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Ryedale Roman Bronze Artifacts Found By Detectorists Head for Auction

Ryedale Roman Bronze Artifacts Found By Detectorists Head for Auction

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A marvelous collection of Roman bronze artifacts that were unearthed in the year 2020 by detectorists in Yorkshire, England, is set to be auctioned next month. The rare Roman bronze collection, includes a bust of Marcus Aurelius , a statuette of Mars and a horse-headed knife handle. If you have the spare cash, you can buy the whole collection on 20 May 2021 at Hansons Auctioneers, where it will be on sale for the stunning pre-auction price of a £90,000 ($120,000). Pretty good return for a day’s work of metal detecting!

Ryedale’s Roman Bronze Collection

The Roman bronze artifacts were dug up by metal detectorists Mark Didlick and James Spark last year in a field in Ryedale, North Yorkshire. According to Adam Staples from Hansons Auctioneers in Derbyshire, the collection would have been cast around 2,000 years ago and includes a “fantastically preserved” 6 inch (13 cm) bust of emperor Marcus Aurelius , who was seated on the throne of the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 AD. The auctioneers hold auctions for exceptional metal detecting finds throughout the year. 

The bust itself, finely crafted in Romano-British style, represents the emperor with flamboyantly curled hair, a beard and large lentoid eyes. The bust would have been used as a scepter’s head, which must have been used as part of some form of priestly regalia. The collection also boasts a knife handle with a horse head, a statuette of the god Mars on horseback, and an antique pendulum. According to experts, the deliberate burial of such Roman artifacts in the late second century AD, around 160 AD, indicates a Roman religious ceremony, such as a rural temple’s closure or an offering made to the gods.

The highlight of this Roman bronze collection discovered in a Yorkshire field, is the bust depicting Marcus Aurelius. The whole collection is now up for auction at Hansons Auctioneers. (Hansons Auctioneers)

The highlight of this Roman bronze collection discovered in a Yorkshire field, is the bust depicting Marcus Aurelius. The whole collection is now up for auction at Hansons Auctioneers. ( Hansons Auctioneers )

Keeping the Roman Bronze Artworks Together

While explaining the collections in an article published in the Daily Mail , Adam Staples, who is the Head of Historics at Hansons Auctioneers, said that these are not just archaeological finds, but pieces of art and can therefore be appreciated as artworks in their own right. “We have had worldwide interest in the hoard from both private individuals and museums,” he explained. “This is a unique opportunity to own something like this.”

When discussing the Roman bronze artifacts, Staples explained that the “items are 2,000 years old and have been fantastically preserved. They were clearly really, really well made. They are both archaeological finds and pieces of art and can be appreciated as art.” He continued to explain that the whole collection is being auctioned as a single unit and not individually, as the unearthed bronze artifacts are “more important as a group.”

“They were interred in the ground together so they should stay together,” he continued. “We think they were buried as a ritual deposit, as part of a Roman religious process and an offering to the gods. I know the finders and they are excited about the sale,” added Staples in the Daily Mail . As per the experts, the scepter or ornate wand, above which the Aurelius bust must have been mounted, may have belonged to a senior military commander around 1,900 years ago.

In the excavations, along with the horse-shaped knife handle, bust and statuette of the god of Mars, a plumb-bob was also discovered. A plumb-bob, which appears like a pointed weight and is generally suspended on a string, helps in marking out what is vertical. It is believed that the Romans must have used it during construction to ensure that marble slabs and stone were vertically aligned.

Image of another Roman bronze bust representation of Marcus Aurelius, the last emperor of the Pax Romana, which was found in Northamptonshire, also in the United Kingdom. (portableantiquities / CC BY 2.0)

Image of another Roman bronze bust representation of Marcus Aurelius, the last emperor of the Pax Romana, which was found in Northamptonshire, also in the United Kingdom. (portableantiquities / CC BY 2.0 )

Auctioning the Roman Bronze Artifacts

After the initial discovery, experts estimated that the four Roman bronze artifacts discovered in the Ryedale field’s 10-foot-square area (0.93 m2) would be worth a mere £15,000 ($20,755) at auction. But now that the British Museum 's Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has authenticated the artifacts as part of their work of recording the metal detectorists’ finds, the pre-sale estimate has gone up to a whopping £90,000 ($120,000). The proceeds of the sale will be split by the two finders, Didlick and Spark, and the anonymous owner of the land where the excavation took place.

“We were having a pretty slow day when, as we were just about to pack up, I came across a strong signal,” explained Spark in Daily Mail when discussing the experience of finding the precious artifact. “The first item recovered was the horseman which I thought was Victorian at first. The second item then popped up and it was the bust – this was a game changer! We knew straight away that we had stumbled upon something very rare and unique.” Spark continued to narrate the incident in full:

“We ran the detector over the hole again and were shocked to find that we had another target in the hole and this turned out to be the plumb bob weight. Mark returned the following day and unearthed the fourth item which was the galloping horse that would have been a knife terminal. There are some known Roman link roads in the area so they may have some link to that. We are really pleased to find the items and add to the local history of the area and proud to find such an important historical artifact.”

It is expected that the showstopper of the collection, Emperor Aurelius’ Roman bronze bust, is likely to attract most of the attention. Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ reign is considered to be one of the most glorious periods of the Roman Empire. The emperor is remembered as one of the so-called “ Five Good Emperors ” and is considered one of the greatest Stoic philosophers with impressive intellectual pursuits. It was Aurelius’ death that marked the beginning of the Western Roman Empire’s decline. The empire was later ruled by his son Commodus who was assassinated in 192 AD.

Top image: The Roman bronze artifacts were discovered by metal detectorists in a Yorkshire field and are now heading for auction. Source: Mark Didlick / Facebook

By Prisha Aug

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