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Roman statue Minerva statue found in Oxfordshire.

Silver-eyed Minerva Statuette Kept in A Flora Tub for 10 Years is Part of a Record Year for Treasure Finds

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A nearly 2,000-year-old Roman statuette of the ‘silver-eyed goddess Minerva’ that was kept in a plastic ‘Flora’ margarine tub, was part of a collection of 1,267 finds made across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This, is “more than there has ever been since the  Treasure Act was passed in 1996” according to an article published in The Guardian .

Record Number of Discoveries

The vast majority of the “record number of discoveries” were made by the UK’S expanding subculture of metal detectorists and treasure hunters and include everything from “prehistoric metalwork to a 17th-century pocket watch.” The Roman goddess with the “silver eyes” that is getting all the attention was discovered over ten years ago by a detectorist in a field near the village of Hailey, Oxfordshire.

Rare Find Mistaken for a Mere Curiosity

At the time, the finder incorrectly assumed it was modern - “nothing more than a curiosity,” so the landowner placed the Minerva statuette in a plastic tub, and it remained there for a decade. An article in the Daily Mail explains that a retired lorry driver, now metal detectorist, Len Jackman, 66, “found the Romano-British bronze piece neglected in a margarine tub of artifacts at a farmer friend's house in rural Oxfordshire.” He said: “It was in this margarine tub, in a room by the kitchen.” “You could see it was Roman. You could tell by the weight.”

Incomplete cast copper and lead alloy three-dimensional statue of the Roman goddess Minerva, dating to the period AD 43-200. The statue is in three pieces, with the head and part of the lower right arm being detached from the body. The lower left arm and possibly a small section of the base is also missing. (Oxfordshire County Council / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Incomplete cast copper and lead alloy three-dimensional statue of the Roman goddess Minerva, dating to the period  AD 43-200. The statue is in three pieces, with the head and part of the lower right arm being detached from the body. The lower left arm and possibly a small section of the base is also missing. ( Oxfordshire County Council / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

A Fantastic Moment

Anni Byard, the finds liaison officer for Oxfordshire, Tweeted: “The objects had been left for me on my desk and I picked up the tub and assumed it might be a piece of lead it was so heavy. I unwrapped the tissue paper and it was just ‘wow’… a fantastic moment. It’s the first statue of this size I’ve seen in 10 years of doing my job.” The copper-alloy and lead statuette of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and the arts, dates from the first or second century and is believed to have at one time been located on one of her shrines.

And although the head is detached from the body, “to even find her head was remarkable,” said archaeologists.

High resolution image view of Roman statue: Minerva statue showing detail of Medusa's head. (Oxfordshire County Council / CC BY-SA 4.0)

High resolution image view of Roman statue: Minerva statue showing detail of Medusa's head. (Oxfordshire County Council / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Rise of The Metal Detectorists

Shropshire Live only yesterday announced the May discovery of a 3,000 years old “Bronze Age gold bulla” found on farmland by a metal detectorist. The British Museum in London unveiled the find this morning at the annual Treasure & Portable Antiquities Scheme report launch and the piece has been described as “one of the most significant pieces of Bronze Age gold metalwork discovered in the British Isles.”

This Bronze Age gold bulla was found in Shropshire, UK. (British Museum Portable Antiquities Scheme)

This Bronze Age gold bulla was found in Shropshire, UK. (British Museum Portable Antiquities Scheme )

According to The Guardian, “About 78,000 archaeological objects, some of it treasure, were recorded in 2017 on a voluntary basis with the portable antiquities scheme” which is accessible to the public through finds.org. Metal detectorists were responsible for “93% of the items,” with the biggest numbers in Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Suffolk.”

In the 70s and 80s archaeologists fought against metal detectorists as they were deemed as lawless treasure hunters lacking methodology, and “it was all about finding things for financial gain and ruining archaeology.” But fortunately, metal detectorists discoveries are were welcomed by the current heritage minister, Michael Ellis, who has announced a consultation on how the system could be improved.

Raised-relief image of Minerva on a Roman gilt silver bowl, first century BC showing Minerva in-tack. (Andreas Praefcke / Public Domain)

Raised-relief image of Minerva on a Roman gilt silver bowl, first century BC showing Minerva in-tack. (Andreas Praefcke / Public Domain )

Scottish Inspiration for New Starts

While the treasures covered in this article are certainly delicate and fascinating, they do not make you want to jump onto Amazon and order a metal detector, but there is the story of Scottish man, David Booth, 35, that certainly does. In 2009 Mr. Booth bought a £240 metal detector and on his very first outing with the device, according to this article in The Daily Mail , he uncovered “four gold necklaces known as ‘torcs’ buried just six inches beneath the surface in a field near Stirling.” The article adds that “This £1million hoard of Iron Age jewelery that is Scotland’s most important find in a century.”

A selection of highlight pieces from the Staffordshire Hoard (top) and a gold sword hilt fitting with cloisonné garnet inlay, uncleaned by conservators, still showing traces of soil. (Staffordshire hoard / CC BY-SA 2.0)

A selection of highlight pieces from the Staffordshire Hoard (top) and a  gold sword hilt fitting with  cloisonné garnet inlay, uncleaned by conservators, still showing traces of soil. (Staffordshire hoard / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Before Mr. Booth made his amazing find he had only switched his metal detector on to “detect knives and forks in his own kitchen as practice” and after only “seven paces” from where he parked his car on his very first trip, he became the country’s most famous and first millionaire detectorist. This particular hoard, dating back as far as 300 BC, and especially the professional manner with which Mr. Booth handled the discovery, went some way to building bridges between archaeology and detectorists because “it excited archaeologists so much, they say it changed the way we look at Scotland’s ancient inhabitants” reported the Daily Mail.

Cheek guard from the Staffordshire helmet. (Portable Antiquities Scheme / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Cheek guard from the Staffordshire helmet . (Portable Antiquities Scheme / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Top image: Roman statue Minerva statue found in Oxfordshire.  Source: Oxfordshire County Council / CC BY-SA 4.0

By Ashley Cowie

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