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Havering Hoard of Bronze age weapons and tools found in London.  Source: Museum of London

The Havering Hoard: Baffling Bronze Age Artifacts Found in London

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Archaeologists in England have been studying the Havering Hoard for over a year. The Bronze Age weapons, tools, and personal grooming items are almost 3000 years old. They were found in London on a construction site. The find is important as it is providing researchers with a window into various facets of prehistoric society.

The discovery was made by experts from Archaeological Solutions at a construction site in Havering, East London. The exact location of the dig has been kept secret as the authorities fear that it may become a magnet for illegal treasure hunters. The Havering Hoard is the largest of its kind found in the British capital and ‘is the third-largest ever discovered in the UK,’ reports the BBC.

Planning laws in the United Kingdom require developers to notify the relevant authorities if they come across anything of potential archaeological value. According to Historic England, the dig was ‘a planning requirement of Havering Borough Council, on the recommendation of Historic England's Greater London Archaeology Advisory Service’. Initially, the archaeologists “were brought in to investigate a ‘crop circle’ on the site” according to London Go .

An axe head dating back to around 800 or 900 years ago. (Museum of London)

Weapon or tool head dating back to around 800 or 900 BC. ( Museum of London )

Havering Hoard is a Unique Bronze Age Treasure

The archaeologists were amazed to find 453 bronze objects in four locations. The artifacts date ‘from between 800 BC and 900 BC,’ and were ‘officially declared treasure by a coroner’ in 2019, according to the BBC. The Havering Hoard includes spearheads, ax heads, bronze knives, pieces of swords, and some other rare implements such as a loom weight and spindle whorl.

In February 2020 , it was revealed that some of the more unique artifacts are ‘a pair of terret rings, used to prevent the reins tangling on horse-drawn carts’ – which have not been found from the Bronze Age in the UK before. Other items from distant lands include ‘a bracelet believed to be from what is now north-west France, and copper ingots possibly originating from the Alps,’ according to The Guardian .

Daily Mail has reported that the Havering Hoard also includes a double-sided razor and a pair of tweezers made from copper alloy. These artifacts suggest that people in this part of the world were interested in grooming, individualism in their appearance,  and removing unwanted hair since as far back as the Bronze Age.

A double-sided razor (top) and a pair of tweezers (bottom) discovered in the Havering Hoard. ( Museum of London )

Another reason the Havering Hoard is atypical is that it was ‘recovered from four separate individual and deliberately placed hoards within a large ancient enclosure ditch,’ according to Historic England . Most Bronze Age hoards are found in one location and not near any other buried objects.

The Mystery of the Bronze Age Hoard

The ancient objects were unearthed at a prehistoric site near the banks of the River Thames , which was first identified in the 1960s. Almost all of the bronze objects , which would have been very rare at the time and expensive to manufacture, were apparently deliberately broken and damaged. The reason why they were buried so close together is rather mysterious. Roy Stephenson, of the Museum of London, stated that the discoveries raise “questions as to why this treasure was buried in this way and why it was never recovered.”

The Bronze age weapons were discovered within an ancient square enclosure © Archaeological Solutions Ltd

The Havering Hoard was discovered within an ancient square enclosure © Archaeological Solutions Ltd

One theory is that they belonged to a metalworker who made bronze objects in large quantities. According to Go London , the discoveries could ‘have been a metal worker’s former vault or an armory recycling bank or exchange’. The fact that items were buried so close together in an enclosure could indicate that they were collectively owned by a tribe or a community.

There is also the possibility that the weapons and implements had become obsolete with the introduction of iron, but this does not seem likely, given the dating. It is also conceivable that the hoard was a religious offering to unknown gods. There are many examples of this type of sacrifice from around the world. The objects may have been deliberately damaged to ensure that they could not be used again as part of a ceremony dedicating them to some deities.

A Window into Prehistory

The analysis of the hoard is on-going, and more insights are expected to be obtained. According to Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England , “The finds have already taught us a great deal about this distant age”. Careful preservation work has been carried out on the priceless objects.

Kate Sumnall, a curator of archaeology at the Museum of London, explained how the discovery has provided insight on interactions Bronze Age people in the area had with more distant lands. She said , “These objects give clues about how this wasn’t an isolated community but rather one that fitted into a much larger cultural group with connections along the Thames Valley and across the continent.” Sumnall also notes:

“The artefacts contained within the Havering Hoard give clues about what was important and valued within society at this time. We cannot know the motivations for the act of creating and burying a hoard but we can study the selection of which objects were chosen to be included and also the condition of the objects. These give a tantalising glimpse into the everyday tasks that Bronze Age people carried out, such as felling trees to build boats and roundhouses, and also clues about how they travelled around and the animals that they kept.”

Lastly, this astonishing find demonstrates the importance of effective collaboration between developers and archaeologists. Wilson stated that the discovery “underlines the importance of planned assessment and excavation in archaeological hotspots when new development comes along.” The UK planning laws have encouraged archaeologists and developers to work together and this is leading to many new historic finds, such as the Havering Hoard.

There are plans to put these fascinating artifacts on display at the Museum of London Docklands as soon as it is allowed to reopen following the lifting of restrictions due to the coronavirus.

Top Image: The Havering Hoard of Bronze age weapons and tools found in London. Source: Museum of London

By Ed Whelan

Comments

Pete Wagner's picture

Those are not axe heads.  They could be ornaments for the tops of fence posts.

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