Amateur Treasure Hunter Finds Bronze Age Gold

By David Keys Archaeology Correspondent | The Independent (London, England), April 5, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Amateur Treasure Hunter Finds Bronze Age Gold

David Keys Archaeology Correspondent, The Independent (London, England)

A SOLID gold cup used by Bronze Age shamans 3,600 years ago has been discovered by a treasure hunter in a wheat field in Kent.

Cliff Bradshaw, 69, found the sacred vessel - the first of its type to be uncovered in Britain for almost two centuries - with a metal detector only 18in below the surface of Ringlemere Farm at Woodnesborough, near Sandwich.

The chalice, which stands 4in high and is thought to be worth up to pounds 50,000, might have a connection with the Holy Grail of Arthurian legend.

It is believed to have been used for drinking psychotropic beverages that produced hallucinations. It had been buried with its owner in a previously unknown Bronze Age barrow grave, presumably to help in the afterlife.

Its owner was almost certainly an individual of exalted status, probably some sort of local priest-ruler who would have used the cup in shamanic rituals. Shamans throughout history have used psychotropic substances and other methods to induce, in the form of hallucinations, what they believed to be contact with the spirit world.

In that sense, the shaman and his people could well have regarded the drink as embodying, in some literal or symbolic way, the spirits or deities that he was able to see after the potion had entered his body.

He would therefore have regarded the gold cup as a vital piece of equipment designed to enable him to be at one with the spirit world - in more modern religious terms, to be in communion with the divine. It is likely that there was a conceptual link between the ideas behind the use of the Kent gold cup and the Holy Grail, the Arthurian gold cup based in part on the Christian Eucharist.

The find is therefore not only of purely archaeological interest, but also hints at the continuity of religious ideas and practices that have persisted in ever-changing form through successive religions from prehistoric times until the present.

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