Knaresborough Hoard Reveals Its Secrets – Unusual Roman Discovery In The British Isles

Jan Bartek – AncientPages.com –  Scientists have investigated one of the most unusual late-Roman metalware ever discovered in the British Isles.

The Knaresborough Hoard was discovered about 1864, but no one has examined the treasure properly until now. The circumstances surrounding the find have been unclear. Experts have long debated the truth behind the Knaresborough Hoard.

Knaresborough Hoard Reveals Its Secrets - Unusual Roman Discovery In The British Isles

The Knaresborough Hoard. Credit: Yorkshire Museum

As part of her MA degree, Jessica De Maso, a Newcastle University archaeology student, has conducted a comprehensive study of the Knaresborough Hoard, and the results have been published in The Antiquaries Journal.

Most of the 30 items, which are now on display in the Yorkshire Museum in York, were donated to the museum in 1864 by Thomas Gott, an ironmonger who was also a Town Councilor and lived in Knaresborough. However, he was reluctant to name where they had been found or who owned the land.

In her research paper, De Maso suggests the hoard was probably discovered in a boggy area near Farnham, in the Vale of Mowbray, approximately two miles north of Knaresborough.

During the Roman period, two important Roman roads ran through the Vale: Cade’s Road, which ran north-south on the eastern side, and Dere Street to the west, which was a significant route providing a connection to York and Hadrian’s Wall.

Several wealthy villas were situated in the region, and the items in the collection may have come from one of these or an affluent townhouse or settlement close by.

The Knaresborough Hoard is the only known example of a late Roman hoard of this type to be recovered from a bog or marsh in Britain.

It is unknown why the items were grouped and deposited in the bog. Nevertheless, there are examples from other parts of the Roman empire where this was done for ritual or spiritual reasons or to hide them or make them irretrievable.

During their investigations, the research team also found evidence that there were originally more items in the hoard when discovered, but many had been mistakenly melted down in Gott’s foundry.

Re-visiting old discoveries

The surviving collection is predominantly made from bronze. It includes a large fluted bowl (approximately 48 cm diameter) with a scalloped edge, more commonly found in gold or silver, and a bronze vessel handle that has a unique rest to support it, both of which are the only known examples to be found in Britain, along with a number of bowls, strainers, and oval plates.

The research team says that many of the items were clearly meant to impress guests at the table when displaying or serving food as when polished, the bronze would have resembled gold and would have suggested a certain level of wealth.

By carrying out a portable X-ray fluorescence analysis, the team was able to confirm the composition of ancient alloys and discovered that many of the items in the collection also showed signs of ancient repairs, reinforcing the fact they were made from a valuable material.

“This project has shown the value in re-visiting old discoveries, and we’re delighted to have the opportunity to work alongside the Yorkshire Museum to understand more about this extraordinary collection and who Thomas Gott was,” James Gerrard, Professor of Roman Archaeology at Newcastle University, said.

Knaresborough Hoard Reveals Its Secrets - Unusual Roman Discovery In The British Isles

A copper alloy strainer from the hoard. Credit: York Museums Trust – CC BY-SA 4.0

“It’s good to know that more than 150 years on, our research has helped tell a fascinating, if complex, part of the story about this remarkable discovery.”

“The Knaresborough Hoard is an exceptional collection of Roman copper alloys, which has been in the collection of the Yorkshire Museum for a long time. The excellent work undertaken by Newcastle University has unlocked the research potential of these objects for the first time and will allow us to tell their story more completely,” Adam Parker, Curator of Archaeology at the Yorkshire Museum, said.

‘Old collections, new questions’

The research also uncovered more about Thomas Gott and his role in the discovery.

In 1848, Gott married Mary Anne Drury, a widow, in Scarborough. Mary Anne died in 1860, aged 47, and the following year, Gott married Emma, his late wife’s sister, in London.

At this time, Gott was serving as Knaresborough Improvement Commissioner. Although the marriage of a widower to his sister-in-law was generally accepted, it was illegal. It might explain why it took place in London—where they could avoid scrutiny and minimize the risk that Gott’s reputation could be called into question.

The research team suggests that Gott must have known Frederick Hartley, who was also on the Knaresborough Improvement Commission and was the agent and estate manager of land near Farnham owned by Sir Charles Slingsby. The research uncovered how, in 1864, Slingsby had commissioned work to improve the drainage on a marshy part of his land, and it was most likely during this work that the hoard was found.

Hartley kept a cup either for himself or Slingsby and handed the rest to Gott, who then gave the majority of the collection to the Yorkshire Museum. Gott gave a second, final, part of the collection to the Yorkshire Museum 13 years later.

In 2017, the Yorkshire Museum listed the Knaresborough Hoard as part of its “Old Collections, New Questions” research initiative. Jessica jumped at the chance to study the hoard as part of her MA in Archaeology at Newcastle University.

“The study of the Knaresborough Hoard at the Yorkshire Museum was an incredible opportunity to engage with the idea that endless avenues of research can be done on existing collections in museums. I found this—and my time at Newcastle—to be especially engaging and wonderfully challenging.

The research on the Hoard and the work throughout my MA archaeology program has thoroughly prepared me for my current job,” Jessica, who is now working as an archaeologist in the United States, said.

The study was published in The Antiquaries Journal.

Written by Jan Bartek – AncientPages.com Staff Writer

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