How a Metal Detector Discovered Roman Treasure

The secrets of the Hoxne Hoard

The Hoxne (pronounced 'Hoxon') hoard is the richest find of treasure from Roman Britain. Consisting of over 15,000 gold and silver coins, and gold jewellery, the 1,600 year old hoard was discovered in 1992. On November 16th Eric Lawes was exploring an area of Suffolk, England with a metal detector, when he made one of the greatest discoveries of Roman archaeology in the country. He immediately reported the find and did not remove all the objects from the ground. This responsible conduct enabled the Suffolk Archaeological Unit to carry out a controlled excavation of the deposit, which greatly enhanced our understanding of the find.

Pepper pot from the Hoxne hoard, 300-400 CE (collection: British Museum)

This pepper pot is one of four from the Hoxne hoard. Alongside the approximately 15,000 coins were many other precious objects, buried for safety at a time when Britain was passing out of Roman control.

Pepper was first imported into the Roman world from India in the first century AD, but piperatoria, the special containers for this expensive spice, are very rare finds. This example takes the form of a hollow silver bust of a woman.

The pot has a disc in the base which could be turned to three positions, one closed, one with large openings to enable the pot to be filled with ground pepper, and a third which revealed groups of small holes for sprinkling.

Detail of gold and silver Pepper pot, Hoxne hoard (collection: British Museum) 

In the secreted chests of the Hoxne hoard were found an unusual selection of jewellery including this gold body-chain, a small group of necklaces, three finger-rings and 19 bracelets. The body-chain is made of gold, cabochon amethysts and garnets.

Gold body-chain from the Hoxne Hoard, 367 AD - 375 AD (collection: British Museum)

The silver objects found in the hoard are all quite small, the majority being around 100 spoons and ladles. This extensive collection of silverware would almost certainly have also included larger table vessels but we do not know what happened to them.

Silver and Gold Ladles, circa 300-400 CE (collection: British Museum)

This unique collection of nineteen bracelets was tightly packed together in the ground in three groups which were first separated during the laboratory phase of the excavation. They include matching pairs and sets of four. The bracelets in pierced goldwork are of fine quality, as is the pair with figured scenes in relief.

Gold and silver bracelets from the Hoxne hoard, undated (collection: British Museum)
One of a set of four bracelets made of corrugated gold sheet, Hoxne Hoard (collection: British Museum)
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