METAL detector enthusiasts have unearthed gold jewellery that could be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds at a secret site in North Yorkshire.
One of the finds, an Iron Age twisted gold bracelet, may have belonged to a relative of Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes, and an expert says the site where it was discovered along with a brooch, a ring and an armlet may be of “real archaeological significance”.
At an inquest held at Selby Magistrates’ Court, North Yorkshire coroner Rob Turnbull declared the bracelet as treasure – the legal definition for finds of precious metal items that are more than 300 years old.
The piece could now be worth £40,000 to metal detector enthusiasts Andy Green and Shaun Scott and the owner of the undisclosed spot where it was found.
Earlier discoveries made by Andy and Shaun at the same site include a Romano-British bronze brooch, a gold Viking ring and a gold arm torc which, if eventually proved to be from the Bronze Age, could be worth up to £350,000. Andy, 46, found the Iron Age bracelet, which dates from between 100BC and 70 BC, on May 25.
He said: “This is one of the most significant things I’ve found. I knew what it was when I uncovered it.”
The fact that the bracelet is made of gold means it would have belonged to the Iron Age equivalent of royalty. It is believed it was probably owned by a high-ranking member of the Brigantes tribe, which had its capital in nearby Barwick-in-Elmet.
It is well documented that the Queen of the Brigantes at the time of the Roman invasion of Britain in 47AD was Cartimandua and archaeologists have speculated that the bracelet could have been owned by one of her recent ancestors.
Professional archaeologist John Buglass, who is acting as a consultant to Andy and Shaun and who previously worked on the raising of the Mary Rose, said: “It would certainly be someone who was within her social circle. It wouldn’t have been owned by Joe Bloggs who mucked the pigs out, it would have been owned by the people in charge. In our terms, it would have been a peer of the realm.”
Mr Buglass, who lives near Northallerton, said the site near Towton appeared to be a multi-phase settlement spanning at least 3,000 years. This means many different types of people lived in the area of the site, which explains the different ages of the artefacts found.
The most expensive item uncovered is undoubtedly the gold arm torc, which weighs 14ozs and is worth £20,000 just as bullion. But the torc would take on a different value – £350,000 – if proved to be from the Bronze Age.
Last year, an expert from the British Museum said the torc was not from that era as it was too shiny and not weathered enough.
But Mr Buglass said experts from both Bonhams and Sothebys believed in its authenticity. He said the colour of the torc was wrong because Andy had made the mistake of cleaning it. He said the discovery of the Iron Age bracelet tended to enhance the authenticity of the torc.
‘I walked back with a big grin’
TREASURE is not just being dug up at Towton.
Coroner Rob Turnbull was also told about an early medieval ring dug up from a field just outside Escrick.
The gold ring, which is set with a sapphire surrounded by red glass, dates from the 10th or 11th century and was discovered by Michael Greenhorn of Tamworth Road, Clifton Moor.
Mr Greenhorn, who is a member of York and District Metal Detecting Club, discovered the ring last year on a club outing. About 20 enthusiasts were sweeping a field with the permission of the farmer.
The British Museum, which currently has the ring, is now interested in permanently acquiring the object. Mr Greenhorn believes it is worth between £6,000 and £10,000. However, the price of an object depends on how much someone is willing to pay for it, so it could be worth much more. Any proceeds will be split equally between Mr Greenhorn and the landowner.
Describing the moment he found the ring, Mr Greenhorn said: “My first thoughts were just to sit down on the ground then to make sure nobody was playing a practical joke. Then I walked back to the car with a great big cheesy grin on my face.
“Looking at it and the workmanship, it’s obvious it’s a high-status item. Ordinary folk would not have owned anything like it. It’s a chunky ring with a sapphire in it so it would have been an important piece for a tribal leader or even a king or someone in his retinue.”
He added that whoever lost it would certainly have been annoyed. “It was not just a small trinket,” he said.
The ring weighs slightly more than ten grams, meaning it used a lot of gold – other rings of the age have been found weighing only a few grams.
Mr Greenhorn has been a metal-detector enthusiast for more than 20 years but this is easily the most expensive item he has found.
His other discoveries include a Bronze Age axe head which he discovered near Deighton.
Site origins lost in mists of time
THE history of the site at Towton is relatively well-documented up to 2,000 years ago, but before that the facts are hazy.
The reason it was used as a settlement for thousands of years is unclear. It may have just been a good place to live, or it may have been a burial site reused through the centuries.
What is clear though is that at the time of the Roman invasion of Britain in 47AD, the area around Towton and, indeed, the rest of Yorkshire – was ruled by the Celtic Brigantes tribe.
The tribal leader during the invasion was Queen Cartimandua, whose reign was documented by the Roman historian Tacitus.
She aligned herself with the invaders, handing over the rebel Caratacus to the Romans. But her reign came to an end in 69AD when her former husband, Venutius, staged a rebellion against her. The Towton site is not the only evidence of Iron Age settlements in the area.
In 2003, work to upgrade the A1 at South Milford uncovered the remains of an Iron Age charioteer.