A group of schoolboys in the North Pennines have unearthed one of the most significant recent archaeological finds in the UK.
The boys, aged from seven to ten, were on a local dig at Kirkhaugh when they saw a glint of gold which turned out to be a 4,300-year-old ornament, probably once worn as a ‘hair tress’.
The ornament is one of the earliest metal objects to be found in the UK and 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, was found in a burial mound alongside three flint arrowheads and a jet button.
Tresses are very rare, and only ten have ever been found in Britain. The boys’ discovery, on a dig arranged by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership’s Altogether Archaeology project, is the partner of a matching one discovered at Kirkhaugh during an excavation in 1935.
Seven-year-old Joseph Bell, one of the four boys to make the discovery, 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.” His friend, eight-year-old Luca Alderson, added: “When I first saw it I thought it was plastic. When I found out it was gold, I was very happy.”
Paul Frodsham, who leads the Altogether Archaeology project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, for the AONB Partnership, said: “This is exceptional. It can be regarded as marking the very start of mineral exploitation in the North Pennines.”
Paul and a band of 50 volunteers spent nine days excavating the land under Professor Andrew Fitzpatrick. Andrew commented: “These tress rings must have been precious items. The person buried at Kirkhaugh was clearly of very high status.”
Both Andrew and Paul had hoped to recover bones and teeth from the Kirkhaugh grave, which could have given information about the burial, but time and soil conditions meant none have survived.
The head tress, along with the arrowheads and the button, will now be analysed by various specialists. Paul said: “We hope the ornament will eventually find its way to the Great North Museum in Newcastle, where it can be reunited with its long-lost partner from the 1935 dig.”
The hair tress discovered at at Kirkhaugh.
A flint arrowhead found at the site.
A jet button was also unearthed on the dig.