The Strange Case of the Wandering Spoon

I am working on a project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation that is overseeing the re-homing of the objects from the School library Loans Service in Derby. This collection consists of paintings, studio pottery, archaeological, ethnographic and social history items. Sadly, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery can only keep a small percentage of this wonderful and eclectic mix of items. Through detective work that involves sifting through old records, myself and my colleague have been gathering information on where the items came from over the fifty years the service was collecting. We are contacting museums and community groups in the areas that these objects originate from to see if they would like the items so that they can have a new lease of life.

The Roman spoon at Buxton museum and Art Gallery

One of these items is a Roman silver spoon, elegant in its shape and practical in its form; the handle ends in a point which enabled the wealthy Roman who owned it to pick out oysters from their shells – Britain was famed in the Roman period for its oysters ! The handle joins the bowl of the spoon with an arched shape that gives this type of spoon its name – swan necked. Through my investigations I discovered that the spoon originated from Canterbury and was purchased from an antiques dealer in Keighley in 1966. I contacted Canterbury Museum who emailed me back to say that they were very excited by the news as it appeared to have originally belonged to a hoard of precious items buried in the city as the Roman Empire collapsed.

The hoard was discovered during road works in the Longmarket area of the city in 1962. Declared treasure trove, it was bought by the city council to be displayed at the Roman Museum which had been established the year before. However five objects appeared on the London antiquities market in 1982 that were originally part of the treasure but had not been declared at the time of its discovery. They were again declared as treasure trove and purchased a year later. It would seem as though the spoon in our collection had also not been declared at the time of the discovery and had been sold to the antiques dealer in Keighley shortly after.

The Canterbury Hoard © Canterbury Museum

The treasure is mostly composed of small silver objects and jewellery. Many of the artefacts have Christian iconography on them. The silver objects include thirteen spoons (one engraved with a sea stag, another with the words in Latin ‘viribonum’-‘I belong to a good man’), a toothpick, a rough bar and three ingots which each weigh one Roman pound. The jewellery include a gold finger ring with an inset green glass stone, a gold necklace clasp and a silver pin. One of the coins in the treasure was minted at Milan in the time of Emperor Honorius which means the hoard must have been buried sometime after 402 AD.

Silver spoons from the Canterbury Hoard with Christian and Pagan symbols © Canterbury Museum

The treasure was buried at a time when the Roman Empire was collapsing, the economy was nose diving and plague was sweeping across Europe, weakening the infrastructure of the once greatest Empire on earth. Britain at this time was also subject to raids by Germanic tribes from Northern Europe. In response to the anarchy many people buried their valuables with a view to coming back in safer times to retrieve them; for whatever reason many people never returned. Shortly after the treasure at Canterbury was buried the Romans left Britain to fend for itself and the Anglo-Saxons arrived, filling the power vacuum and bringing with them a new language, art form and society that would form the foundations of modern day England. The spoon from Buxton is now on display at Canterbury Roman Museum along with the rest of the hoard where it forms part of the story of the ancient Roman city of Durovernum Cantiacorum.

Picture credits: Canterbury Museums and Galleries

Dragons, coins and silken purses

What would you hide?

next events for Hoards?

A heap, a hoard, a treasure, a treat…a glitter of staters across a cave floor, the gleam of a brooch in darkness, a dream wrapped and bound and hidden in hope. What makes a hoard so special – and so very personal?

The Hoards: a hidden history of ancient Britain is still shining its way through the Museum galleries and our next set of events is coming up fast. Why not drop in and join us? all events are free and where materials are involved, they will be provided. Children of 7 years and less need to bring an adult with them but otherwise events are open to everyone

the plant that eats the robbers….

Sunday 26 May, 12 noon–3.30pm
Giants, dragons and terrible traps
How would you protect your hoard? Would there be a monster rumbling in a corner? Would there be a dragon resting on the pile of your gold? Or would you design some terrible trap, a maze of crushing rocks and flying spikes and trapdoors to flip a robber into a bottomless pit….
Cartoonist Martin Olsson will help you draw your treasure and how you would keep it hidden!

Allow 45 minutes.

Venue: Buxton Museum

Thursday 30 May, 10am–12noon
Make and take: curious coins
Counting your pennies…..what coins will fill your hoard? Have a look at the coins in the exhibiton: there are horses and hands, gods and heroes, numbers, names and things we cannot decipher. Would you be the face on your lost gold? Would you hoard some unicorn pennies or open-hand thruppenies, or wren farthings…..
Design your own coins with local artist Sarah Males.
Allow 45 minutes.

