This bracelet and three lock rings make up part of an unusual late Bronze Age hoard recently found in Cumbria. (Image: Portable Antiquities Scheme)

An unusual late Bronze Age hoard recently discovered in the west of Cumbria is the first of its kind to be found in the county, it is reported.

Comprising a penannular bracelet and three lock rings, all made of gold, as well as a fragment of copper alloy, the hoard was found by two metal-detectorists, tucked into a small hollow in the limestone bedrock and covered over with a large stone. Two of the lock rings and the bracelet are stained with organic residue, possibly from something in the soil or something that was placed with or around the objects at the time of their deposition, suggests Stuart Noon, Finds Liaison Officer for Lancashire and Cumbria.

The copper-alloy fragment appears to be part of a bangle or a strap, while the bracelet shares characteristics with one from Beachy Head in East Sussex that is now held by the British Museum, Stuart added. The lock rings, meanwhile, are very similar to an example from Portfield Camp, near Whalley, Lancashire.

The purpose of this latter kind of artefact is much debated, through – as they are normally found in pairs, it has been suggested that they may have been a form of high-status personal ornament peculiar to the late Bronze Age (c.1000-800 BC), possibly earrings or some kind of hair decoration.

These newly discovered examples, decorated with concentric rings and bound with gold wire, are unusual for being a group of three. Two appear to be a pair, while the third and smaller lock ring stands apart, although its form is similar enough to suggest that it was made by the same craftsman, or at least by the same workshop.

Clues can also be gleaned from the hoard’s location, Stuart added. The findspot lies in an isolated high place on a prominent ridge that seems to have been an area visited throughout later prehistory. It is situated just below a possible Iron Age hillfort and close to a number of other prehistoric settlement sites, as well as a concentric stone circle. The presence of roughed-out stone axes found nearby hints at the site lying on one of the major transmission routes south for the Langdale axe factories during the Neolithic period, while socketed bronze axes that were also found nearby, probably from a smith’s hoard,
point to the area’s importance during the Bronze Age.

‘The enclosed platform, sometimes described as a hillfort, has no evidence of buildings or habitation,’ said
Stuart. ‘It appears that the site may have been of ritual importance, a place where offerings could be placed or buried in the ground or even inserted into the limestone outcrops, and which, it could be speculated,
may have hosted gatherings and celebrations.’

More information on the hoard can be found on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database at https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/842016.

This article was published in CA 331.

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