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Buried treasure: Finding our past  

The first major national exhibition of British archaeology in over 20 years, Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past shows how much chance archaeological discoveries have revolutionised our understanding of our past. 

A result of a unique collaboration between The British Museum and four other major UK museums in Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle and Norwich, the exhibition will travel to each venue after London to allow people across England and Wales to view some of the most spectacular finds of British history.

The exhibition features some of the country's most important British treasures - including a find from Leicestershire involving the University of Leicester. Others include the magnificent Mildenhall tableware, which will be shown in its entirety and will tour the country for the first time and the iconic Lewis Chessmen which featured in the first Harry Potter movie. 

But the key aim of the exhibition is to celebrate the enormous contribution that the public has made in uncovering history as well as the success of the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme. 

The vast majority of finds in the exhibition have been uncovered by metal detectors who now account for 90% of all treasure discoveries. Recent finds such as the Iron Age gold jewellery found in Winchester and the stunning Bronze Age gold cup from Ringlemere, Kent have revealed important new information about Britain's prehistory. 

Responsible metal detecting and reporting of finds has greatly enhanced our historical knowledge. It has enabled archaeologists to examine the context of finds as well as the finds themselves helping us to understand how they were used, their ritual or social significance and why they came to be at a particular site.

Featured in the exhibition is the largest hoard of Iron Age gold and silver coins ever found in Britain.

Amateur archaeologists in Leicestershire recently discovered the site of the largest hoard of Iron Age gold and silver coins ever found in Britain, along with a unique Roman gilded silver helmet. The local group who work with the Leicestershire County Councilís Community Archaeology Project discovered the site while fieldwalking in east Leicestershire in 2000. A group member, Ken Wallace, returned with a metal detector and found hundreds of Iron Age coins dating back 2000 years.

Mr Wallaceís discoveries led to excavations in 2001 and 2003 carried out by University of Leicester Archaeological Services, directed by Vicki Priest with assistance from members of the local archaeological group and funded by English Heritage, BBC Television and the British Museum.

In excess of 3,000 silver and gold coins have been found, mostly made by the local Iron Age tribe - the Corieltauvi. This is almost the first time Iron Age coin hoards have been excavated. Evidence for feasting at the site suggests that the coins were probably offerings at an important open air religious centre, possibly associated with the Druids. The silver decorated Roman cavalry helmet is the only one ever found in England. Such helmets were worn by high-ranking officers on parade and evidence indicates that it might have been buried before the Roman Conquest. This raises the intriguing possibility that a Leicestershire man may have travelled to the Roman Empire and served in the Roman cavalry before Britain was conquered by Rome.

The exhibition also aims to challenge people's perceptions of what constitutes 'treasure'. Although many of the objects in the exhibition are exquisite examples of gold or silverwork or feature precious gems, the seemingly lowliest object can be hugely significant to understanding our history. Medieval pewter 'toys' found on the banks of the Thames by the 'Society of Thames Mudlarks', an amateur metal detecting group, have little financial value but are important social documents and tell us a huge amount about everyday lives in the Middle Ages. Tudor dress fasteners, which tend to be found as casual losses, rather than on specific sites, give us an insight into how people at the time wore their clothes and what they considered to be fashionable accessories.

On completion at The British Museum, the exhibition, sponsored by Anglo American and Tarmac, will travel to the National Museum's and Galleries of Wales, Cardiff (May-September 2004), The Manchester Museum (October 2004-January 2005), Hancock Museum, Newcastle ( March-June 2005 ) and Norwich Castle Museum (July 2005-November 2005). The exhibition is on show at The British Museum from November 21 to March 14, 2004 - there is an admission charge.

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Last updated: 21 November 2003 15:00
Created by: Barbara Whiteman

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