Schoolboys unearth 4,300-year-old golden hair tress
The pre-Bronze Age ornament is one of the most significant recent archaeological discoveries ever uncovered in the United Kingdom, experts say.
When they saw a glint of gold in the soil, mini-archaeologists Joseph and Aidan Bell and their friends Luca and Sebastian Alderson were taking part in a group dig at Kirkhaugh, Northumberland.
To their astonishment, it turned out to be an ancient hair tress, one of the earliest pieces of metal work dug in the United Kingdom.
The schoolchildren, aged between seven and ten, had been on a dig arranged by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership’s Altogether Archaeology project, when they stumbled across the treasure.
Joseph, seven, 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.”
Luca, eight, added: “When I first saw it I felt happy but I thought it was plastic.
Experts believe the ornament 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, was found in a burial mound alongside three flint arrowheads and a jet button.
Such tresses are very rare and only ten finds have ever been made in Britain, and the new find is the partner of a matching one discovered at Kirkhaugh during an excavation led by Herbert Maryon in 1935.
Incredibly Sebastian, 10, and his brother Luca from Alston, Cumbria, are the great-great grandsons of Joseph 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 boys, along with around 50 community volunteers, spent nine days excavating the land under the watchful eye of Professor Andrew Fitzpatrick and a team of professional archaeologists from the Archaeological Practice in Newcastle.
Prof. Fitzpatrick said: “The tress rings discovered at Kirkhaugh are examples of the very first gold objects found in Britain.
“These tress rings have only been found at 10 sites in Britain so they must have been precious items.
“The person buried at Kirkhaugh was clearly of very high status.”
It is envisaged the newly-found ornament will eventually find its way to the Great North Museum in Newcastle, where it will be reunited with its long-lost partner from the 1935 dig.