BRITISH Museum experts were literally ‘whooping with delight’ when they examined a rare find unearthed by a Littlehampton metal detectorist.
Tyndall Jones’ first impression was that the artefact was of little value and might have been the lid of a coffee pot no more than a couple of hundred years old.
But the elaborately-decorated copper-alloy disk in fact dates back to the 6th or 7th century and is considered to be of national importance, as one of the finest examples ever found in the UK.
Known as an escutcheon, it forms into a hook at the top to take a chain, and would have been mounted on a bowl, serving both practical and highly ornamental functions.
The fine workmanship on the Anglo-Saxon copper alloy mount includes intricate inlays in brightly-coloured millefiore glass and detailed tooling of the metal to create flowing, swirling patterns and ears of wheat.
It throws new light onto what is described as the Dark Ages, adding to the evidence that this was actually an era of high artistic skill and creativity.
“Archaeologically, it’s far and away the most exciting and most important thing I have found and I feel very privileged.”Tyndall Jones
Tyndall found the escutcheon on farmland in the Littlehampton area – its location is not being revealed to prevent ‘night hawkers’ raiding the site for further finds without permission.
He said: “Archaeologically, it’s far and away the most exciting and most important thing I have found and I feel very privileged.
“The design is absolutely incredible and it’s in such wonderful condition for an article of its age. The work on it is equal to anything that could be done today with modern tools. They are quite rare, and one of this quality must have been for someone of high status.”
Stephanie Smith, Sussex finds officer for the British Museum’s nationwide Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), holds regular sessions at Littlehampton Museum for anyone to bring along items of interest, and knew the moment she saw the escutcheon that it was something very special.
“It truly is unique. There are only a handful like this, but most of them are just fragments. In this job, you see thousands of finds every year and some are rarer than others.
“When Tyndall came in with it, he wasn’t sure whether to show it to me and didn’t think it was any great age. I almost had a heart attack when I saw it. And when I took it to the British Museum, I have never seen so many curators in one office jumping up and down and whooping with delight!
“This all highlights that there are members of the community who care deeply about the past, whether professionals or people like Tyndall. It’s a tale of generosity and altruism, with Tyndall and the landowners together donating the escutcheon to Littlehampton Museum.”
So significant is Tyndall’s find that it is to be included in a major new exhibition at the British Museum in the autumn. Links with the BM will be further strengthened next year when Littlehampton Museum is one of only two venues in England to host its travelling ‘Spotlight’ exhibition.
“This is very exciting for Littlehampton Museum and will put us on the map,” said curator Juliet Thomas.
Apart from four days at the end of June, the escutcheon is on view in Littlehampton Museum for the next few weeks before going on display at the BM, and then coming ‘home’ to Littlehampton.
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