When treasure hunters hit the jackpot

The historic find in Staffordshire is comparable with some of the most significant hauls in Britain.

Experts at the British Library have previously identified the UK's 10 top treasures:

The Hoxne hoard

The Hoxne, pronounced Hoxon, hoard consists of more than 15,000 gold and silver coins, gold jewellery and numerous small items of silver tableware, including pepper pots, ladles and spoons.

Also found at the site near Ipswich were the remains of a large wooden chest and smaller caskets with tiny silver padlocks, into which the treasure had been carefully secreted.

It was discovered in November 1992 by Eric Lawes. Suffolk Archaeological Unit were able to carry out a controlled excavation of the deposit, which has greatly enhanced the importance of the Hoxne Treasure for research in the future.

The silver objects are all quite small: the bulk of these are around 100 spoons and ladles.

Such an extensive collection of silverware would almost certainly have also included larger table vessels, such as those in the Mildenhall treasure. The latest of the coin issues in the hoard establishes that its burial took place some time after AD 407.

The Mildenhall treasure

Made famous by Roald Dahl's children's story, this haul is one of the most important collections of silver tableware of the late Roman Empire.

The objects were found during ploughing near Mildenhall in Suffolk in 1942 but were not declared a Treasure Trove until 1946.

Although no coins were found to give a reliable date, the tableware's style and decoration is typical of the fourth century AD.

The artistic and technical quality of the silver is outstanding, and the vessels were probably owned by a person or family of considerable wealth and high social status.

The Fishpool hoard

The hoard, found in Ravenshead, Nottinghamshire, comprises 1,237 coins, four rings, four pieces of jewellery and two lengths of chain.

It was probably deposited some time between winter 1463 and summer 1464, during a rebellion against the Yorkist king Edward IV on behalf of the Lancastrian Henry VI, in the first decade of the Wars of the Roses (1455-85).

Most of the coins in the hoard were English nobles, half-nobles and quarter-nobles. The hoard also included 223 foreign coins.

The face value of the hoard when deposited was about £400, equivalent to around £300,000 today.

Experts believe the hoard may have formed part of the Lancastrian royal treasury, entrusted to someone fleeing south after the Battle of Hexham (May 15 1464) and concealed by him, perhaps with the help of a local Lancastrian sympathiser, deep inside Sherwood Forest.

The Cuerdale hoard

A silver treasure consisting of more than 8,500 objects buried in a lead-lined chest. It was found by workmen in the bank of the River Ribble, Lancashire, in 1840.

They immediately began to fill their pockets with the silver coins. On the arrival of the bailiff, they were ordered to empty their pockets, but he did allow them to keep one piece each.

The hoard mainly consists of coins, together with ingots, amulets, chains, rings and cut-up brooches and armlets. Five bone pins were recorded, which may have originally fastened cloth bags containing the silver, but these have not survived.

Experts speculate that it was buried by Vikings after they were expelled from Dublin in AD 902.

The Rillaton gold cup

Workmen engaged in construction work in 1837 plundered a burial cairn for stone on part of Bodmin Moor, at Rillaton.

It contained the decayed remains of a human skeleton accompanied by a gold cup, a bronze dagger and other objects that have not survived - a decorated pottery vessel, a "metallic rivet", "some pieces of ivory" and "a few glass beads".

After discovery the finds were sent as Duchy Treasure Trove to William IV (reigned 1831-37) very shortly before his death.

They remained in the royal household until the death of King George V in 1936, at which point the importance of the cup and associated dagger came to be appreciated, leading to their loan to the British Museum.

The Mold gold cape

This gold item of unparalleled significance was discovered by workmen quarrying for stone in an ancient burial mound in 1833.

The mound lay in a field at Mold, Flintshire, named Bryn yr Ellyllon (the Fairies' or Goblins' Hill). At the centre was a stone-lined grave with the crushed gold cape around the fragmentary remains of a skeleton.

Strips of bronze and quantities of amber beads were also recovered, but only one of the beads ever reached the British Museum.

The Snettisham hoard

At least 11 hoards of torcs, ingots and coins have been found at Snettisham, Norfolk, since 1948, when three hoards were ploughed to the surface.

In August 1990 a huge deposit of broken torcs, bracelets, ingots and coins was discovered, prompting the British Museum to organise an archaeological excavation.

Most of the hoards were buried in about 70 BC, and the entire collection is the largest deposit of gold and silver from Iron Age Europe, weighing in at around 20kg of silver and 15kg of gold.

The 'Great Torc' is made from just over a kilogram of gold mixed with silver. It is made from sixty-four threads (1.9 mm wide) twisted together eight threads at a time to make eight separate ropes of metal.

The Vindolanda tablets

Vindolanda was one of the main military posts on the northern frontier of Britain before the building of Hadrian's Wall.

Exacavations there in 1973 uncovered writing tablets which had been preserved in waterlogged conditions in rubbish deposits in and around the commanding officer's residence.

These, and hundreds of other fragments which have come to light in subsequent excavations, are the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain.

Most of the tablets are official military documents relating to the auxiliary units stationed at the fort. However, others are private letters sent to or written by the serving soldiers. They give remarkable insight into the working and private lives of the Roman garrison.

The Sutton Hoo ship-burial

In 1938, archaeologist Basil Brown was asked to investigate 18 low mounds by a local land owner, Edith Pretty, near Ipswich.

He began by opening Mound 3, quickly followed by Mounds 2 and 4. All had been robbed in antiquity, although a few fragments hinted at high status Anglo-Saxon burials.

Buried deep beneath the mound lay the ghost of a thirty-metre long oak ship. At its centre was a ruined burial chamber the size of a small room.

In it lay weapons, armour, gold coins, gold and garnet fittings, silver vessels and silver-mounted drinking horns and cups, and clothes, piled in heaps, ranging from fine linen overshirts to shaggy woollen cloaks and caps trimmed with fur.

:: The Lewis chessmen

The chess pieces unearthed near Stornoway consist of elaborately worked walrus ivory and whales' teeth in the forms of seated kings and queens, mitred bishops, knights on their mounts, standing warders and pawns in the shape of obelisks.

They were found in the vicinity of Uig on the Isle of Lewis in mysterious circumstances.

By the end of the 11th century, chess was a very popular game among the aristocracy throughout Europe. The Lewis chess pieces form the largest single surviving group of objects from the period that were made purely for recreational purposes.

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