Hill hoards: the buried treasures unearthed in Britain’s wild places

Posted by Hanna Lindon on 02/09/2015
Roseberry Topping, where a Bronze Age hoard was discovered in 1826. Photo Michael Stubbs/ Shutterstock.

In the wake of an important archaeological discovery at The Roaches, we take a look back at historic hoards found in the UK’s hills.

It’s been a good month for treasure hunters. Forget the alleged discovery of a ‘Nazi gold train’ near the city of Walbrzych in Poland - what’s really caught our interest is the Bronze Age cremation urn unearthed at the Roaches during routine footpath repair. Believed to be around 3,500 years old, the pot was found alongside a ‘significant amount’ of cremated bone and charcoal. Volunteers have been asked to keep an eye out for other signs of Bronze Age activity in the area, and that got us thinking: what other ancient treasures are out there in our hills, just waiting to be unearthed? Here are a few remarkable discoveries made over the centuries.  

Reynard’s Kitchen Cave coin hoard

Imagine heading out for a day of climbing and unearthing a pile of Roman gold. That’s just what happened to one Peak District local, who last year stumbled across a hoard of 2,000-year-old treasure while sheltering from a rainstorm in Dovedale’s Reynard’s Kitchen Cave. The man happened to have a pinpoint metal detector in his climbing bag (like you do, of course) and decided to do a bit of amateur archaeology while waiting for the weather to clear up. He came across four coins, which experts later found to be part of a 26-coin hoard. Three of the coins pre-dated the invasion of Britain in AD 43 and others are thought to have been minted in the Late Iron Age. They were officially declared to be ‘treasure’ and are now on permanent display at Buxton Museum. 

Little Orme Roman coin hoard

Another crag that seems to have found approval with a Romano-British coin hoarder is Little Orme near Llandudno. An incredibly valuable collection of 5,000 Roman coins was revealed in an urn on the eastern slops of Little Orm back in 1873. A significant Roman road ran close to the site of the discovery, and archaeologists have speculated that the hoard was hidden to protect it from coastal raiders.

Dartmoor tomb treasure

Next time you’re out for an airing on Dartmoor, keep an eye out for ancient burial chambers. Back in 2011, archaeologists unearthed a 4,000-year-old grave on Whitehorse Hill that was described as “archaeologically just as important” as Stonehenge. The tomb contained the cremated remains of a prehistoric woman surrounded by animal pelts, amber beads, wooden ear studs and other intricate jewellery. Her final resting place, nearly 600 metres above sea level on the northern moors, is thought to be evidence of high social standing. It’s worth scanning the moors for potential discoveries while you’re out and about - this tomb was identified only when a stone fell out of the peat hag that had been concealing it.     

Roseberry Topping hoard

Alan Hinkes’ favourite hill was the subject of widespread speculation back in the early 19th century, when a Bronze Age hoard was found on its southern slopes. Dating to between 7750-500BC, the objects included three socketed axes, a spearhead gouge, knife, chisel and axe mould. The hill might well hold more secrets - we know from the remains of huts and walled enclosures that it was occupied during the Iron Age, and in more recent times 18th-century explorer James Cook apparently climbed it regularly. Who knows, perhaps he left his own hoard of treasure buried here?

And one awaiting discovery…

Fancy doing a spot of amateur treasure hunting next time you hit the hills? Then make a beeline for Lochaber, which is supposedly the site of an undiscovered hoard. The treasure of Loch Arkaig allegedly consists of several chests of Spanish gold provided to finance the Jacobite rising in 1745. The money is recorded as having been dispatched from Spain and landed on the west coast of Scotland, where six caskets were apparently taken to Loch Arkaig just north of Fort William to be hidden. Although some of the gold can be traced, rumour has it that the bulk of the money was never recovered.

Time to grab a map add a metal detector to your day sack, perhaps? 


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