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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 Whately, 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 seven, the presenters travel to Scotland where Bettany Hughes finds out about a £1m gold hoard and Michael Buerk discovers more about Bronze Age transport.
In 2007, landscape gardener David Booth bought himself a metal detector for his birthday. Incredibly, the first time he used it he found four 2000-year-old gold torcs. It was the greatest hoard of gold ever found in Scotland and was valued at £1m. The torcs were symbols of power and wealth and would have been worn round the neck of people of great importance.
Just a few months ago, David made another impressive discovery. He found a 900-year-old badge called a seal matrix. It was made of silver and fitted with a gemstone. It would have been dipped in molten wax before being used to seal a document giving it an individual signature a bit like a pin number. Losing the seal would have been a very serious matter.
Next Michael Portillo visits Fort George near Inverness to hear about two treasure findings that highlight relationships between Scottish Highlanders and British soldiers. First he meets Eric Evans who unearthed a pair of toy lead soldiers. The soldier’s uniforms were so detailed experts were able to date them as being from 1745 – a crucial date in Scottish history. At this time, King George II was reigning over a unified England and Scotland but an army of Highlanders, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, wanted to break free from the union and declare war on the King. The two opposing armies met at Culloden and in just an hour the British slaughtered all the Scots. Afterwards the British took control of the Highlands and built Fort George. The years following Culloden were difficult for the Highlanders living alongside the British soldiers but over time relationships developed. Experts believe the toys were made by the British soldiers for local Highlander children.
A second treasure found in the same area is also evidence of improving relationships between the Highlanders’ and British soldiers. Treasure hunter Jack Mackay found a belt buckle from a soldier’s uniform in the fields around the fort last year. The buckle was dated as being from 50 years after Culloden when Britain was at war with France and Napoleon. On the badge is the name of a regiment called the Fort William volunteers made up of local Scottish men. So just half a century after being defeated by the British Army, the Scottish Highlanders were volunteering to fight for them suggesting they had finally accepted a unified Britain.
Michael said: “It’s a new world now as I gaze out on a tranquil Scotland where in 2014 the people will vote on whether to maintain the union. These objects illustrate a crucial stage in the long running relationship between England and Scotland and they also demonstrate how old enmity can melt away to be recast as friendly rivalry.”
Also in this episode, archaeologist Frazer Hunter talks to pig farmer Hamish Stuart who was walking on one of his fields in Birnie when he saw a coin glinting in the light. After further investigation, excavators found two hoards of Roman silver coins and some jewellery dating to the late 2nd century AD.
Finally in this episode, Michael Buerk visits a remote mud bank on the River Tay where a Bronze Age boat was excavated. Bob Fotheringham and his friends were walking in the mud flats at the side of the river when they noticed a piece of wood sticking out the ground. On closer inspection Bob realised it was actually part of a boat and archaeologists were called in to excavate. It took seven days to raise the 15 metre boat out the mud and transfer it to dry land where it was dated as being 3000 years old.
The log boat was a crucial tool for the people of ancient Scotland as travelling by water was the main way to get around. There were no roads back then and the landscape was quite different, the Tay flowed to a huge fen now destroyed by draining and dredging.
Speaking about the boat, Michael said: “For me it offers a whole new vision of what Scotland was, a land not of crofters and peasants but of waterman, fen-men, sailors and it’s a real insight into how modern man has radically altered the physical landscape of Scotland.”