Finishing up for the day at a small dig site on a Friday afternoon in the summer of 2018 a young archaeologist spotted something — and in doing so cancelled any weekend plans his colleagues had arranged.
Harry Platts, 23 had found what was later to be known as the Havering Hoard, one of the most significant discoveries of recent years, and it was by sheer chance it was found as the cluster of bronze age objects was on the edge of a strip of soil that was not planned to be dug. Just one small axe poking ever so slightly out of the cluster gave the secret away.
Pretty much all plans were cancelled, for while they had sat there for centuries, now they had been discovered, it was vital to protect the discovery. What has been found are four distinct clusters of bronze objects all on the edge of a known bronze age site — and a big mystery.
Over the following year, the items were extracted from the soil, studied and prepared to be put on display for the public to see for the first time in centuries.
The Museum of London Docklands had prepared the space, the labels were ready and all they needed were the objects themselves — packed into crates and ready to be brought to the museum. Then the country went into lockdown, the exhibition unfinished was shuttered for months and the crates put carefully back into storage.
But having sat patiently waiting in the soil next to the Thames for nearly 3,000 years, what’s a wait of a few more months?
The horde neatly fills four glass cases, one for each of the clusters that were uncovered, and to add context to the display the museum has lined the room with bronze age objects from other collections to help show what sort of society would have been able to create the Havering Hoard.
It’s a very evocative display. The bronze objects clustered together on a clean dark grey mat seem to bask in their glass cases with a supernatural gloaming. Magical objects whispering of ancient rites and rural incantations.
The ethereal effect makes the bronze age objects feel special in a way that goes beyond mere facts and numbers. They have a life and talk to us across the millennia of the people who crafted them, who used them in their daily lives, and at the last moment, buried them.
Entombed in soil, they have lain untouched ever since.
The great mystery is why the horde exists at all. While some theories suggest ritualistic burial, the more practical one is that bronze is expensive, and was buried to protect it from something, or someone, in preparation to be melted down and turned into something else.
Whoever buried it never returned.
The Havering Hoard will eventually return to Havering, for the local museum, but will also be studied in the decades to come for there are still mysteries about their use and burial, and the site where they were discovered is still being excavated. There may be more discoveries still waiting to be found.
The Havering Hoard is on display at the Museum of London Docklands until 18th April 2021.
Entry is free, with a pre-booked ticket from here.