Venue: Buxton Museum

Sunday 2 June, 12noon–3.30pm
Silk purses and sow’s ears

“What would hold your hoard? Do you want a beautiful patterned purse, all beads and embroidery? Or would you like a painted pouch pulled tight with a drawstring to hold your hoarded coins safe? Or maybe you are a sow’s ear person, a folded twist of old leather, tough as boots and bristling with a the last of a pig’s hair
Make your own treasure bag with the Creeping Toad team, a special something to keep your coins in.

Allow 45 minutes.

Venue: Buxton Museum

These events overlap with our wonderful half.fish festival. You don’ t know about our mermaid excitements? Go here for a sense of the tide that is running!

Photo by Rob Young

 

 

Maps, dragons and tiger-leopards

A golden dragon sits on a crumpled map

First Hoards events

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

golden eggs

We never really know what’s going to happen on an event. We can be fairly sure of the materials we will use and the general direction of activity but it is hard, when planning for dragons, to anticipate Dandelion Cats

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Dandelion Cats

We have started plotting the stories of the hoards we are buolding through the events programme now

 

There were maps to take you to a hidden hoard if you are clever enough to decipher the clues and brave enough to risk the dangers…

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Under the sea?

In a pyramid?

Near the swings in the park?

On the other side of the moon?

Surrounded by trees and fiercely guarded by a cat!

Where will you hide your treasure? 

And how will you know how to find it?

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On Thursday, there were dragons hatching from golden eggs to guard golden hoards….or maybe not. Hence the Dandelion Cats who guard golden flowers for bumblebees. There were several very laid back foxes who could sort of, maybe, OK now and then, guard, well, something. Someone had said, you know, Someone asked them to…well, someone offered to pay…but what are pennies to a fox who is counting rabbits?

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What hoard would a Viking guard?*

And there is an ongoing question: what do you value?

What is the precious thing that you would keep safe for centuries?

Would it be golden wonders?

Or a pottery ball full of coins?

Or seeds for a future flowering?

Friendship?

 

And there was Molly, the Tiger Leopard, guarding her wonderful little Leopard Cub, the rarest cub in all the world. And there was Bessie the Bear with her Unicorns who were very interested in that same cub…..

Tiger leopard

 

The next Hoards events are as follows. All these events are at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery and all events are free and unless it says otherwise, you can just turn up and join in. With talks please arrive for the scheduled start. For other events allow 30 minutes at least for the activity.

 

1. Dave the Moneyer, Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th April, 12 – 3.30pm. Come and watch how money used to be made….

 

More details, here: https://buxtonmuseumandartgallery.wordpress.com/2019/04/24/a-glitter-of-coins-event/

Or here: https://www.facebook.com/events/830578163972722/

Dave’s own company, Grunal Moneta, can be visited, here.

 

2. Talk: Hoards and hordes – the Viking conquest and settlement of the East Midlands,

Tuesday 30 April, 11am–12noon Join British Museum curator Gareth Williams to find out how archaeological discoveries combine with historical evidence and place-names to shape our understanding of the Viking presence in Derbyshire and surrounds.

 

More information here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2214633065510425/

 

3. Managing your own Hoard

Thursday 2 May, 12noon–4pm

Get information on handling household finances and managing debt from the money advisors at Citizens Advice Derbyshire District.

 

4. Treasure Chests 

Sunday 5 May, 12 noon–3.30pm

Make and take a treasure chest for the hoard you haven’t got yet…or that you might be hiding under the bed. In a sock. With a dragon. Allow 45 minutes.

More information:

Here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2153931458047298/

 

Or here; http://creepingtoad.blogspot.com/2019/03/from-maps-to-dragons-events-at-buxton.html

 

Or call Buxton Museum and Art Gallery on 01629 533540

 

Hoards: a hidden history of ancient Britain

A British Museum and Salisbury Museum Partnership Exhibition

This exhibition runs from Saturday 13th April to Sunday 16th June, 2019 in Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

 

* Vikings: we had a Viking today with a very big, very fluffy beard who sailed away in an eggshell boat – probably following a treasure map drawn by a fox…. 

And many thanks to our friends from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust who joined us on Sunday on such a lovely day we had hardly any visitors!

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Gold for the Gods

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is one of five venues to host ‘Hoards: a hidden history of ancient Britain,’ and the only one in the Midlands and North West. The exhibition showcases objects from Prehistory to the post-medieval period that tell us how people lived, what they valued, why they collected and stored objects that they considered precious and what circumstances may have led to hoards remaining hidden.

More often than not objects were hidden because of times of economic hardship, warfare, or as gifts to the gods. Three of the most spectacular items on display at the Hoards exhibition are gold neck torcs dating to the Iron Age, and which were most likely deposited in the ground as offerings to the gods. Two on display come from a hoard from Ipswich in Suffolk, territory of the Trinovantes tribe, and the other was found as part of a hoard from Snettisham in Norfolk, the territory of the Iceni. 

