The Hallaton treasure project
In 2000 the voluntary Hallaton Fieldwork Group (HFWG) made what proved to be a discovery of international importance: an open-air hilltop shrine, incorporating multiple Iron Age coin hoards, parts of Roman helmets and debris from feasting, near their home village in East Leicestershire. More on the discoveries.
This discovery sparked a major collaborative research project between the School of Archaeology & Ancient History and the local community, comprising survey, excavation and laboratory work. The project provides an case study of best-practice investigation techniques for hoard sites and for integration of professional bodies and local communities in research projects.
HFWG’s membership of the County’s community archaeology scheme resulted in rapid reporting of their major find, and very early involvement of the School to provide field expertise and specialist equipment to recover the hoards, plus the knowledge and skills needed to fully realise the historical significance of the discoveries. All this was achieved through involving English Heritage, which facilitated geophysical survey of the environs and rescue excavation of the site, with close involvement of HFWG members throughout. Many of the finds, especially the metal hoards, were lifted in earth blocks for laboratory excavation and conservation, at the British Museum.
The Hallaton project offers a model for contextual analysis of hoard sites, leading to the School/British Museum AHRC Roman coin hoards project. Equally importantly, it provided the then-new Portable Antiquities Scheme with a template for integration of community groups into statutory, professional and academic networks dealing with other treasure finds.
The discoveries made during the Hallaton project represent the first Iron Age ritual site of this type in Europe to be comprehensively investigated, Hallaton is of international significance.
The hilltop site, near the village of Hallaton in Leicestershire, UK, was in use around the time of the Roman invasion of Britain in the mid 1st century AD. Defined by a polygonal ditch, its entrance was 'guarded' by ritually bound and buried dogs.
The nature of the deposits suggests it was the location of communal rituals orchestrated by elites of local British communities known collectively to the incoming Romans as 'Corieltavi'. The activities on the hill involved feasting on sacrificed pigs, attested by a mass of bones found buried by the entrance.
The rites also comprised deliberate burial in pits of a number of hoards of metalwork, mostly coins but also some other objects, including a unique silver bowl and items of military equipment.
The coins included 350 Roman examples, and more than 5000 Iron Age British ones, increasing the number of known native coins from the region by 150%--a major find by any standard.
Especially surprising was burial of a Roman cavalry helmet, plus cheek-pieces from several others, all with silver decoration, some of the highest artistic quality.
The primary significance of the research is threefold:
(1) in providing the most detailed insight yet into the nature of ephemeral Iron Age open-air ritual sites, as well as a plausible alternative interpretation of many other sites with multiple hoards, long interpreted as deposits buried for safe-keeping.
(2) in overturning the existing view of the Iron Age inhabitants of the region as a unified tribe; analysis of the coins shows they were issued by multiple groups, each issuing its own coinage.
(3) It offers a new understanding for the Iron Age to Roman transition in Britain. Previously we assumed that before the invasion of AD 43, Roman diplomatic contacts extended only as far as south-east England. However, multiple Roman helmets of such quality in Corieltavian hands are difficult to explain as other than diplomatic gifts. Negotiations with the imperial authorities before or during the conquest would help explain the choice of the nearby settlement at Ratae (Leicester) as the capital of the self-governing civitas of the Corieltavi within the developing imperial province.