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The Knaresborough Hoard, image.	Source: Courtesy of the Yorkshire Museum/Newcastle University

Knaresborough Hoard Reveals Long- Forgotten Secrets

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Archaeologists from Newcastle University have recently concluded the first, in-depth investigation of the most extensive Roman bronze vessel hoard ever unearthed in Britain - a staggering 160 years after its initial discovery. The Knaresborough hoard, unearthed in 1864, is notorious for being the most sizable and strange collection of late-Roman metalware (copper-alloy vessels and tools) ever found in the British Isles.

Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding its finding were never officially recorded, and a significant portion of the hoard unintentionally melted down shortly after being discovered. The examination of this hoard is the subject of a new study published in The Antiquaries Journal.

As part of her MA degree, Jessica De Maso, an archaeology student at Newcastle University, conducted the initial comprehensive study. The findings shed light on the fascinating collection of 30 items currently exhibited at the Yorkshire Museum in York.

An Exceptional Hoard of Roman Alloys

Adam Parker, Curator of Archaeology at the Yorkshire Museum, said:

"The Knaresborough Hoard is an exceptional collection of Roman copper alloys, which has been in the collection of the Yorkshire Museum for a long time. The excellent work undertaken by Newcastle University has unlocked the research potential of these objects for the first time and will allow us to tell their story more completely."

Originally donated to the museum in 1864 by Thomas Gott, an ironmonger and Town Councilor residing in Knaresborough, the hoard's precise discovery location and land ownership details were left undisclosed. Jessica's research, in collaboration with Newcastle University colleagues, suggests that the hoard likely originated from a boggy area near Farnham, situated in the Vale of Mowbray, approximately two miles north of Knaresborough, according to a press release by Newcastle University.

The Vale of Mowbray was intersected by two crucial Roman roads during the Roman period: Cade’s Road on the eastern side, running north-south, and Dere Street to the west, a significant route linking to York and Hadrian’s Wall. The region housed several prosperous Roman villas, leading researchers to speculate that the hoard items might have originated from one of these villas, an opulent townhouse, or a nearby settlement.

The large fluted bowl found within the Knaresborough Hoard. (Yorkshire Museum /Newcastle University)

The large fluted bowl found within the Knaresborough Hoard. (Yorkshire Museum /Newcastle University)

The Knaresborough Hoard stands as the sole known instance of a late Roman hoard of this kind recovered from a bog or marsh in Britain. The specific reasons behind the intentional grouping and deposition of the items in the bog remain unknown.

Parallels from other regions of the Roman Empire suggest that ritual or spiritual motivations may have been a driving force, or perhaps a desire to conceal or protect the items, or deliberately render them irretrievable.

In the course of their investigations, the research team uncovered evidence indicating that the hoard initially contained more items when initially discovered. Unfortunately, a significant number of these artifacts fell victim to inadvertent destruction when they were mistakenly melted down in Thomas Gott's foundry.

James Gerrard, Professor of Roman Archaeology, Newcastle University, and lead author said: “This project has shown the value in re-visiting old discoveries and we’re delighted to have the opportunity to work alongside the Yorkshire Museum to understand more about this extraordinary collection and who Thomas Gott was. It’s good to know that more than 150 years on, our research has helped tell a fascinating, if complex, part of the story about this remarkable discovery.”

Thomas Gott’s Role in the Find

In 1848, Thomas Gott entered matrimony with Mary Anne Drury, a widow, in Scarborough. Tragically, Mary Anne passed away in 1860 at the age of 47. The subsequent year saw Gott's union with Emma, the sister of his late wife, in London. This marriage, although generally accepted socially, was illegal.

It is presumed that the London location was chosen to evade scrutiny, minimizing the risk of tarnishing Gott's reputation, especially since he was then serving as a Knaresborough Improvement Commissioner, reports Arkeonews.

The research team posits that Gott likely had acquaintanceship with Frederick Hartley, a fellow member of the Knaresborough Improvement Commission and the agent and estate manager for land near Farnham owned by Sir Charles Slingsby. Investigations reveal that in 1864, Slingsby commissioned drainage improvements on a marshy section of his property, and it was likely during this undertaking that the hoard was discovered.

The peculiar handle of the vessel with its accompanying rest (Yorkshire Museum /Newcastle University)

The peculiar handle of the vessel with its accompanying rest (Yorkshire Museum /Newcastle University)

Hartley retained a cup, possibly for himself or Slingsby, and passed the remaining items to Gott. Subsequently, Gott generously donated the majority of the collection to the Yorkshire Museum. A second and final portion of the hoard was gifted to the museum by Gott 13 years later.

In 2017, as part of its 'Old Collections, New Questions' research initiative, the Yorkshire Museum incorporated the Knaresborough Hoard, presenting an opportunity for Jessica to delve into its study during her MA in Archaeology at Newcastle University.

Jessica, who is now working as an archaeologist in the United States, concluded:

“The study of the Knaresborough Hoard at the Yorkshire Museum was an incredible opportunity to engage with the idea that endless avenues of research can be done on existing collections in museums.”

Top image: The Knaresborough Hoard, image. Source: Courtesy of the Yorkshire Museum/Newcastle University

By Sahir Pandey

References

Altuntas, L. 2024. Mystery of Knaresborough Roman hoard revealed by Newcastle experts. Available at: https://arkeonews.net/mystery-of-knaresborough-roman-hoard-revealed-by-newcastle-experts/.

Gerrard, J.F., et al. 2024. A MULTIDISCIPLINARY ANALYSIS OF AN ANTIQUARIAN DISCOVERY: THE KNARESBOROUGH 1864 HOARD OF LATE ROMAN VESSELS. The Antiquaries Journal. Available at: https://doi:10.1017/S0003581523000197.

Radley, D. 2024. Newcastle experts solve the mystery of the Knaresborough Roman Hoard. Available at: https://archaeologymag.com/2024/01/mystery-of-the-knaresborough-roman-hoard/.

 
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Sahir

I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

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