From the moment of discovery of the ‘Near Lewes’ Middle Bronze Age hoard (c. 1400-1250 BC) by metal detectorist David Lange, the ‘Near Lewes’ hoard has fascinated archaeologists and the community at-large. Thanks to support from the Sussex Archaeological Society and the Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at The British Museum, Research Officer Luke Barber, East Sussex County Archaeologists Greg Chuter and Casper Johnson and Stephanie Smith, Finds Liaison Officer, were able to excavate the area surrounding the hoard in order to better understand how and why such an incredible assemblage would be buried in the Sussex landscape. Following its declaration as Treasure, it was displayed for a time at the British Museum as part of the first exhibit dedicated to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
When discovered, the hoard’s earthenware vessel was full of more than 50 objects, many of which were fashioned with care for use as items of adornment. Although some of the objects such as the bronze palstaves (a type of axehead) are well known types from Southern England during this period, other items are of great local importance such as the ‘Sussex Loop’ bracelets shown here, which are only found within the vicinity of Brighton. The integration of local or regionally-produced items with rare and exotic objects like amber beads from the Baltic, gold decorative discs normally confined to France and special ‘tutuli’ type mounts produced in Germany suggests that this hoard held special importance for the individuals associated with its burial. It may also help us to illuminate further prehistoric trade relationships between local people in Sussex and those from the Continent.
As evidenced within this hoard, Middle Bronze Age people seem to have worn a wide range of dress ornamentation, some produced locally and some from afar and it must have been a period of creativity and increased interaction between different peoples. The photograph here shows a sample of some of the more complete items in the assemblage including delicately twisted bronze torcs, coiled finger rings, gold appliqué discs, huge ring-headed pins and bracelets, in addition to more delicately coiled necklaces with amber and ceramic beads. Often these pieces were purposefully broken before placing them within vessels, which suggests perhaps that they were not intended to be re-used after their burial. The types of items mentioned here are represented in the ‘Near Lewes’ hoard by multiple versions of the same types, including four torcs, five ‘Sussex Loop’ bracelets, four gold discs, eight finger rings and a large assortment of other types of decorative mounts and pins. Bronze Age specialist Ben Roberts remarks, ‘In this sense, the ‘near Lewes’ hoard can be regarded as the most spectacular and overtly continental manifestation of a distinct region of Middle Bronze Age ‘ornament horizon’ hoards…’ (PAS Specialist Report 2011T192, p13).
With the help of a V&A Purchase Grant Funds Award and generous support from Sussex Archaeological Society members, the Society was able to purchase the hoard. Following a successful application to the Treasure Plus grants from the Art Fund, the Society was further able to develop an interactive and innovative exhibition of the hoard in association with the Cultural Informatics Department of Brighton University. It is hoped that the exhibition will be on permanent display at Barbican House.