Detectorist in Scottish Borders uncovers bronze age haul

August 28, 2020
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Metal detectorists, it’s fair to say, have had a good lockdown. Last month it emerged that amateur treasure hunters had unearthed dozens of rare finds in their back gardens while restrictions kept them at home.

Now a detectorist in the Scottish Borders has uncovered a haul of bronze age artefacts – including a complete horse harness and preserved leather and wood – in what is described as a “nationally significant” discovery.

Among items also pulled from the ground after Mariusz Stepien’s initial find in a field near Peebles was a sword dated from 1000 to 900BC.

Stepien had been metal detecting with friends on 21 June when he came across a bronze object buried half a metre underground. As he received such strong signals from the earth around the object, he reported the find to the Treasure Trove unit.

The moment of the find was emotional. “I felt from the very beginning that this might be something spectacular and I’ve just discovered a big part of Scottish history. I was over the moon, shaking with happiness,” he said.

Archeologists spent 22 days investigating the site, during which Stepien and his friends camped in the field. “We wanted to be a part of the excavation from the beginning to the end,” he said. “Every day there were new objects coming out which changed the context of the find, every day we learned something new.

“I’m so pleased that the earth revealed to me something that was hidden for more than 3,000 years.”

The archeologists found the sword, still in its scabbard, which had been adorned with straps, buckles and chariot-wheel axle caps, alongside remnants of a decorative “rattle pendant” that would have hung off the horse’s harness – the first to be found in Scotland and only the third in the UK.

Treasure Trove, which is overseeing the recovery and assessment of the find, said the soil had preserved the leather and wood found among the items, allowing experts to trace the straps that connected the rings and buckles together to make the harness, something that has “never been seen before in Britain”.The unit’s head, Emily Freeman, said: “This is a nationally significant find – so few bronze age hoards have been excavated in Scotland. It was an amazing opportunity for us to not only recover bronze artefacts, but organic material as well. There is still a lot of work to be done to assess the artefacts and understand why they were deposited.”

With detecting in the open off limits between March and May, many amateurs looked closer to home during lockdown, and in July, the Daily Telegraph reported that a post-medieval belt hook, a quern and a medieval seal matrix were among some of the treasures uncovered in gardens by detectorists.

Peter Reavill, a finds liaison officer from Shropshire, said: “With so many people spending so much more time in their gardens, there have been some really interesting finds. I’ve seen some tobacco pipes, some pieces of pottery and even prehistoric flint tools.”

Simon Maslin, a finds liaison officer in Surrey and Hampshire, said he had seen some spectacular finds that had provided insights into local history. He said: “It’s the stuff that appears more humdrum that actually tends to be more archeologically important.”

Fionntan Hughes, a schoolboy who received a metal detector for his 10th birthday, found treasure the first day he used his present, unearthing a sword thought to be about 300 years old. Hughes, from Derryloughan in County Tyrone, found the sword buried on land near his home late last month.

The latest hoard has been removed from the site near Peebles in a large block of soil and taken to the National Museums Collection Centre in Edinburgh where further excavations and research will take place.

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