Unique Bronze Age hoard found near Peebles by metal detector enthusiast

A unique 3,000-year-old hoard described as being of national significance has been found in the Borders by a metal detector enthusiast.

By Darin Hutson
Monday, 10th August 2020, 11:19 am
Mariusz Stepien at the find site near Peebles.
Mariusz Stepien at the find site near Peebles.

A complete horse harness and sword dating back to between 900BC and 1,000BC were uncovered in a field near Peebles.

That discovery is said to be only the second of its kind ever found in Scotland and it’s also the first, thanks to how well preserved it is, allowing archaeologists to see how harnesses were assembled at that time.

The hoard was discovered by Mariusz Stepien, 44, while scanning the field with friends on Sunday, June 21.

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Mariusz Stepien standing next to the hoard ready to be transported to Edinburgh for further investigation.

Mr Stepien, originally from Poland but now living in Edinburgh, found a bronze object buried half a metre underground and, as he was getting strong signals from the ground around it, he got in touch with the treasure trove unit at Scotland’s Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to report his find.

“I thought I’ve never seen anything like this before and felt from the very beginning that this might be something spectacular and I’ve just discovered a big part of Scottish history,” he said.

“I was over the moon, actually shaking with happiness.

“There are no words that could describe how happy and excited I am.”

Objects found by Mariusz Stepien near Peebles believed to be decorative and functional pieces of a Bronze Age horse harness.

The archaeologists called in to investigate spent three weeks at the site, and Mr Stepien and his friends camped in the field and built a shelter to protect the find from the elements over that period, as well as keeping an eye on the finds being brought to light.

“We wanted to be a part of the excavation from the beginning to the end,” Mr Stepien added.

“I will never forget those 22 days spent in the field. 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. I still can’t believe it happened.”

During their dig, archaeologists also found a sword still in its scabbard, decorated straps, buckles, rings, ornaments and chariot wheel axle caps, along with evidence of a decorative rattle pendant to be hung from the harness, the first one found in Scotland and only the third to be unearthed in the UK.

The soil had preserved the organic elements of the hoard such as leather and wood, allowing experts to trace the straps that connected the rings and buckles together to make the harness.

Emily Freeman, head of the treasure trove unit, 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.

“We could not have achieved this without the responsible actions of the finder or the support of the landowners.

“The finder was quick to action when they realised that they had found an in-situ hoard, which resulted in the treasure trove unit and National Museums Scotland being on site within days of discovery.”

Queen’s and lord treasurer’s remembrancer David Harvie added: “This Bronze Age hoard is highly significant and promises to give us a new insight into Scotland’s history.

“I would like to thank the finder who discovered these wonderful items and whose quick actions in contacting the treasure trove unit will ensure these objects can be properly preserved and studied.”

The hoard, removed from the site in a large block of soil, is now being further investigated at National Museums Scotland’s collection centre in Edinburgh.

Mr Stepien added: “I’ve been doing metal detecting for nearly nine years now. I’m very passionate about it.

“I thought Sunday, June 21, was going to be just another ordinary metal-detecting Sunday, but it changed dramatically around 10am when I found the first bronze object, which was located around 60cm deep in the ground.

“I gave a shout to my friends, who were on the other side of the field, to show them what I found.

“We spent 22 days and nights in the fields observing the archaeologists at their amazing work and making sure that the hoard was secure overnight.

“We also built a little camp there and secured the area where the hoard was located to protect it, and the archaeologists, from wind and rain.

“I was extremely happy to listen to the archaeologists’ lectures about what it is and how important this find is for Scottish history.”

Only one similar hoard has ever been found before in Scotland an that was also in Peeblesshire, at Horsehope Craig, in 1864.