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Image courtesy of Staffordshire County Council
Leekfrith, England--Two men who were metal-detecting in a field in Leekfrith, a civil parish in Staffordshire, England, managed to dig up some important buried treasure.

Mark Hambleton and Joe Kania found what is being referred to as the “Leekfrith Torcs”--three gold necklaces and one bracelet that date to the Iron Age, approximately 2,500 years ago.

The British Museum believes the pieces to be the oldest Iron Age gold work ever found in Great Britain, estimating the work’s origin to date to about 400-250 BC.

“Iron Age jewelry is rare,” Lori Ettlinger Gross, a jewelry author, historian and MA candidate in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies at The New School, said in an interview with National Jeweler.

Gross also noted that much will be learned from where the jewelry was found.

“The thing that is most significant about this discovery is the evidence that it supports,” she said. “As people, as a culture and as individuals, jewelry was an apparent display of the self. It was made and worn because someone wanted to have the world see them a certain way, and in a way that perhaps stated wealth, beauty, or power.”

Julia Farley, curator of British & European Iron Age Collections at the British Museum, told the BBC: “Piecing together how these objects came to be carefully buried in a Staffordshire field will give us an invaluable insight into life in Iron Age Britain. The torcs were probably worn by wealthy and powerful women, perhaps people from the Continent who had married into the local community.”

Both Farley and Gross commented on the excellent condition in which the torcs were found.

Farley told National Jeweler, “I was completely stunned when I saw the torcs for the first time. They’re beautiful objects, and the skill which has gone into making them is incredible.”

Each torc was found about one meter (3.28 feet) apart and not far below the ground.
“As people, as a culture and as individuals, jewelry was an apparent display of the self. It was made and worn because someone wanted to have the world see them a certain way, and in a way that perhaps stated wealth, beauty, or power.”  --Jewelry historian Lori Ettlinger Gross
Hambleton and Kania had permission from the property owner to search the fielded area and upon discovery, turned their finds in to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

An investigation determined that the finds were “treasure,” a term in Great Britain that’s used for objects that are at least 300 years old and have at least 10 percent precious metal content.

The torcs have a precious metal content of 80 percent and weigh between 1 and 8 ounces apiece.

All treasure is property of the Crown in Great Britain, but Hambleton and Kania will still receive some sort of finder’s fee that, according to the BBC, they will split with the property owner.

The Leekfrith Torcs are currently on view at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke but will then head to the British Museum for valuation, before becoming available for sale to museums, the finders or landowner of the field where they were discovered.  

Gross concluded, “Finding such early jewelry that dates to pre-history is akin to finding a needle in eons of haystacks.”

In 2009, the largest stockpile of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found, dubbed the Staffordshire Hoard, was also located by metal detector some 50 miles from where the Leekfrith torcs were discovered.

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