the mid carination. The rivet plates are lozenge shaped and the handle has decorative ridges parallel with its hour-glass shaped sides. Most of the body, both the neck and lower, is corrugated with continuous horizontal ribs. Above and below are plain zones, but just before the rim there is a single row of pointille punched from the outer surface.”

Crushed by a Plow

Unfortunately, the Ringlemere Gold Cup has lost its original shape, as it has been badly crushed at some point of time, presumably by recent plowing activity. Nevertheless, 3D reconstructions of this vessel have been made, so that we may have an idea of how the cup would have looked like originally.

Illustration of how the Ringlemere Cup might have originally looked. Credit: British Museum

Illustration of how the Ringlemere Cup might have originally looked. Credit: British Museum

A Grave Offering?

The cup has been dated to between 1700 and 1500 BC, which corresponds with the Bronze Age in Britain. It has been suggested that the Ringlemere Cup may have originally been placed in a barrow as a grave offering. Whilst some parallels have been found in graves, there are also cases in which such objects were found in burial sites, but not in the graves themselves. It is unclear whether the cup belongs to the former or the latter.

The Rillaton Cup

In Britain, there is only one other known vessel that is stylistically related to the Riglemere Gold Cup – the Rillaton Cup. The others, five in total, are from other parts of Europe, namely Brittany in France, the northwestern part of Germany, and northern Switzerland. It is the rarity of this type off vessel that makes the Ringlemere Gold Cup such a notable find. This rarity has also, unfortunately, contributed to the lack of knowledge we currently have about these precious objects.

The Rillaton Gold Cup (CC by SA 3.0)

The Rillaton Gold Cup ( CC by SA 3.0 )

The Ringlemere Cup has, for the majority of the time, been on display in the British Museum since its purchase. Nevertheless, it has been temporarily exhibited in various British museums over the years. Between 2004 and 2006, for example, the Ringlemere Cup was displayed in several museums as part of the ‘Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past’ exhibit, whilst between 2006 and 2007, the cup was displayed in the Dover Museum, which is not too far from the place where the it was originally found.

Top image: A photograph of the Ringlemere Gold Cup. ( Portable Antiquities Scheme / flickr ).

By: Wu Mingren

References

Art Fund, 2014. Object of the week: The Ringlemere Cup. [Online]
Available at: https://www.artfund.org/news/2014/05/14/object-of-the-week-the-ringlemere-cup

Derbyshire, D., 2002. Bronze Age gold cup uncovered by metal detector. [Online]
Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/4181475/Bronze-Age-gold-cup-uncovered-by-metal-detector.html

Needham, S. & Varndell, G., 2004. Ringlemere Gold cup acquired by the British Museum.. [Online]
Available at: https://finds.org.uk/news/story/56

Patrick, N., 2016. Ringlemere Gold Cup the Bronze Age vessel discovered by metal detectorist in England in 2010. [Online]
Available at: https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/07/15/ringlemere-gold-cup-bronze-age-vessel-discovered-england-2010/2

The BBC, 2006. Bronze Age cup returns to county. [Online]
Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/kent/6054316.stm

The British Museum, 2018. The Ringlemere Cup. [Online]
Available at: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=1344081&partId=1

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