Anyone visiting the exhibition cannot fail to be impressed by these huge collars of twisted and plaited gold, and this must also have been the effect, and the intention, during the time of the Celts. For the Celts jewellery was a highly important status symbol and a clear sign of wealth and rank. The torc was reserved for the aristocracy, as well as the gods, and they seem to have possessed an intrinsic magical and religious significance. Depictions of Celtic gods and goddesses often show them wearing a torc.  G

Ipswich torc with La Tene decoration

Roman authors provide a good description of the Celtic aristocracy, often describing them as ostentatiously flaunting their wealth. Diodorus Siculus describes warriors going into battle, hair spiked using lime water, and completely naked except for their weapons and gold torcs. Cassius Dio describes Queen Boudicca of the Iceni as wearing a huge gold torc, and Quintilian writes that a delegation of Gallic Celts presented the Emperor Augustus with a gold torc weighing thirty three kilograms – far too heavy to wear!

A question we are often asked at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is “how were the torcs put on?” Julia Farley, curator of British and European Iron Age collections at the British Museum, has suggested that they were put around the neck “by being bent slightly out of shape, slipped onto the neck, and then bent back into shape again.” One torc from Ipswich, which is on display in the Hoards exhibition, clearly shows that it has been bent out of shape to make the opening larger. Some torcs do show repeated flexing of the metal; this eventually leads to a lot of stress being exerted onto the metal which eventually becomes brittle and snaps. One gold torc from Snettisham (not on display at Buxton) had snapped in antiquity and been soldered back together again, the break being hidden by a thin sheet of gold. Some torcs have hidden hinges or removable sections to allow easier fitting to the neck; when worn they would have given the impression of a solid ring of metal.

Ipswich torc bent out of shape to wear

Some torcs are far too rigid and heavy to be bent out of shape and worn, and it is possible that these were attached to cult statues or held aloft during ceremonies. A clue to this can be seen on the famous Gundestrupp cauldron from Denmark; one scene on the cauldron shows a seated deity with antlers to his head, interpreted as the god Cernunnos, surrounded by animals and wearing a torc around his neck and holding one up in his right hand. At Maily, Champagne, France, comes a torc with an inscription in Greek which alludes to it being part of a large offering of treasure dedicated to the gods by the tribe of the Nitrobriges in south-west Gaul. By offering precious items into the ground, or in water, the Celts were placing them into a liminal world between that of humans and the gods.

One of the Snettisham torcs with associated torc fragments

It is possible that torcs were placed around the neck of Celtic aristocracy at a rite of passage, such as a coming of age ceremony, or upon inauguration as a king or queen of a tribe. Some may have been only produced as votive offerings, intended to be buried and sent to the realm of the gods, out of reach of humans. Some bog bodies have been found wearing leather torcs around their necks, and this type may be associated with sacrificial rituals.

You may notice that one of the Ipswich torcs is decorated to both of its terminals with a foliate curvilinear pattern; this is known as the La Tene style (named after an archaeological site in Switzerland) and was a much favoured style of art across most of Europe and the British Isles from the 5th to 1st century BC; in fact it was so popular that the Celts are also known as the La Tene culture.

Torcs are frequently mentioned in the vernacular mythology of Wales and Ireland. The tale of Culhwch and Olwen describes Olwen as wearing a large gold neck-ring, and Giraldus Camberensis mentions a well in Pembrokeshire which contained a gold torc guarded by a serpent who bit anyone who attempted to steal it.

If you would like to discover more about hoards please come along to one of the following free talks at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery:

Hoards and hordes: – the Viking conquest and settlement of the East Midlands, by Gareth Williams, curator of early medieval coins at the British Museum, on Tuesday 30 April, 11am – 12 noon.

Talking torcs – the Leekfrith Hoard, by Teresa Gilmore, Finds Liaison Officer for Staffordshire and the West Midlands, on Wednesday 12 June, 11am – 12 noon.

A glitter of coins – event

Dave the Moneyer

Saturday 27th, Sunday 28th April

12noon – 3.30pm

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Reynards Cave 76087206_coins
A coin is hammered, and beaten and shaped to be carried, pursed, pocketed and walleted. A single coin might be polished by the hands of centuries, traded, treasured, stolen and hoarded. The old coins in our old hoards probably started life like the coins Dave from Grunal Moneta will strike on his travelling mint this weekend, so come and watch the beginning of a story that might run for another 2,000 years

Dave is bringing his travelling mint to Buxton Museum, so come and find out how to ‘make’ money (and even help), the beginning of a story that might run for another 2,000 years……

This event is free: no booking is needed, just drop by and join in

This event is part of the Hoards Event Programme
Hoards: a hidden history of ancient Britain
A British Museum and Salisbury Museum Partnership Exhibition
This exhibition runs from Saturday 13th April to Sunday 16th June, 2019 in Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

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