Amateur discoveries that illuminate the past go on display

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The Independent Online

The items found in England and Wales over the past year include 427 pieces of jewellery and antiquities such as a seventh-century gilded copper head found near Milton Keynes and a coin proving the existence of a little-known Roman emperor, Domitian II, which was found in Chalgrove, Oxfordshire.

Many of the items, which also included a first-century nail cleaner and one of the most remarkable examples of an ornate Roman oil lamp found in Britain, went on display yesterday at the Museum of London.

Under the Treasure Act 1996, finders of treasure have a legal obligation to report potential discoveries over 300 years old to the authorities.

Details of the discoveries made over the past 12 months were revealed yesterday in two reports launched by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

"This past year has seen a four-fold increase in the reporting of treasure finds and the reporting of 67,213 archaeological items by the public," said David Lammy, the Culture minister. "It is encouraging that so many people, no matter what their background, are learning more about the history of their area through archaeology."

Among the historical discoveries were a number of 300-year-old apple or cheese scoops on the Thames foreshore, a beautifully manufactured late Iron Age necklace in Norfolk and a 1,300-year-old Anglo-Saxon skillet on the Isle of Wight.

Another hoard of Anglo-Saxon jewellery, including two gold pendants, was unearthed from a women's burial site in Thurnham, Kent, and a rare silver halfpenny from the time of Edward the Confessor was found in Gloucester.

"Uncovering buried treasure is a dream which inspires thousands of amateur archaeologists in this country and the fact that a record number of finds has been discovered and registered this year shows that the PAS is inspiring more and more people," said Mark Wood, the chairman of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, which manages the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

PAS, the country's largest community archaeology project, was established in 1997 to encourage the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by the public.

"Some of the country's most important archaeological finds are unearthed by members of the public and as a result important new archaeological sites are being discovered," said Mr Wood.

PAS has 39 Finds Liaison Officers stationed across of England and Wales tasked with helping finders to report discoveries.

Since their introduction, the officers have increased the reporting of Treasure 10-fold and the educational material recorded as a result now accounts for more than 112,000 records relating to 166,000 objects and 79,000 images of finds as diverse as prehistoric flints to post-medieval buckles.

Under the Treasure Act, discoveries of value, usually gold or silver more than 300 years old, are reported to a coroner.

Following a written report on the find from curators of the British Museum, or National Museums and Galleries of Wales if appropriate, a value can be put on the property and museums are given the opportunity to acquire.

If the object is not wanted by a museum it reverts back to being the property of the finder or of the landowner.

However, if it is acquired for the nation then compensation is paid equal to the full market value of the find, as recommended to the Secretary of State by the Treasure Valuation Committee.

Riches unearthed from Britain's antique history

* A Roman copper-alloy figurine (AD50-100) in the form of the deity Attys which was probably a fitting from a table leg. Found in Reigate, Surrey, the object appears to be unique in Roman Britain. The only known parallel comes from Pompeii.

* A Roman silver coin (c.AD271) known as a radiate of the emperor Domitian II. It was discovered in Chalgrove, Oxfordshire and is the first such coin found in Britain. The only other was found in France and was thought to be a fake until the discovery of the British coin proved the existence of the short-lived emperor.

* Three 18th-century apple or cheese scoops from London, made from the metapodial bones of sheep, found on the Thames foreshore, City of London in excellent condition.

* An Anglo-Saxon skillet (c.AD675-800) found in Shalfleet Parish, Isle of Wight. Regarded as an important early Christian grave object it is made of sheet copper-alloy with a riveted mount in the form of a cross.

* Two gold Anglo-Saxon jewellery pendants (c.AD625-75) with polychrome glass settings, a gold spacer bead and copper-alloy girdle accessories, unearthed from a female burial site in Thurnham, Kent.

* A silver-cut halfpenny of Edward the Confessor (c.AD1062-65), found in Gloucester.