Published: 06:00, 22 June 2021
| Updated: 07:51, 22 June 2021
A medieval pendant, found by a metal detectorist in a field three years ago during a hailstorm, has been bought by the Kent Archaeological Society (KAS).
But it has taken three years to be verified, valued and then offered to museums around the country - including Maidstone and the British Museum - before KAS struck a deal to secure the item.
The incomplete cross is believed to have been cut up before it entered the ground and thought to date to the first half of the 7th century - not long after St Augustine first arrived in Kent in AD 597.
St Augustine was sent to Britain by the Pope to convert the then king of Kent, Ethelbert, to Christianity and away from Anglo-Saxon paganism. He would become the first Archbishop of Canterbury and his remains are buried in the city.
The pendant - which has been digitally reimagined by Lloyd Bosworth, an expert in 3D modelling of archaeological discoveries, to demonstrate what it would have looked like and how it may have formed part of a necklace - was given a four-figure value by experts.
It was inspected by experts from the British Museum in 2019 who form the Portable Antiquities Scheme which records and values items of historical importance.
However, they said they were "sceptical" an initial valuation of £3,000 to £4,000 could be achieved for such a small portion of the cross - noting "if the piece had been complete the piece would have been very commercially attractive".
Although KAS and the finder of the item have not revealed the final value it received or it paid, it is understood to be less than the original estimate put on the item. It hopes to eventually put it on public display.
It was initially unearthed by Paul Haigh of the Kent Searchers Metal Detecting Club who will split monies received with the landowner.
He said: “I was so thrilled to unearth this historical relic, during a hailstorm I might add.
"Hopefully this may dismiss the myth that all of us detectorists are 'treasure hunters' only in it for financial gain. I'm so pleased KAS is now the custodians of this magical artefact.”
There has been considerable concern that many items found are never officially reported and then sold on the open market.
KAS honorary curator, Elizabeth Blanning, added: “We are delighted to have been able to add this important item to our collection.
Viewed as a piece of broken jewellery, it has only scrap value, but as an archaeological artefact, it is a priceless piece of history, helping to tell the story of the transition from paganism to Christianity in this corner of Britain.
"For archaeologists, treasure isn't found in gold or jewels, it's about what an object can teach us. What can it tell us about its owner? Who commissioned it, who made it, what's it made of? What are the raw materials and what are the trading connections these imply?
"As archaeologists, we study people through the lens of the objects they leave behind.
"This beautiful, but very damaged item, holds a treasure trove of information."
Jo Ahmet, Kent finds liaison officer, to whom the discovery was first reported, added: “Gold and garnet objects such as these are always striking.
For me, however, studying numerous Early Medieval pieces it is evident that in addition to its apparent scrapping, the central flat topped circular garnet is likely to have come from a sixth century piece, being a type of cut not being much produced after the middle of the 6th century. It is a fantastic snapshot, in one object, of the process of recycling and management of precious resources.”
Elizabeth Blanning said it was a treat for KAS to get its hands on the item and allow further investigation.
She said: "My first reaction was 'wow'. My second was 'what a shame it is so damaged'.
"But if it were whole we would never be able to afford it."
The digital recreation of how the item would have looked was informed by other items found in the county - among them a cross discovered in Thurnham, near Maidstone.
KAS already has an important collection of Early Medieval artefacts, chiefly derived from the Anglo-Saxon cemeteries at Lyminge, Bifrons, near Canterbury, and Sarre. Much of which is on display at Maidstone Museum.
When treasure is discovered by metal detectorists, they must be report it to the local coroner within 14 days of their discovery - failure to do so can result in an unlimited fine or three months in jail.
Alternatively, if the item is not treasure but deemed of historical or cultural significance, it should be reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme at the British Museum.
A local 'finds liaison officer' will then contact the finder and take receipt of the item. An official report will then be filed as well as a valuation on the item given.
A value based on its condition and significance is then agreed on by a panel of experts and museums who have expressed an interest in the item can then agree to meet the cost and put it on display.
And read here about how one man struck gold three times when he dug up gold coins from a field a few miles north of his home town.