Gold found in Leek and thought to be the oldest ever unearthed in England, dating back more than 2,250 years, was ruled as treasure at an inquest today (Feb 28).
Four torcs – including three necklaces and a bracelet weighing more than 350 grams in gold – were found by metal detectorists Mark Hambleton and Joe Kania.
They made their amazing discovery on December 11 last year on the Heath family estate in Leek.
Ian Smith, senior coroner for North Staffordshire, said the find ranked as “the most exciting treasure finds I have been involved in”.
Mr Hambleton had been metal detectoring for a number of years with his father and had only recently returned to the hobby.
He told the court how on that day he was ready to pack up and go home around 12pm when Mr Kania found the first torc in what he described as a “special morning”.
“I knew exactly what it was because I’ve seen them in books and magazines,” he said.
“They were about six inches deep and we found the others within about 15 minutes.
“We’ve never found anything but the usual silver paper and button before.”
Mr Hambleton told the court the find led to a very sleepless night, lying with the torcs beside his bed.
The next morning he took them to be examined at The Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent accompanied by Teresa Gilmore, finds liaison officer for the West Midlands.
“We’ll never know exactly why it was there,” she told the court.
However, she explained that from the way it was lying it could have been an offering to the gods.
“They are not low status objects.
“They would have meant a lot to the people wearing them.”
Although they may never be sure, Ms Gilmore and the British Museum assume they were worn by at least three women who came to Staffordshire from the continent, possibly southern France or Germany.
“Nothing like this has ever been found in this country,” confirmed Ms Gilmore.
The smallest torc is damaged with a piece missing.
Mr Hambleton and Mr Kania discovered the missing piece of the torc on Sunday (February 26) when they returned to the site.
The piece is now being claimed as part of this find.
Julia Farley, curator of British and European Iron Age collections at the British Museum, has also examined the find and dated it to be from between 400-250BC.
The pieces, currently held at The Potteries Museum, will be valued at The British Museum later this month.
Mr Smith said: “This is more than 1,000 years before the Staffordshire Hoard and it is highly desirable that the pieces stay in the area.”