Once lost to obscurity underneath a muddy field, the oldest golden treasure in Essex has been rescued and is to appear on public display for everyone to admire – all thanks to the people of Chelmsford and their Chelmsford Museum.
In 2016, a metal detectorist was searching a ploughed field in the Danbury area of Chelmsford when his device alerted him to metal nearby. Carefully removing the earth, he revealed something incredible: a rolled-up strip of shining gold.
Like all gold and silver finds in England and Wales which are thought to be over 300 years old, the strip was sent to the British Museum to be inspected as ‘Treasure’. It turned out to be an ancient accessory from the time when Stonehenge was new: a diadem made from 95 per cent gold, dating to the very beginnings of the Bronze Age.
If it was unwound, the diadem would go around someone’s head, shining across their brow. A gold one like this would have belonged to someone very important, maybe a powerful woman. It is part of the Beaker Culture, a phenomenon which spread across Europe and brought metalworking to Britain for the first time. Earlier this year, an exciting DNA study suggested that this culture was connected to a huge ancient migration which almost completely replaced our island’s earlier population.
Councillor Susan Sullivan, Cabinet Member for Chelmsford Museum, said, “As soon as Chelmsford Museum heard about the diadem, we knew that it absolutely had to be acquired for public display. Such an incredible piece, steeped in history and of incredible importance in understanding our area during the Bronze Age, could not be allowed to disappear into a private collection.”
The Museum launched a crowdfunding campaign, aptly titled ‘Diadems Are Forever’, to raise £3,000 – the cost of buying, cleaning, conserving, interpreting and displaying the golden treasure – and local people quickly got behind the effort.
Throughout October, donations have poured in from residents, local organisations, parish councils, charities and historical groups and on Friday 19 October, the campaign reached its target! The achievement was thanks to a donation from Little Baddow Parish Council, who generously gave £300 to save this important symbol of their area’s history.
Parish Councillor Peter Irvine said, “Little Baddow Parish Council are pleased to give their support to the Museum appeal for purchase of the 4,000-year-old diadem which was found within our area."
So what’s next for the diadem? Nick Wickenden, Senior Curatorial Consultant at the Museum, said, “Once it has been acquired, the Museum will send it to a metal analyst who will be able to tell us more about its origins. It will also go to a conservator who will clean it, care for it and get it ready for public display.
“The older part of Chelmsford Museum is currently undergoing a major redevelopment, with all kinds of exciting, interactive galleries using the latest technology. The diadem will take pride of place in the ‘First Settlers’ room when it opens next year, next to other Beaker artefacts and surrounded by other items that tell visitors all about its journey, including a replica of what it would look like if it was unrolled.”
Donations were also provided by the Friends of Chelmsford Museum, Chelmsford City Council, Danbury Parish Council, Chelmsford Voluntary Service, the Essex Society for Archaeology and History, Neil Wilkin of the British Museum, Chris Standish of the University of Southampton, and a number of residents. A special digital plaque near the display will show the names of everyone who donated in thanks.
Everyone who donated will get something back: those who donated £25 will be invited to a private view of the diadem and a talk by a Bronze Age expert from the British Museum, while donators of £100 will receive an exclusive invitation to the newly-redeveloped Museum when it opens in 2019.
Any money raised over and above the target amount will go towards improving the display and interactive features even further. If you would like to donate and appear on the digital plaque, you can still do so at www.spacehive.com/essexgold.
A strange coincidence: the BBC comedy-drama Detectorists, which is all about a pair of metal detectorists seeking a Saxon find in Essex, was filmed in the fictional north Essex town of 'Danebury'!
Friday 19 October 2018