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Award-winning journalist Michael Buerk and leading historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes return to ITV for a brand new series of Britain’s Secret Treasures. Following its success last year, Michael, Bettany and a host of guest presenters uncover a fresh hoard of extraordinary objects found by ordinary people that have changed our understanding of British history.
Continuing its successful partnership with the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is responsible for all finds in England and Wales, the new series of Britain’s Secret Treasures also joins forces with Treasure Trove Scotland and the Ulster Museum to include stories of outstanding artefacts discovered by members of the public in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Each and every artefact included in the new eight-part series has been selected due to its national importance, beauty and cultural or historic significance. All are artefacts, objects or treasures that have been left, lost or discarded by our ancestors, which reveal the remarkable story of how we once lived.
Once again Michael and Bettany are joined by a host of guest presenters including Kevin Whateley, Mariella Frostrup, Katherine Jenkins and Vic Reeves, to find out more about the stories behind each item and to meet many of the members of the public who discovered them.
In episode one, broadcaster and anthropologist Mary Ann Ochota uncovers the story of some seemingly scrap metal that holds an incredible secret and baffled experts when it was first found in Lincolnshire.
In 2010 recycling plant worker Steve Allenby made a discovery in a field near an RAF site, just outside of Lincoln.
Steve says: “I dug down and recovered a piece of copper alloy. I examined it and thought, ‘This is very unusual’. I dug up a further two or three more pieces and thought, ‘We’re definitely onto something here.’”
Initially thought to be fragments of unexploded munitions, under closer inspection experts suspected they were actually fragments of a statue of the disgraced Roman emperor Domitian and his horse. Domitian was assassinated and subject to 'damnatio memoriae' meaning 'damnation of memory'. This only occurred for three emperors in the history of Rome and meant that Domitian’s coins and statues were melted down and his name erased from monuments. The 2000-year-old fragments could therefore be the only remaining likeness of a forgotten leader of men.
Hollywood actor James Purefoy heads to the north-east of England to find out more about The Alnwick Sword, an exceptional 1400-year-old blade entwined in a tumultuous period of English history. It is the only known example of a sword that was ceremoniously folded to mark the death of its illustrious owner.
Anglo-Saxons often believed that their swords had a life of their own. They also believed that they could take objects into the afterlife with them. So the sword itself has been killed by a blacksmith in order to ensure that only its previous owner would be able to use it in the afterlife.
Folding a sword would have been a laborious process, which is probably why it was very uncommonly done. It was found with bone fragments, which proves that this was a burial. Interestingly, inside the folded sword was found a blade in a sheath, another weapon for the afterlife.
James says: “This sword could well have been one of the great swords of British history. For it to be killed in this way It must have had a character and a personality all of its own. So for me this gnarly lump of metal, is a true British treasure.”
Also this week, Bettany Hughes unravels the story of one of the biggest gold rings ever found in Britain and Michael Buerk delves into Victorian dentistry by finding out more about a set of false teeth dating back to the 1890s, that would have caused their owner a great deal of pain.