Golden relics of Norfolk's past purchased by Norwich Castle Museum

  • 24 April 2007

Thanks to Art Fund grants totalling £19,200, Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery has been able to purchase three fascinating pieces of Norfolk's history, including the largest hoard ever to be recovered in the county.

The archaeological finds – two made from gold – were all unearthed by metal detectors in the region.

The Foxley Hoard of gold bracelets was found during a detecting rally in Foxley in September 2005. It was purchased by the Museum for £35,000 with a £12,500 Art Fund grant.

This collection of seven gold bracelets is the largest of its kind to be recovered in Norfolk.Gold was a highly-prized and valuable metal in Bronze Age society, and it is exceptionally rare to find Bronze Age goldwork here in Britain. Gold was sourced mainly in Ireland as well as Wales, Cornwall and possibly Scotland, so the existence of these unusual bracelets in Norfolk is fascinating evidence of the way elite members of Late Bronze Age society developed fur-flung contacts for trade and exchange.

The Eaton II Hoard was purchased for £15,300 with a £5,000 grant from The Art Fund, and is the largest hoard ever to have been discovered in Norfolk.

The hoard was discovered in Eaton and comprises a staggering 145 pieces of Late Bronze Age metalwork, including a huge range of socketed axes, spearheads, gouges, rapier fragments and a possible sword scabbard guard. Unlike the Foxley Hoard, which was probably owned by an elite member of society, this collection of material is likely to have belonged to a metalworker, and may have been gathered for melting back down.

The third acquisition is a gold Anglo-Saxon ‘sword pyramid’, known as the Shouldham Sword Pyramid. The first sword pyramid to enter Norwich Castle Museum’s collections, it was found using a metal detector at Shouldham in West Norfolk, and was purchased for £2,200 with a £1,700 Art Fund grant.

Sword pyramids are 6th and 7th-century decorative fittings which were used with sword harnesses and scabbards to help keep the weapon sheathed. Swords were expensive pieces of weaponry, so highly-prized that they were often given names and are mentioned in Anglo-Saxon wills being handed down. Only society’s elite could afford swords, so both swords and their pyramids are rare finds.

The Shouldham Sword Pyramid is the first object to be purchased through The Art Fund’s ‘Enriching Regions’ scheme. The Scheme was set up last year, supported by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, to help boost art collections in some of the poorest regions – in collecting terms – in the UK. The Scheme has made up to £45,000 available to museums in the East of England to help develop their collections.

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