Gilmonby Hoard Axe

Bronze axe from the Gilmonby hoard.
Source: Bowes Museum.
Copyright: Bowes Museum.

Gilmonby Hoard Sword

Handle and part of the blade of a bronze sword from the Gilmonby hoard.
Source: Bowes Museum.
Copyright: Bowes Museum.

Gilmonby Hoard Spear

Bronze spearhead from the Gilmonby hoard.
Source:  Bowes Museum.
Copyright:  Bowes Museum.


The Tortie Stone
Original Location: Field east of Gilmonby village, nr Bowes
Current Location: Bowes Museum
Theme: Ritual/Industrial
Period: Bronze Age
Date: c.900 BC

What is it?
A hoard of bronze objects dating from 1000-800BC, found in 1980 during drainage works in a field near Gilmonby village. The hoard contains 123 objects, including swords, axes and spearheads.

What is its relevance to the North Pennines?
This is one of the most important late Bronze Age hoards from northern England; in terms of the number of objects, it is second only to the Heathery Burn hoard in the North Pennines. Hoards are usually interpreted by archaeologists as either ritual in nature (prestige objects, often deliberately broken and thrown into bogs or rivers as ‘gifts to the gods’) or as objects buried by metalworkers who, for whatever reason, never returned to reclaim them. The presence of copper ingot, a spigot (waste material resulting from casting bronze in a mould) and broken swords and other objects within the Gilmonby hoard has led some archaeologists to believe that in this case the objects were buried by a craftsman who intended to recover them later and use the metal to manufacture new bronze objects. If this is correct then the location, at the east end of the Stainmore Gap, is possibly significant; perhaps the location relates to the use of the Stainmore as a major communication link between the NE and NW, as it was in Roman and later times.

Whether or not any metalworking actually took place in the immediate locality is not known. Neither is it known whether the artefacts in the hoard included any copper mined from the North Pennines. That said, it is notable that the hoard was found close to a spring, and it remains possible that the objects could have been buried as a ritual offering, and that whoever buried them never had any intention of ever coming back for them. Exactly why the Gilmonby hoard was buried here may remain forever a mystery, but it is without doubt one of the most important recent archaeological discoveries from the North Pennines.

Why is it important?
The Gilmonby hoard, whatever its origins, is significant in its own right as an important example of a late Bronze Age hoard. It offers potential for much further research; in particular it will be interesting to compare it in detail with other hoards form NE England, such as the Heathery Burn hoard. At present there is no confirmed late Bronze Age context for the find in the vicinity, but its presence here certainly suggests there could be other sites of similar date awaiting discovery in this area.

Further Information
    Text References:
  • Coggins, D. & Tylecote, R.F.  1983. A Hoard of Late Bronze Age Metalwork from Gilmonby. Barnard Castle: Bowes Museum.

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