Yorkshire has been at the heart of English history for more than 2,000 years and its past and its landscape have been shaped by Roman and Viking invaders, the War of the Roses and the English Civil War.
Each period has left its own mark and historic objects, quietly unearthed by members of the public and recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, have included some of the most important discoveries of recent times. These finds, from large coin hoards to small, intricate items of jewellery, have helped to reshape our understanding of the county’s history and the lives of the people who have called it home.
1. Ceramic burial urns (2150-1500 BC) found in Stanbury, Bradford, and acquired by Cliffe Castle Museum in Keighley.
This group of three urns was discovered while a residential garden was being landscaped. Fortunately as soon as the top of the largest one was uncovered, the finder reported it to the local museum and professional archaeologists were drafted in to excavate it. The urns were buried in a single pit and the largest contained cremated human remains, alongside a stone battle-axe, a bone pin, a bone belt fastener and two partially melted pieces of coppery alloy which may have been earrings. It is thought the site may have been the last resting place of a warrior or tribal leader and the other two smaller urns probably contained offerings, such as food, for the afterlife.
2 Ceremonial rapier (1300-1140 BC) discovered in Hackforth, North Yorkshire, in 2011.
This object is remarkable, not least for the fact that it is almost complete despite being more than 3,000 years old. Although it was discovered in three pieces, the breaks happened after it was deposited in the ground. Unfortunately the missing handle has not survived. Many examples found were too fragile to have ever been used in battle and it seems they were made for display or ceremonial activity. Often objects ritually deposited in the Bronze Age were deliberately broken or bent, but this does not seem to be the case here and the details of its past remain shrouded in mystery.
3 Copper alloy coin hoard (AD 268-307) found in Wold Newton in the East Riding in 2015.
Discovered in a near complete vessel, this Roman coin hoard is the largest of its kind to date. The emperors represented have strong links to the North and to York. Many are of Constantinus I, who died in York on July 25, AD 306, and the latest coins are early issues of Constantine the Great, which can be dated to AD 307, and many of them were struck at a large mint in London. The hoard was lifted whole by the British Museum and the excavation also revealed insect remains that may, following proper analysis, indicate the time of year in which the coins were buried.
4 Military diploma (AD 118) found in Brompton, North Yorkshire, and acquired by the Yorkshire Museum.
Diplomas granted privilege to auxiliary soldiers who had completed their military service, which usually lasted 25 years. This particular example was issued to an infantry Roman soldier whose name is lost, but what we do know is that he and his descendants were granted citizenship and the right of legal marriage. The diploma represents an important addition to the few known in Britain. Only two are recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme, while another 13 are held by the British Museum, including one from Sheffield and one from York. The detail preserved on this example is exceptional.
5 Manicure set (AD 43-200) found in Fangfoss, East Riding, in 2013.
Personal grooming was important to the Romans, as can be seen from their bathhouses and the evidence of make-up and perfumes. This manicure set, designed in the shape of a cockerel, has religious connotations. The cockerel is linked to the Roman god Mercury and the tools that formed the complete set were probably similar to ones found at Wakefield and would have likely included a nail cleaner, tweezers and perhaps a cosmetic pestle and mortar.
6 Gold and garnet pendant (AD 620-660) found in Holderness in 1965 and acquired by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
A stunning example of jewellery, this Anglo-Saxon cross pendant is made from gold cloisonne work and inlaid with garnets. Cloisonne is a decorative technique in which small compartments are created from strips of metal, with enamel, glass or garnet set in the resulting cells. Three similar examples of gold crosses, known as the St Cuthbert, Wilton and Ixworth crosses, share numerous features with the Holderness Cross and are believed to have all dated from the mid-seventh century, making them early examples of such crosses.
7 Silver and gold hoard (AD 927) found in the Vale of York in 2007 and acquired jointly by the British Museum, the Yorkshire Museum and Harrogate Museum.
The most significant Viking hoard discovered in 150 years comprises 617 coins and 67 pieces of silver jewellery and ingots which were found buried under and within a bowl. The coins are a mixture of Viking and Anglo-Saxon issues, as well as some Islamic pieces. The most remarkable coin names a mint that was previously unknown: Rorivacaster, although its location is still being debated. The bowl is an ecclesiastical vessel from what is now modern France and matches those found in the Halton Moor and the Dumfries Hoard and the three were probably made by the same craftsperson.
• Fifty Finds from Yorkshire – Objects from the Portable Antiquities Scheme by Amy Downes and Rebecca Griffiths is published by Amberley priced £14.99.