Museum locked in race against time to secure precious artefacts
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A Midlands museum is locked in a race against time to save for the nation ancient jewellery believed to be the earliest example of Iron Age gold ever discovered in Britain.
The four intricate artefacts that make up the Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs have been valued at £325,000 by a panel of independent experts known as the Treasure Valuation Committee.
The four torcs comprise three necklaces and a bracelet. Experts believe they date back to 400BC. They are thought to be from the continent, possibly Germany or France, and would have been worn by important women in society.
The artefacts were discovered in Leek last Christmas, and archaeologists from Stoke on Trent City Council and Staffordshire County Council supported site investigations on the land. They were declared treasure at an inquest hearing in February and are currently being kept at the British Museum.
The ancient treasure captured the public imagination – and that of the global media – when the pieces were unveiled for the first time at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in February. They went on to attract 21,000 visitors in just one month.
Now, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, in partnership with the Friends of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery has until December 5 to meet the valuation price, or risk the artefacts potentially being separated out and sold to private bidders.
It has now launched a public fundraising campaign on behalf of the museum to ensure the jewellery remains in public ownership.
The move is not without precedent. A similar fundraising campaign was mounted earlier this year to ensure a rare piece of pottery – the Wedgwood First Day Vase – made by master potter Josiah Wedgwood remained in Stoke-on-Trent.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the Friends of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery had been told they would need to raise the £482,500 purchase price to keep Wedgwood’s First Day’s Vase in the city after it was sold at auction to an oversees buyer.
The campaign was ultimately successful after an anonymous donor came forward just days before a deadline was due to expire.
The city council and the friends are hopeful that the new campaign will be just as successful.
Council leader Dave Conway said: “These treasures show yet again the rich cultural history of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, at a time when we are bidding to be the UK City of Culture 2021.
“They were found by metal detectorists in a farmer’s field in Leek, and like the Staffordshire Hoard before it, are showing that our area is rewriting the history books on what we know about ancient Britain.
“It is going to take another big fundraising effort to ensure we can save these stunning finds and keep them on public display, and I’m urging residents, businesses and organisations to step forward and show their support.”
Museum visitors can show their support for the Leekfrith Torcs fundraising campaign at donation boxes inside the museum, or online via http://www.stokemuseums.org.uk/leekfrithtorcs.