Found: 50,000 treasures unearthed by Britain's amateur archaeologists

When Peter and Christine Johnson decided on a whim to shut their fitness shop early one day last year to try their luck at treasure-hunting, their metal detectors had hardly been used.

When Peter and Christine Johnson decided on a whim to shut their fitness shop early one day last year to try their luck at treasure-hunting, their metal detectors had hardly been used.

Armed with a plastic bag for any swag, they expected to come back ruddy-cheeked and empty-handed after their first trek out into the fields of Kent.

Twenty minutes later, they had uncovered a precious hoard of 360 coins dating back to the Iron Age - two of them of a kind never previously found in Britain. The extraordinary collection has since been classified as an official treasure. The British Museum is also keen to acquire it.

Their beginner's luck in unearthing the "Celtic Potins" in a field in Thurnham has earned them a place among Britain's most ardent treasure hunters, whose discoveries span 500,000 years and include 47,000 archaeological curiosities.

They form part of this year's discoveries archived by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), the nation's largest community archaeological project, which published a report of finds yesterday. PAS was created two years ago with a £4m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Government, which will be revised in 2006.

The itemsrange from prehistoric axes to a Roman gold lamella plaque bearing a magical inscription, and a precious coin which the Roman emperor Nero had inscribed with Jupiter's name after surviving an assassination attempt.

Estelle Morris, the Arts minister, paid tribute to the growing tribe of amateur treasure- seekers. "I would like to say thank you to all those people who go out in inclement weather to look for treasure. I hope many of the objects will join years of heritage in our museums and continue to tell the stories of our civilisation," she said.

While treasure items account for less than 1 per cent of the total number of objects found, Mark Wood, chairman of the Museums, Libraries and Archives council which manages the PAS, said the hobby provided great emotional dividends for those who got lucky.

"We've all dreamt of uncovering hidden history, from ancient deeds in our attic to Saxon coin stashes in our garden ... With nearly 50,000 items logged last year, it provides an amazing record of some extraordinary discoveries," he said.

The Treasure Annual Report 2002, published yesterday by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, lists objects reported under the Treasure Act, which requires a finder to report a potentially valuable discovery.

MEDIEVAL SILVER GILT BROOCH

Where was it found? Buried in a field at Pitsford, Northamptonshire.

Who found it? A local woman, Nicky Berry, discovered the gilded silver brooch while searching with a metal detector.

How old is it? 13th century.

What is it worth? Irene Szymanski, an independent scholar from York, has suggested that the elaborate silver brooch, which depicts a knight in combat with a lion, may allude to the Arthurian romance 'The Knight of the Lion' and the British Museum hopes to acquire it for its own collection. It is among the items that have officially been defined as treasures and is currently being valued.

GOLD AUREUS OF NERO

Where was it found? In Bodmin, Cornwall.

Who found it? An amateur enthusiast, Jonathan Clemes, discovered it while using a metal detector on a ploughed field. Locals call Mr Clemes 'Roman Jon' for his discovery of treasures including a hoard of 3rd century coins four years ago.

How old is it? AD65-68.

What is it worth? In Roman times, these coins were rarely lost and were only carried by military chiefs and regional officials as they would have been equal to a month's wages for a soldier. Today, the precious coins are hard to come by. This one was bought by the Royal Institution of Cornwall for £1,200 and will be displayed in the Royal Museum of Cornwall.

IRON AGE 'CELTIC POTINS' COIN HOARD

Where was it found? In a field in Thurnham, Kent, that was being ploughed at the time.

Who found it? Peter and Christine Johnson, from Sittingbourne, Kent, on their first metal-detecting field trip.

How old is it? 100-50BC.

What is it worth? The hoard has officially been classified as a treasure and is currently being valued. Two of the coins with life-like depictions of the human face have never before been seen and are utterly unique - no known coins of the era have featured such a distinct human head and all previous illustrations have been stylised silhouettes. The British Museum is very interested in purchasing the hoard.

MEDIEVAL COPPER-ALLOY SEAL MATRIX

Where was it found? A ploughed field near Eastbourne.

Who found it? Steve Boyd, a 43-year-old civil servant from Brighton who has searched for treasure for the past 12 years. He found it three hours into a typical six-hour stretch of searching with his metal detector.

How old is it? circa 1370.

What is it worth? While experts do not believe it to be of exceptional financial value as similar matrixes have been found in the past, what is significant is that it was linked to a document in Lewes Museum bearing the same wax seal, which meant it could be accurately dated back to a local landowner from 1374.

WITCH BOTTLE

Where was it found? Buried under the threshold of a back garden of a house in Lincolnshire.

Who found it? A woman living in the house found it while work was being carried out to create a pond. She unearthed the curiosity but did not know how rare it was until she took it to a local archaeologist before she died last year.

How old is it? Dates from some time between 1820-1880

What is it worth? The bottle, which was filled with nails and human hair and was used to ward off witches, is of great historical significance and curiosity as it was made in the mid-19th century, two hundred years after witchcraft is thought to have vanished as a common practice in Britain.

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