June 21, 2024

An amateur sleuth has described how he unearthed a Bronze Age artifact, including a rare sword, after getting lost during a treasure hunter’s rally.

John Belgrave, 60, became separated from the main group of detectorists and headed for higher ground to try to spot them when he made what he believed to be the find of a lifetime.

His device activated as he walked and when he dug down he uncovered a rapier sword dating back to the Middle Bronze Age.

The 61 cm (2 ft) scraper was deliberately broken into three pieces and placed in the ground next to the remains of a wealthy landowner.

Unusually, the lever, although cast in bronze, is shaped to mimic a wooden handle. Only two similar scrapers had previously been found in Britain and they were incomplete.

In addition to the grapple, a palbar ax head and a decorative arm ring were also found, presumably buried as an offering.

Dorset Museum and Art Gallery raised £17,000 to buy the objects, with the proceeds shared between Belgrave and the landowner.

Belgrave, a retired pensions consultant from Purley, Surrey, made his find in the village of Stalbridge, near Sherborne, Dorsetin 2020.

He paid £20 to go on the rally on private farmland but became separated from the group.

Belgrave said: “There was a group of between 40 and 50 detectorists there and they had searched the country before, but they were excited because new ground had been opened up for the rally.

“I hung out and didn’t know anyone there. Somehow I got left behind and got lost and then I walked to high ground in a field and that’s when I got a strong signal for this find of a lifetime.

“It was obvious there was metal there, but I thought it would just be an old can or something. I dug down about eight inches and found an oddly shaped object caked in clay.

“I didn’t know what it was at the time, but it turned out to be a sturdy hilt of a sword, an exceptional item.”

He then found the two broken parts of the blade along with the ax head and the bracelet.

Belgrave said: “I knew when I saw the ax head that it was a Bronze Age stock. My head was spinning. The blade of the sword was still sharp. The opinion of the British Museum is that it was deliberately broken and placed in the ground as part of a ritual burial and sacrifice.”

Elizabeth Selby, director of collections at Dorset Museum, said: “This treasure is incredibly special. The rapier sword is really unusual because of the cast bronze handle. The bracelet decoration was also quite unusual.

“There are not really comparable objects like the rapier, so it is very important for us to be able to obtain these items.

“Vints like this tell us about how people traveled, met and exchanged ideas with others on the continent in the centuries before the Roman invasion.

“There was a farming community there and these people generated enough wealth to be able to trade for or exchange objects that others made.”

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