An exquisite Roman brooch which had lain undiscovered for more than 1,600 years has been unearthed by a Gargrave man digging in his garden.
Eagle-eyed Stephen Cuthbert discovered the delicate piece of bronze jewellery just beneath the surface of the soil at his smallholding in Eshton Road, Gargrave, where he has lived all his life.
The 60-year-old former teacher gave the brooch to his wife Lynn and she sought more information from experts at Skipton’s Craven Museum and Gallery.
Amy Ball, the museum’s assistant curator of archaeology, confirmed that it was an “excellent and unusual find” of a third or fourth century AD Roman penannular brooch.
Now details of the discovery have been logged on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, a Government-funded scheme that records archaeological objects found by members of the public.
Mother-of-four Lynn said it was wonderful to handle such an historic object and it would take pride of place in her jewellery collection.
“Stephen came up to me and said ‘I’ve got something for you’ and he tipped the object into my hand,” said 50-year-old Lynn. “I thought he was having a joke and it would be a spider or something, but as I looked closer I realised it was something very old and very special. I had a good feeling about it.”
Lynn said she knew Craven Museum would help to identify the object, but she never suspected it would turn out to be so old.
“When I discovered it was Roman, I was just blown away as I am really interested in that period of history and my aunt has traced her family back to Roman times,” said Lynn.
“I feel really humble being able to hold a brooch worn by someone 1,600 years ago. I don’t know its value, but it will be lovely to hand it down to the grandchildren as a talking point and hear how their grandfather found it in the garden.
“Stephen did well to spot it. He could have discarded it thinking it was an old curtain ring. The brooch is beautiful, very simple and smooth in texture. Finding it and discovering its history has been very exciting.
“We’ve seen men with metal detectors in the field next to our house and so now we’re wondering what they’ve found and we’ll ask them the next time we see them,” said Lynn, who works at Neville House Residential Home in Gargrave.
Lynn says the family will keep the brooch, but arrangements have been made with staff at Craven Museum to loan it to them for special exhibitions.
Amateur archaeologist Kevin Jackson, of River Place, Gargrave, said the find provided another piece in the jigsaw of the village’s Roman past, but there was still much to discover.
Kevin said two significant sites dating back to Roman times had been found in the village, one being a magnificent Roman Villa on the Broughton side of the River Aire, which was excavated in the late 1960s by a team from Leeds University.
A few years ago an excavation at West Lane, where new houses were planned, also revealed Roman, late Saxon and early Norman remains.
Evidence of Gargrave’s two-storey Roman Villa, a scheduled ancient monument – which included a heated bathhouse – was clear from a bird’s eye view in the sky, but was hardly visible on the ground, said Kevin.
“The discovery of the brooch is very exciting. There is still an awful lot unknown about the Romans in the village,” he said.
“Metal detector enthusiasts return to fields near Eshton Road year after year. They must be finding something or they wouldn’t come back.”
Amy Ball, assistant curator of archaeology at Craven Museum, said such brooches were not found very often.
She said: “This type of brooch always consists of a broken hoop with a pin that is folded over the hoop and can easily move and swivel around.
“The two ends of the broken hoop can be folded over, pinched in to form a simple design or highly decorated.
“The ends of the brooch have been rounded into studs and incised with slanted vertical lines to create a simple pattern. The pin is missing, but this is quite usual for brooches like this.”
Further information about the Portable Antiquities Scheme website can be found at finds.org.uk/.