Protect Sussex heritage: Iron Age gold torc appeal

by The Sussex Archaeological Society in Lewes, East Sussex, United Kingdom

We did it
On 5th June 2023 we successfully raised £3,292 ( + est. £672.25 Gift Aid ) with 97 supporters in 49 days

Support the Sussex Archaeological Society's appeal to acquire the ‘near Pulborough’ Iron Age gold torc for Barbican House Museum in Lewes.

Project by The Sussex Archaeological Society

 New stretch target

Extra funding secured for the Sussex Iron Age gold torc appeal will allow The Sussex Archaeological Society to share the story of this wonderful item with more people in engaging and creative ways, such as through community engagement activities, interactive displays and workshops for people of all ages. We thank you in advance for your support in protecting, promoting and providing access to the heritage of Sussex.

The Sussex Archaeological Society is launching an appeal to acquire the ‘near Pulborough’ Iron Age gold torc for Barbican House Museum in Lewes. 

This beautiful gold torc dating from the Iron Age (400 – 250 BCE) was found while metal detecting in 2019. The exciting discovery was soon overshadowed by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the find slowly progressed through the Treasure process at the British Museum and was officially declared an item of Treasure and valued late last year. 

We are seeking at least £2,200 to secure this important part of Sussex heritage for future generations.

About the 'near Pulborough' Iron Age gold torc

The ’near Pulborough’ Iron Age gold torc is of local, regional and national significance. The use of a hollow tube to form the neck ring is unique to this torc, the use of solder to apply the wire ornament is relatively unknown on Iron Age gold objects in Britain and of particular importance is that this torc appears to predate the majority of other torcs previously recorded in Britain. It is possible that this new discovery may have been an import from the continent or of a local design emulating other European examples.

The Iron Age gold torc is in fact two fragments forming approximately half of the original whole piece. The torc has been broken roughly in half and then a further break has occurred. There is no evidence of a blow to the torc, and there are no signs of attempted ‘repairs’ to the broken ends. It is possible that the damage was caused by farming activity, such as ploughing while the piece was buried, or indeed the breaks may have been deliberate.

The torc has what is known as a buffer-shaped terminal and is decorated with gold wire. The fine gold wire has been twisted into shape and applied, in a simple filigree design, around the buffer terminal and at the centre of the neck tube. The buffer terminals would have been worn to the front of the neck and the connecting tube would pass around the nape of the neck. For whoever wore this it would have been a significant and highly valuable item, it is without doubt a ‘statement piece’. 

The neck tube and buffer terminal are hollow, the piece has been made by bending or rolling a sheet of gold, possibly around a pattern or form, into the required shape. By viewing the torc under a microscope it is possible to see that solder has been carefully applied to join the seams and intricate filigree decoration.

The condition of the gold torc is extremely good, although under closer microscopic inspection it is possible to see faint scratches and some areas of flattening. However, these may well have occurred during the processes of making and shaping, through wear and tear or could be the result of damage prior to discovery. 

There are other gold Iron Age torcs recorded in the country and the ‘near Pulborough’ torc displays some technical and stylistic features found on other Iron Age gold work found in England, Scotland and Ireland and as well as some Continental European examples. These features are found within a broad time period from the sixth to first century BCE. There are three examples of gold torcs reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme, including the Caistor torc from Lincolnshire and two Leekfrith torcs, from Staffordshire. All three have buffer terminals but all have solid gold bodies. 

Buffer terminal torcs, of bronze as well as gold, are seen in Continental European examples, including some with hollow tubes. These gold torcs have been dated to the fourth to early third century, c.400 - 250 BCE. Similarly, the filigree style decoration has been found on Continental European torcs, but by comparison the applied decoration on the ‘near Pulborough’ gold torc is much simpler in design. 

The acquisition process

The ‘near Pulborough’ Iron Age gold torc falls within the scope of the Society’s ‘Collections Development Policy’; its condition, provenance, shape and aesthetics in addition to the date of the piece make this a rare find of considerable interest.

The acquisition of the Iron Age gold torc is important for our visitors and communities, it is vital to make this culturally and archaeologically significant object available in the county of its discovery.

Recognising the importance of the ‘near Pulborough’ Iron Age gold torc the Society declared an interest in pursuing acquisition and to purchase the torc. The purchase price of the gold torc is £16,000, this is the  value determined by the Treasure Valuation Committee. The Society has made successful grant applications to the Art Fund, the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Purchase Grant Fund and The Headley Trust Museums Archaeological Acquisition Fund and has been awarded £13,800 towards the total purchase price. As a condition of support for the purchase the grant bodies require that the remaining £2,200 of the cost is met through local fundraising.

The Society is therefore asking Members to support the purchase of the torc and will be grateful for donations to the acquisition fund so that the Iron Age gold torc can be secured and displayed in the county of its discovery. If you would like any further information, please do contact Emma O’Connor, Museums Officer at Barbican House or by email [email protected].

How to donate

You can make a donation via Crowdfunder or by cheque directed to Emma O’Connor, Museums Officer, Barbican House, 169 High Street, Lewes BN7 1YE. Do please Gift Aid your donation if you are able to because this increases the value of your gift by 25%.

If successfully acquired, the gold torc will be displayed at Barbican House Museum in Lewes and will be the focus of the prehistory gallery. We plan to hold celebratory events where Members and supporters will be able to view this unique object in close proximity. 

The gold torc will of course be made available to researchers and other peer colleagues and programmed activities will also include ‘behind the scenes’ gallery talks with the Museums and Finds Liaison Officers. Visitors will be able to engage directly with the gold torc, learn more about the importance of the gold torc and the role of the Society in ensuring that important discoveries remain available to all.  

We look forward to reporting on the successful purchase of the Iron Age gold torc and thank you in anticipation of your generous support.

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