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

Baffling Bronze Age Weapons Hoard Found in London

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Archaeologists in England have announced the discovery of a hoard of Bronze Age weapons and tools, that are almost 3000 years old. They were found in London on a construction site. The find is very important as it is providing researchers with a window into 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 the location may become a magnet for illegal treasure hunters. It is the largest hoard of its kind found in the British capital and ‘is the third-largest ever discovered in the UK’ reports the BBC.

New 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 )

Bronze Age treasure

The archaeologists were amazed to find 453 bronze objects in four locations, and the discoveries have been called the Havering Hoard. The bronze objects date ‘from between 800BC and 900BC, was officially declared treasure by a coroner earlier this year’ according to the BBC. The hoard includes spearheads, ax heads, bronze knives, pieces of swords and some other rare implements.  The discovery is atypical in 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 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’, reports the BBC.

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

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

The mystery of the bronze age weapons hoard

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 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.

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’. Conservation work, is also being carried out on the priceless objects. The treasure trove of Bronze age weapons and other artifacts are going to be the main attraction of a forthcoming exhibition to be held at the Museum of London, Docklands, in the Spring of 2020.

This astonishing find is demonstrating 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’ reports the BBC. The new 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.

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

By Ed Whelan

Comments

They really don’t look like axe heads (they seem too light and the hole is not in the proper position). Neather the only visible spear head looks like the real thing. They may had some sort of ceremonial purpose or used as caps.

Paul Davies's picture

Archaeologists still hang on like grim death to the “evolution” of technology theory, which is highly questionable, and then use it for dating. There were cultures using Iron back to the earliest sites in the Middle East, and several valleys over, they were Stone, etc. It seems that the level of weapon culture depended very much on what was regionally available and readily accessible. e need to be VERY careful we aren’t simply piling assumptions togther into an interpretive “house of cards”….

Pete Wagner's picture

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

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