A fundraising campaign has been launched to save for the nation ancient jewellery believed to be the earliest example of Iron Age gold ever discovered in Britain.
The four intricate artefacts that make up the Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs have been valued at £325,000 by a panel of independent experts known as the Treasure Valuation Committee, sparking a three-month countdown to raise the money so that they can be kept on public display.
The ancient treasure first captured the public imagination – and global media – when they were unveiled for the first time at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in February. They went on to attract 21,000 visitors in just one month.
Now Stoke-on-Trent City Council, in partnership with the Friends of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery – which is leading the public fundraising campaign on behalf of the museum – has until December 5 to meet the valuation price, or risk the artefacts potentially being separated out and sold to private bidders. They are currently on display in Room 2 at the British Museum.
Council leader Dave Conway said:
“These treasures show yet again the rich cultural history of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, at a time when we are bidding to be the UK City of Culture 2021.
“They were found by metal detectorists in a farmer’s field in Leek, and like the Staffordshire Hoard before it, are showing that our area is rewriting the history books on what we know about ancient Britain.
“It is going to take another big fundraising effort to ensure we can save these stunning finds and keep them on public display, and I’m urging residents, businesses and organisations to step forward and show their support.”
The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, and its friends organisation, have a track record of leading fundraising campaigns to save unparalleled artefacts and world-leading treasures. It includes the Staffordshire Hoard – the largest and most valuable collection of Anglo Saxon treasure ever discovered, and the Wedgwood First Day’s Vase, made by Josiah Wedgwood himself on the opening day of his Etruria pottery works in 1769.
Museum visitors can show their support for the Leekfrith Torcs fundraising campaign at donation boxes inside the museum, or online via http://www.stokemuseums.org.uk/leekfrithtorcs.
The four torcs are jewellery consisting of three necklaces and a bracelet. Experts believe they date back to 400BC. They are thought to be from the continent, possibly Germany or France, and would have been worn by important women in society.
The artefacts were discovered in Leek last Christmas, and archaeologists from the city council and Staffordshire County Council supported site investigations on the land. They were declared treasure at an inquest hearing in February, and since the popular exhibition at the museum, have been carefully examined by experts at the British Museum. They were put before the national Treasure Valuation Committee, where a panel of treasure registrars had the difficult task of putting a value on ancient items never before seen in this country.
County council leader Philip Atkins said:
“People worldwide were amazed at the story of how two friends struck gold in a field in Leek. The treasures they discovered are quite simply extraordinary.
“We need as many people as possible to come forward to support the fundraising campaign; there is only a limited time to raise the money.”
Chairman of the Friends of the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery Ian Lawley said:
“The fundraising challenge ahead of us is a big one, but we will work tirelessly to meet it. As a registered charity, we are able to apply for gift aid and have potential access to funding streams that aren’t available to big organisations. We want to see this exquisite treasure back on public display, so that it can be enjoyed for generations to come.”
British Museum curator of British and European Iron Age collections Julia Farley said:
“These beautiful gold torcs are a find of international importance. At almost 2,400 years old, they are probably the earliest Iron Age gold objects ever found in Britain. The decoration on the delicate bracelet is also some of the earliest Celtic art from these islands.
“The style suggests they might have been made on the continent and imported into Britain. We don’t know exactly who would have worn them, but in France and Germany similar pieces of jewellery have been found in the graves of powerful and important women. The torcs from Staffordshire were certainly well worn by the time they were buried in the ground. If you look closely at the ends of the torcs, you can see where the gold has been polished away as they lay against the neck.
“Nothing like this hoard has ever been found in Britain before. I very much hope that this incredible find can be acquired by the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, where it can be displayed for everyone to see, close to where it was carefully buried on a hilltop, thousands of years ago.”