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This Bronze Age gold arm ring is one of the ancient treasures found in Britain in 2019. Source: British Museum/Portable Antiquities Scheme

2019: Britain’s Record-Breaking Year of Ancient Treasures

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The British Museum  announced on Tuesday that in 2019 metal detectorists across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland discovered in excess of “80,000 ancient objects with 1,311 defined as treasure,” marking a record high for annual treasure recoveries in Britain.

Among the finds are a well-preserved medieval brooch and a solid gold Bronze Age arm band. A recovered Roman coin tells the story of Emperor Carausius, who in 286 AD undertook an ancient “Brexit” when he separated the island from European control. But perhaps the most significant find in a country regarded as the center of European pub culture, was the discovery of an Iron Age drinking bucket , which museum experts say was not just for drinking, but for “guzzling alcohol.”

Copper alloy fitting from bucket, in the shape of a human face, from Lenham, Kent. Iron Age c. 50BC (Trustees of the British Museum)

Copper alloy fitting from bucket, in the shape of a human face, from Lenham, Kent. Iron Age c. 50BC
(Trustees of the British Museum )

Elites Have Always Been Big Boozers

Ancient British drinking culture caused Iron Age elites to show off their treasured booze-vessels and they were deemed so sacred that lords would often be buried with, or even inside, them. The Iron Age drinking bucket and bowls, according to a report in The Telegraph , are “the 2000-year-old equivalents of best crystal” and they would have been filled for rowdy ancient feasting where “rap battles and carousing were rife.”

This cultural thirst for booze is reflected in modern English life in a new paper published only two weeks ago in the journal  BMJ Open , which states British MPs are “three times more likely to drink riskily and down an entire bottle of wine on a standard day than members of the public.” And a Daily Mail article about the new findings says our modern parliamentary elites are also more likely to indulge in drinking at least four times a week, and to binge drink six or more units in one session, while MPs who work outside the Commons are more likely to be end up “among the country's heaviest boozers.”

British House of Commons in 1834. (Public Domain)

British House of Commons in 1834. ( Public Domain )

Booze Buckets for the Top Dogs

The remains of the mid-first century serving bowls and boozing bucket were discovered in the Kent parish of Lenham by English metal detectorist Rick Jones. Specialists at the British Museum say it would have been filled with the mead, beer, or wine from the Roman Empire . Kents Finds Liaison Officer, Jo Ahmet , who recorded the spectacular discovery, says the British Museum’s repairs on the artifact show the importance of such objects in Iron Age British society, and highlight the centrality of “loud, long, and loutish bouts of drinking they enjoyed.”

When a crowd of Brits get together in a pub (boozer) it’s not long before social barriers fall and everyone gets on like a big family, and like any family, that can mean unpredictable feuds and scraps. Mr. Ahmet also told reporters that some of the ancient English roundhouses held around 100 people, “not as big as a football match, but there were a lot of people.” And like today, Mr. Ahmet says there would have been “storytelling, carousing and boasting their deeds, almost like a rap battle.”

British Museum Director is Delighted with His Ancient Treasures

The Kent drinking bucket and bowls are included in the 1,311 treasures discovered across the country and reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme in 2019.

Another outstanding find presented to the British Museum is a 1,000-year-old engraved silver brooch. Discovered by a metal detectorist exploring a site near Kings Lynn in Norfolk that had received a load of spoil dumped by a tipper truck, this Anglo-Saxon treasure is decorated with fantastical beasts and plants and museum experts said they were astonished at its level of preservation.” It was even found to have a working pin mechanism on the back, with detailed metal filled etchings inlaid with black niello.

This 1,000-year-old engraved silver brooch is one of the ancient treasures found in Britain last year. (British Museum)

This 1,000-year-old engraved silver brooch is one of the ancient treasures found in Britain last year. ( British Museum )

2019’s record high for treasure finds in England has been welcomed by the British Museum for its benefit to historical understanding and educational institutions; and speaking to this, Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, told reporters at The Telegraph the discoveries are “vital for advancing our understanding of Britain s diverse history.” The museum director added that he thought it was “incredibly encouraging that so many finds have been voluntarily recorded,” by the public.

Top Image: This Bronze Age gold arm ring is one of the ancient treasures found in Britain in 2019. Source: British Museum/Portable Antiquities Scheme

By Ashley Cowie

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