Sunday, August 14, 2005


Young Maiden Janie Hath Got A Gun

Yesterday's Guardian reviews David Hinton's Gold & Gilt, Pots & Pins: Possessions and People in Medieval Britain, and delves into one of those basic questions elicited every few months by some pensioner with a metal detector: why were the Roman settlers always tossing pots of coins about?

Gold & Gilt covers more than 1,000 years from the end of the 4th century AD - the departure of the Roman legions - to the early 16th century. It was a period of enormous change, of the developing power of the church, and of the emergence of the feudal system and kings. It was also often dangerous: Britain as the legions withdrew was a risky place to be if the number of hoards of coins and jewellery buried in the late 4th and 5th centuries is anything to go by. Irish raiders threatened in the west, Frisians and Saxons in the east. As Hinton notes, the people who buried their treasure in pits were right to worry - their failure to retrieve their valuables speaks volumes about what happened next. Hundreds of years later, people still resorted to burying things in the ground when danger threatened. A number of hoards have been found from the turbulent 1460s during the Wars of the Roses. One, in Fishpool in Nottinghamshire, held valuable jewels and 1,200 gold coins.

The British Museum has a writeup on the Fishpool hoard, the largest gold coin hoard ever found in Britain. Better still, though, the Museum also has an exhibit of old children's toys found in the Thames, dating from the 14th to the 18th centuries. They include a surprising number of toy guns.

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