Friday, January 28, 2011

The Hallaton Guardian

The Hallaton Treasure is a remarkable horde of Iron Age coins and other valuable objects buried in the British midlands when the Roman were in the process of conquering the island, around 50 AD. It includes thousands of British coins and a few Roman ones, as well as other valuable objects like this silver bowl and the fragments of an iron helmet covered in silver leaf. The Harborough Museum has a nice slide show of the important finds.

The treasure was buried within an "enclosure." This is what archaeologists call features that were common in Europe from the Neolithic to the Iron Age, round or square things that look vaguely like forts until you realize that the ditches, banks, or fences surrounding them were far too feeble to be defensible. We think they were sacred areas of some kind. They come in all sizes from 20 feet across to Stonehenge. The enclosure at Hallaton had been a sacred site for at least a century when the leaders of the Corieltavi, a British tribe, buried their treasure. Two blue glass lozenges that might be eyes and some gold leaf were also found, and the excavators think this was the remains of a wooden statue. Were the Corieltavi making a desperate plea for divine help in the face of near certain Roman conquest, or were they hiding their valuable for possible future retrieval, perhaps to help fund a revolt?

The cheek piece of the elaborate helmet emerges from the ground. The helmet is of Roman make and may have come to the Corieltavian king as a diplomatic gift.

The possible statue remains.

The treasure is back in the news because of a new find, a dog skeleton buried near the pits that contained the treasure. The dog has been interpreted as a spirit guardian, interred to keep watch over the enclosure and the treasures buried there. After two thousand years in the ground, his skeleton is being moved to the museum, where he can continue to keep his charge.

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