Recent developments

An interesting talk about the ‘Stalbridge Hoard’ was given recently at Stalbridge Hall by representatives from The Dorset Museum, with a guest appearance by the gentleman who discovered the hoard itself.
Although much of the £17,000 needed to purchase the hoard and keep it in Dorset had been raised, 10% of the fundraising contributions were required to come from the local area (roughly £1,700).
Following the talk, hosted by Stalbridge History Society, and the generous contributions made by local residents and businesses the remaining amount needed dropped to less than £1,300.
Stalbridge Town Council received a proposal at their March 20th meeting for the council to contribute to any shortfall remaining at the time. The Town Council sought the views of the community in its decision regarding the expenditure of public money raised through council tax to make a contribution to the purchase by creating a survey on the website for residents to complete and let them know their thoughts. 


The Hoard talk on 10 feb 2024 at Stalbridge Hall
The bronze items in the hoard. A palstave axe head, a bracelet and a rapier.

Hoard and not seen?

As of today (March 28th 2024) we have not heard the result of the Town Council proposal, but recently Stalbridge Archive & History Facebook page received this message:

“I am delighted to let you know that Dorset Museum & Art Gallery have raised the £17,000 needed to purchase the Stalbridge Middle Bronze Age hoard through the Treasure process!
I would like to thank everyone in the Stalbridge community involved in helping us to raise the funds, particularly Stalbridge Local History Society, Stalbridge Town Council, and the many individuals who attended talks and contributed to the appeal.
We will now be moving forward with the purchase of the item, and hope to bring it back to Dorset in the coming month.
I know that many will be keen to know when it is going on display; we do not have firm plans yet, but hope to save it as a star object in our Treasure exhibition earmarked for 2026. There may be opportunities to display it temporaily before then, and we will keep you informed.
Thanks once again for all your support.
Liz and the Dorset Museum team

So it looks like it may be some time before we are all finally able to get a glimpse of The Stalbridge Hoard. In the meantime here is what all the fuss was about, accompanied by the best photos we have of the individual items:

A Bronze Age hoard from Stalbridge, Dorset (Treasure case number 2020 T164)
This is a group of three Middle Bronze Age copper alloy objects which comprises a complete cast bronze rapier with a copper alloy hilt modelled in imitation of a wooden one; a copper alloy palstave axe; and a complete decorated copper alloy annular bracelet/arm-ring.

The palstave is a high-flanged, side-looped, mid-ribbed, South-western type, relatively common in ornament horizon and late Taunton/early Penard phase assemblages (dating to 1300-1100BC).

The bracelet is decorated with incised or engraved panels which with complex geometric decoration. These Incised or Liss-type bracelets are not common but known from the Taunton phase (1400-1200 BC) of the Bronze Age onwards, mainly from Southern Britain.

The rapier is highly unusual. Cast bronze, it is 535mm in total length, with a copper alloy hilt which mimics a wooden one. The tapering blade is 60mm wide at the handle and a maximum of 7.5mm thick with a “triple arris” shaped cross-section throughout its length. It is broken in two fragments, the larger of which is slightly bent. The handle is cast and possibly solid copper alloy, with an oval pommel with a rounded end. The guard is curved and C-shaped with four dome-headed rivets which remain in place to secure the blade; the outer two may be ornamental rather than functional. It compares with Gerloff and Burgess’ Wandsworth-Type rapiers. The blade has broken in a jagged and uneven line close to the handle. It is unclear whether the blade is cast integrally to the handle – this will potentially need to be confirmed by X-Ray analysis.

Ornament horizon hoards have been rare in Dorset, and this is a particularly interesting example, aside from the rarity of the individual objects. It conforms to the pattern of combinations of weapons with practical and/or personal decorative objects in hoards of this period. However, the quality of two of the three objects is outstanding, and both the bracelet and the rapier are rare, elevating this group above the norm. It is unlike anything else recovered in Dorset. The incised bracelet is highly decorative, and stands out from plain or minimally decorated examples previously seen in the county, including one on display at Dorset Museum & Art Gallery. The find-spot of this example does however fit within a known distribution. These bracelets concentrate in the southern counties of Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset and West Sussex although examples are also known from Suffolk and Norfolk. Similar examples were found in the Ebbesbourne Wake hoard and a hoard from Norton Fitzwarren, Somerset.
The rapier, with its copper alloy handle is highly unusual, not only for Dorset but for Britain. The presence of a metal handle copying a wooden original is only possibly paralleled in Britain by a few examples, none of which are complete. A hollow cast decorated metal hilt is known from the Brighton/Blackrock Cliff Hoard and a solid cast example from the Ambleside Hoard, Cumbria. As far as can be ascertained at this time, no complete parallel examples are known. The plain style of the handle is similar to solid-cast Nordic rapier hilts, rather than contemporary objects of British manufacture. However it is possible that this example was locally made; the rarity of the object means that it cannot be ruled out. If this is however a Scandinavian object, or based on a Scandinavian design, that is of some considerable significance for understanding mobility and long distance contact during the Middle Bronze Age – something which has been demonstrated for the county for other prehistoric periods.
The rapier has been broken into three parts, a common occurrence for Bronze Age weapons. The rapier requires study to determine if the breaks are recent, incidental or deliberate as many weapons have been subject to deliberate destruction as part of the burial process. Objects from this period appear to have attracted deliberate acts of destruction. The rapier, potentially having undergone similar treatment, will complement more fragmentary and less unusual items in our prehistoric base metal collections in a county which is known for its prehistoric archaeology. It supports our aims to facilitate research and dissemination.
Dorset Museum & Art Gallery prides itself on its collection of Bronze Age metalwork, but this hoard contains elements which have not been seen in the county and would both stand out in the collection and add value to the material which we already hold, by demonstrating the broader range of quality, manufacture, design and origins. We do not expect to see a rapier of this type again. The Middle Bronze Age is archaeologically well represented in the county, but mainly through funerary monuments. The acquisition of this item will strengthen our ability to explain aspects of Bronze Age society, through public displays, teaching our volunteers and others, and broadening the collection so that it will be of even greater interest and use to researchers. This hoard compliments other opportunities to research base and precious metal Middle Bronze Age objects in the Dorset Museum & Art Gallery collection, so it is important to ensure that it is available for research. This hoard will sit alongside a range of other important contemporary objects which we have on display, and will provide a clear centre piece to our display of other Middle Bronze Age weapons, tools and ornaments, in particular as it provides an additional angle on the manufacturing methods used, which the displays already highlight. We would also be able to underline the idea of deliberate destruction with our visitors, as seen in some other bronze and gold objects, and enable them to think about why such actions may have been carried out by ancient people.