We came to the British Museum with a purpose in mind. In hindsight, it was probably a good thing that our focus was narrow because the British Museum is a rambling place, filled with thousands of antiquities. Our Frommer’s Easyguide to London gave this saucy description: “If you don’t know what to look for, the Museum will be a stupefying series of rooms notable mostly for the zombified tourists staggering through them.”
In that respect, the guide was right. Dazed tourists, numbed and overwhelmed, were everywhere. But Jo and I came with a list of items to track down. All we had to do was find them.
I’ve had a life-long interest in treasure. Writing Lost Treasures: True Stories of Discovery and Mysteries of Time gave me the opportunity to delve into the subject. Several items from the books were on display at the Museum. This was my chance to see them,
The Rosetta Stone
Truly a marvel. It was discovered in 1799 by Napoleon’s soldiers as they set about demolishing a walled fortress near Rosetta, Egypt. Until then, no one knew how to interpret hieroglyphics, but the stone was coded in three languages – one of them hieroglyphics – all delivering the same message. By comparing the hieroglyphic message with the two other known languages, Frenchman Jean-Francois Champollion cracked the code and unleash thousands of years of previously lost Egyptian history.
Discovered by Gordon Butcher in 1938 as he plowed a field in Mildenhall, England, the Mildenhall Treasure yielded a vast array of objects – dishes, bowls, goblets, spoons, ladles and coins. The treasure dates to 400 A.D. and was likely buried by a wealthy Roman family to hide it from invading armies. It is the single most valuable find of Roman silver ever located in Britain.
In 1939, archeologists probed earthen mounds on the property of Edith Pretty, near the estate of Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England. Deep beneath the soil, they discovered an immense burial site likely of Viking origin. Among the goodies: the remains of a boat over 8 metres long, gold jewellery, gem encrusted swords and scepters, silver bowls, dishes and spoons, a gold purse containing twenty-seven gold coins, and helmets like the one shown above.
The Hoxne Hoard
The Hoxne Hoard was found in 1992 by Eric Lawes who was using a metal detector to find a hammer in a field near Hoxne, England, In all, the Roman treasure yielded 14,780 coins as well as assorted jewellery, pepper pots, ladles, silver toothpicks and silver spoons. Historians believe that the treasure was hidden in the ground around 400 AD by a wealthy Roman family during a time of war.