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Amateur detectorists find 'oldest' Iron Age gold hoard

The collection of gold torcs could shed light on the lives of our ancestors. Credit: PA

A pair of amateur metal detectorists uncovered a spectacular collection of jewellery which is thought to be the oldest Iron Age gold hoard ever discovered in Britain.

Friends Mark Hambleton and Joe Kania found the four torcs - three necklaces and one bracelet - buried close together on farmland in Staffordshire while on a day out just before Christmas.

Experts believe the collection, which has been named the the Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs, is around 2,500 years old and features some of the earliest Celtic art ever discovered.

Mark Hambleton and Joe Kania found the torcs buried just under the surface. Credit: PA

It is not known why the items were buried, but it could have been for safekeeping, as an offering to the gods, or as an act of remembrance after their owner died.

Dr Julia Farley, curator of British & European Iron Age collections for the British Museum, said the collection was "of international importance".

It dates to around 400-250 BC, and is probably the earliest Iron Age gold work ever discovered in Britain.

The torcs were probably worn by wealthy and powerful women, perhaps people from the continent who had married into the local community.

Piecing together how these objects came to be carefully buried in a Staffordshire field will give us an invaluable insight into life in Iron Age Britain.

– Dr Julia Farley
The bracelet features some of the earliest Celtic art ever discovered. Credit: PA
Experts believe the jewellery was made in Europe, possibly Germany or France. Credit: PA

Mr Hambleton described how he came across the hoard after resuming his hobby of metal detecting on the advice of his father.

He said: "I am so glad we took his advice and pleased of course that he got the chance to see these amazing pieces and prove he was right all along."

The hoard is expected to be formally declared as treasure at an inquest in North Staffordshire shortly, which will also set a provisional value.

Mr Hambleton and Mr Kania said they plan to split any proceeds with the farming family which owns the 640 acres of land where the finds were discovered.

The hoard is set to be formally declared as treasure at an inquest. Credit: PA

The finds have been handed over to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, part of Birmingham Museums, which manages the voluntary recording of finds.

Staffordshire County Council leader Philip Atkins said they were "proud and unbelievably lucky" to have such exceptional historical finds in the area.

He added: "This amazing find of gold torcs in the north of the county is quite simply magical and we look forward to sharing the secrets and story they hold in the years to come."