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Karl Martin bought the jar at a car-boot sale with another pot for £4, was told of its antiquity by a colleague at the local auctioneers, Hansons.

Car-boot Sale Toothbrush Holder Revealed to be a 4000-year-old Artifact


In Britain there has been a discovery of a piece of pottery from one of the most important civilizations in the ancient world – and it has been serving as a toothbrush holder for a number of years. The pot is from the mysterious and enigmatic Indus Valley culture, that is widely seen as one of the cradles of civilization. The significance of the artifact was not recognized for some time and it was only by luck that it was identified. This discovery shows that there are historical items still to be found in many unexpected places.

Lucky Discovery was Bought at a Car-Boot Sale

One day, Karl Martin attended a local car-boot sale in Derbyshire in the Midlands, UK. Antiques are a passion of Mr. Martin and he is a professional antiques valuer.  He spotted two old and rather worn pots, whose designs he really liked. He bought the pair for 4 pound sterling (about 5 dollars) and brought them home. Then he reflected on what he would do with this piece of pottery and after some thought he placed the one item in the family bathroom and used it as a toothbrush holder.

Mr. Martin did not give much thought to his purchase, even though he placed his toothbrush in it every day. According to the Daily Mirror, some weeks ago he noticed a pot similar to his toothbrush holder ‘being sold in an antiques sale at the auctioneers’ and this made him curious. He works at the well-known Hansons Auctioneers and he asked his co-worker James Brenchley, head of antiquities, to appraise the item. Mr. Martin was unsure of the provenance of the piece of pottery as his area of expertise is British antiques.

4,000-year-old ancient antiquity found at a car-boot sale, recently sold at auctioneers. (Hansons Auctioneers / Hansons)

4,000-year-old ancient antiquity found at a car-boot sale, recently sold at auctioneers. (Hansons Auctioneers / Hansons)

His colleague examined the item and made the stunning announcement. Mr. Martin’s toothbrush holder was actually from the Indian subcontinent and ‘dated back to 1900 BC’ reports the Daily Mirror.  Mr. Martin was shocked, and he admits that the piece of pottery has toothpaste marks on it from its years of use in the family bathroom. He is quoted by the Hindustan Times as saying that how it ‘ended up at a South Derbyshire car-boot sale, I’ll never know”. 

However, he speculated that it was brought back possibly from India by a traveler from England, some years ago. Given the many connections between India and Britain it should not be a surprise that an Indian antiquity should turn up in rural England. There are many rare Indian artifacts in British museums and homes because of the longstanding ties between the two nations.

The piece of pottery is made from baked clay and it is decorated with a figure of what is believed to be an antelope. The style of the piece indicates that it came from the Indus Valley Civilization. This civilization was in what is now the modern nations of Pakistan and India.

Locations of IVC-sites. ( Nataraja / Wikimedia)

Locations of IVC-sites. ( Nataraja / Wikimedia)

The Mysterious Indus Valley Culture is Known for Prized Artifacts

This was a bronze age culture which was urbanized and had contact with other civilizations in the Near East such as the Babylonian. The culture is renowned for the high quality of its workmanship, many of its artifacts are among the most prized exhibits in Indian museums. The civilization was only re-discovered in the early years of the twentieth century and it had been forgotten for centuries.  Much about this culture is still a mystery. The civilization ended about 1500 BC because of the invasion of Aryan invaders and environmental collapse in the Indus Valley area. It is widely accepted by many experts that this sophisticated culture influenced the later development of Indian civilization.

Karl Martin delighted with his find. (Hansons Auctioneers / Hansons)

Karl Martin delighted with his find. (Hansons Auctioneers / Hansons)

The discovery of the item shows that there are possibly more artifacts to be found in local auctions and attics around Britain, especially from the Indian sub-continent.  Mr. Martin has since sold the artifact and it fetched the modest sum of 80 British pounds (100 dollars), despite its great antiquity. However, he is still delighted with his find and proud that his old toothbrush holder was so ancient and unique.

Top image: Karl Martin bought the jar at a car-boot sale with another pot for £4, was told of its antiquity by a colleague at the local auctioneers, Hansons.  Source: (Hansons Auctioneers / Hansons)

By Ed Whelan



He should probably get fired. How is the "professional antique valuer" not aware of what they have in front of them? No clue of how old or the origin? and moreover then use it as a toothbrush holder? ridiculous...

Mr Martin sold the artifact for 80 little biddie pounds. Would you, in all honesty, sell something like a valued toothbrush holder for 80 pounds. This priceless item sold for 80 pounds he must be either naive, poor or just simply souless. The item is worth thousands more than 80 quid. 

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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