A group of Alston schoolboys have struck gold, unearthing one of the most significant recent archaeological finds in the UK.
The boys, aged from 7 to 10, were on a local dig at Kirkhaugh, arranged by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership’s Altogether Archaeology project, when they saw a glint of gold which turned out to be a 4,300-year-old ornament, probably worn as a ‘hair tress’.
Seven-year-old Joseph Bell, one of the four boys to make the discovery, said: “We were digging carefully in the ground and I saw something shiny, it was gold. Me and Luca started dancing with joy. It was very exciting.” His friend, eight-year-old Luca Alderson, added: “When I first saw it I felt happy but I thought it was plastic. When I found out it was gold, I was very happy.”
The ornament is one of the earliest metal objects to be found in the UK and may have been worn by a first-generation metal worker who could have travelled to Britain from overseas in search of gold and copper.
The intricately decorated tress, which dates back to about 2,300 BC, a period known as the Copper Age (pre-Bronze Age), was found in a burial mound alongside three beautiful flint arrowheads and a jet button.
These tresses are very rare, only ten finds have ever been made in Britain, and this one is the partner of a matching one discovered at Kirkhaugh during an excavation lead by Herbert Maryon in 1935. That dig also uncovered a ‘cushion stone’, a portable anvil used for working gold and copper.
In an unlikely turn of events, two of the young boys who found the treasure – brothers, Sebastian and Luca Alderson – are the great-great grandsons of Joseph William Alderson who was part of the 1935 team.
Paul Frodsham, who leads Altogether Archaeology project for the AONB Partnership, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “All archaeological sites are important in their own way, but this is exceptional. It can be regarded as marking the very start of mineral exploitation in the North Pennines, leading in due course to Roman exploitation of lead and silver, and eventually to the vast post-medieval lead industry for which the region is internationally famous.”
The head tress, along with the arrowheads and the button, will now be analysed by various specialists. Paul said: “We hope the newly found ornament will eventually find its way to the Great North Museum in Newcastle, where it can be reunited with its long-lost partner from the 1935 dig.”