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The Viking Cuerdale Hoard was discovered in the river Ribble

Britain's most amazing river treasures

The Viking Cuerdale Hoard was discovered in the river Ribble | Image: Shutterstock

In River Hunters, Sky HISTORY's aquatic treasure-hunting show is back for a three-part special. River detectorist expert, Beau Ouimette teams up with Rick Edwards to seek out archaeological treasures and artefacts that lie hidden in the UK’s waterways and rivers.

Over the course of the show, they’ll visit historically significant sites with state-of-the-art technology and take a fresh look at our past from the depths of adjacent rivers. But before we get stuck in, let’s have a quick look at some surprising, and suspicious, discoveries from the hidden depths.

There be gold

Our intrepid duo may be using modern equipment to help them seek out treasure, but sometimes all you need is some good old-fashioned patience. In 2016, an anonymous Scottish man in his 40’s discovered 85.7g of gold, now known as the Douglas Nugget, in an undisclosed Scottish river with a method called ‘sniping’: scanning the river bed face down with the aid of a snorkel and goggles. However, it’s not all plain sailing, the Crown Estate Scotland doesn’t grant permission for the removal of gold from its land. The £50,000 nugget may be in our protagonist’s possession, but he doesn’t technically own it.


Dredging up the British Museum

The decapitated, bronze head of Hadrian,117-138, that resides in the British Museum was dredged up from the Thames in a spot close to the site of the old London Bridge in 1834, though it’s far from the only significant find in the Thames.

The Battersea shield, 350BC -50BC -a highly prized piece of ancient Celtic art- was dredged up close to Chelsea suspension Bridge in 1857, and the Waterloo Helmet, 150BC to 50BC, discovered by dredging close to Waterloo Bridge in 1868, is the only Iron Age helmet ever to have been found in Europe with horns.

So, what it is with 19th-century dredging? Initially, it was to lower shoals and collect ballast for industry, but as the century rolled by, it was principally to allow larger vessels to pass unhindered through the murky water. Either way, Victorian-era dredging contributed significantly to the British Museums collection of over 2000 artefacts found in this historical stretch of water and, unfortunately, to the Thames flood of 1928.

Cuerdale Hoard

The largest ever discovery of Viking treasure outside of Sweden was found by workmen repairing the south embankment of the River Ribble at Cuerdale in Lancashire in 1840. The hoard had been buried between 905 and 910, just after the Vikings had been kicked out of Dublin, in a lead chest containing 40kg worth of silver coins and bullion.

The Ribble Valley was the main route between Viking York and the Irish sea, so some scholars have concluded that the hoard may have been a war chest buried by Norse exiles, while others believe it was gifted, or looted, and stashed safely away until the coast was clear for retrieval.

River Tees, Roman Treasure

Up until September of 2018, over the course of thirty years, divers Rolfe Mitchinson and Bob Middlemass collected over 1,500 coins and 3,500 objects from the depths of the River Tees. The majority of artefacts are Roman, but they also include objects that date from the late iron age to the post-medieval period.

In August 2018 an inquest in Crook, County Durham, officially declared the haul ‘treasure’, and as a direct result, the underwater site has been handed over to the University of Reading for further research. A report from the British Museum stated the treasure was a 'votive deposit or series of deposits', in short, the objects were deposited for religious purposes, and not hidden for future recovery and fiscal gain.

Questions in the Wear

Does 'votive deposit or series of deposits' explain the rather peculiar actions of the late Michael Ramsey, a former archbishop of Canterbury who was bishop of Durham in the 1950s?

Amateur underwater archaeologist Gary Bankhead who joins Rick and Beau in River Hunters discovered a hoard of ecclesiastical gold and silver -previously donated to Ramsey by the great and the good, including The Queen- on the bottom of the River Wear. The theory that these were the spoils of a bungled burglary from his nearby retirement home is somewhat compromised by his friend, The Very Rev Victor Stock. Stock claimed that Ramsey had already upset donors by selling some of the items to raise charitable funds and he wouldn't have wanted to cause further embarrassment by giving donated objects away, so he threw them in the river instead. More tea vicar?