An ancient treasure from the time when Stonehenge was new has been unearthed in an Essex field – and Chelmsford Museum are appealing to the public to help save it.
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 bright amidst the dark soil: 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 curled strip was sent to the British Museum to be inspected as ‘Treasure’. The specialist who examined it identified it as a diadem made from 95 per cent gold, dating to the Bronze Age.
Not only that, but the very beginning of the Bronze Age, around 2500BC – a time when people were only just starting to use copper and gold. This diadem is very possibly the oldest piece of gold metalwork in Essex.
Bronze Age diadems – headbands – like this are part of the Beaker Culture, which spread across Europe and brought metalworking technology to Britain. Earlier this year, an international team who had analysed DNA from over 400 prehistoric skeletons announced that this culture was connected to a migration which almost completely replaced our island’s earlier inhabitants. The culture was associated with bell-shaped ‘Beaker’ pots and barbed-and-tanged flint arrowheads – examples of both are proudly held by Chelmsford Museum.
If unwound, the diadem would go around somebody’s head, shining across their brow. A gold one like this would have belonged to someone very important, maybe a powerful woman. Nick Wickenden, Curatorial Consultant at Chelmsford Museum, explains, “It has been rolled up, making it no longer usable as a headband. Perhaps it was buried as an offering to the gods. Perhaps its owner died, or fell from power, and the diadem was ritually ‘decommissioned’ by rolling it into a tight spiral and burying it at a special location.
“In other parts of the world, diadems like this have been found with decorative embossing on the inside. This one cannot be unrolled to find out, as that would risk damaging it – even uncovered from the earth and analysed by experts, it keeps its mystery.”
Advances in technology may one day allow us to look at the hidden side of the diadem without damaging it. In the meantime, Chelmsford Museum has contacted a metal analyst who would be able to tell us more about its origins, and a conservator who can clean and care for it.
However, this can only happen if the public help us to save this stunning piece of treasure for Essex – to keep it in its hometown, on display for all to see as part of our story.
Councillor Susan Sullivan, Cabinet Member responsible for Chelmsford Museum, said, “If we acquire the diadem, it will appear in the incredible new displays being built at the Museum now as part of its big refurbishment. The new rooms, packed with interactive features and enthralling characters, will take visitors on an immersive voyage from Chelmsford’s Ice Age origins to the present day. This pioneering piece of metalwork would take pride of place in our ‘First Settlers’ room next to other Beaker artefacts, with an unrolled replica and interpretation to tell visitors about its journey.”
To buy and display the diadem, Chelmsford Museum must raise £3,000 by the end of October. The Friends of Chelmsford Museum have already generously committed £500 to the cause, but the Museum is appealing to the public for the rest. Otherwise, it may end up re-buried – in storage, or the cabinets of a private collector, away from the county where it was once worn.
Councillor Sullivan added, “Curating a museum is about so much more than looking after old things. It’s about telling stories – and this is a particularly wonderful one, with buried treasure, an ancient VIP and mysterious rituals. The best part is that it isn’t over yet – you can decide the ending by helping us to save this incredible piece of history to be enjoyed by generations in the stunning new galleries at Chelmsford Museum.”
Donate £25 and you’ll be invited for a private view of the diadem and a talk by a Bronze Age expert from the British Museum. Donate £100, and you’ll get an exclusive invitation to the launch of the newly-redeveloped Museum. The name of everyone who donates any amount will appear on a ‘roll of honour’ near the Bronze Age case next summer.
Help to save the Chelmsford Diadem at www.spacehive.com/essexgold.
Tuesday 11 September 2018