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Historic Shropshire gold pendant find is one of UK's most significant ever

By Jonny Drury | News | Published:

A gold bulla discovered in the county has been described as one of the most significant pieces of Bronze Age gold metalwork ever found in the UK.

The Bronze Age gold bulla found in Shropshire. Photo: British Portable Antiques Scheme.

A Bronze Aged bulla, unearthed at an unspecified location in the Shropshire Marches in May, is just one of eight of its kind in the UK, and one of two found in Britain to date.

An inquest into the find took place at Shirehall today, where Shropshire Coroner John Ellery declared the item as treasure.

Finds Liaison Officer for Shropshire Peter Reavill explained the significance of the find to the inquest and said it was one of his greatest ever finds.

He said: "This is an extremely important British find, and an extremely important European find.

"The design is such that the play of light over the surface is what you see most, changing with angle and light moving and shimmering, dancing and ever different. This would have been enhanced in the period where it would have been stunning when viewed by firelight or in bright sunlight.

"In my years in this role, not many things have taken my breath away but this is one of them.

"It is a highly unusual find of international importance and possibly my greatest ever find."

'Unequalled skill'

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The bulla was recovered from an undisclosed findspot in Shropshire in May last year by a metal detector user who wants to remain anonymous.

Presenting his report to the inquest, Mr Reavill said: "The discovery of this nationally important artefact has the potential of being one of the most significant pieces of Bronze Age gold metalwork ever discovered from the British Isles."

The name of the artefact, bulla, is the Latin for bubble and is a hollow pendant, with surfaces decorated with geometric patterns, and it would have been made by "a craftsman whose skill would have been almost unequalled in the period."

The only other item of its kind in England was found in 1806 in the River Irwell in Manchester and its whereabouts are currently unknown, with six others found in Northern Ireland, which date back to between 1000 and 750 BC.

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Dr Neil Wilkin of the British Museum who led research into the find discovered the item is 80 per cent gold, and the remainder is made out of silver and copper.

Mr Reavill added: "We don't know what they were used for, but we have a gut feeling that it was made in Ireland.

"Someone in Shropshire could have ordered it to be produced, someone with power, possibly a lord.

"It could have been someone who controlled the landscape, but we probably won't ever know who owned it."

Reward

Mr Reavill also stated it would have been deliberately concealed by a "powerful person with international connections."

On the condition of the bulla, he said: "They were very, very well looked after and look as if it could have come out of a shop two or three years ago."

As it is over 300 years old, and in excess of 10 per cent precious metal, Mr Ellery declared the item as treasure, and it will now be independently assessed by a governmental panel known as the Treasure Valuation Committee.

They will find the market value of the bulla and a museum will be given the option to acquire it with the money raised being shared jointly as a reward between the finder and landowner.

Further research will be conducted, and Shropshire Museum Service and staff at the British Museum are in discussions to ensure that it remains in the public domain.

Shropshire Councillor Lezley Picton, portfolio holder for heritage, added: "It is yet another example of how the Portable Antiquities Scheme and responsible metal detecting is adding to our understanding of prehistoric Shropshire.

"In recent years, important finds like this have changed how we view the county’s past and improved our already important museum collections. I look forward to seeing how this remarkable object adds to this story.”

Jonny Drury

By Jonny Drury
@JonnyDrury_Star

Senior reporter covering Oswestry and Mid Wales.

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