700-year-old Pope’s seal found in Shropshire field
The number of archaeological objects officially unearthed in Britain has reached the 1.5million mark – with the discovery of a seal belonging to a 13th-century pope. The medieval find, which is more than 750 years old, was a seal of Pope Innocent IV and may have links to an English monarch.
Born Sinibaldo Fieschi, Pope Innocent IV, whose papacy began in 1243, used the lead coin-like object to confer political and religious favours.
Experts believe the seal, which was discovered by a metal detectorist in Shropshire, may have ended up there because the Pope was trying to obtain Henry III’s support in his claim for Sicily.
Peter Reavill, the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme finds liaison officer for Shropshire and Herefordshire, said another explanation was that it may have been given as an ‘indulgence’ to a rich, powerful individual who gave money to the church in exchange order to keep him ‘out of purgatory.’
Mr Reavill said: ‘We don’t know who he (the Pope) sent the letter to. All we know is the lead seal has dropped off.’
While the seal, which would have been kept as a ‘talisman’, does not have a huge value, ‘the archaeology of the region is definitely richer for its find,’ he said.
The object is the 1.5 millionth to be discovered in the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS).
The scheme was created in 1997 so archaeological objects found by the public can be recorded to help advance knowledge of the past.
Experts say the finds, which have included the gold treasures of the Staffordshire Hoard, have radically transformed what ‘is known about life through time on the British Isles.’
The seal was found before metal-detecting was prohibited under the lockdown.
Museum director Hartwig Fischer said: ‘We look forward to many more objects being recorded, and who knows what exciting discoveries are yet to be found.’
Under the Treasure Act in 1996, finders have to report all finds of potential treasure to the local coroner within 14 days – or face an unlimited fine or up to three months in prison.
Items listed as potential treasure include two or more coins over 300 years old, objects made of precious metals, such as gold and silver, which are over 300 years old, groups of prehistoric metal objects, and any objects found in the same place as other items of treasure.
The coroner will then decide if the item or items are a treasure, at which point it will be offered to a museum – and then the finder, landowner or tenant of the land will get a reward.
The British Museum and BBC History Magazine have published a list of 10 of the most important discoveries of the past 23 years.
They include gold vessel the Ringlemere Cup; the 2,581 coins known as the Chew Valley Hoard; the Staffordshire Moorlands pan and the Staffordshire Hoard – the largest find of Anglo-Saxon gold.
Michael Lewis, head of the PAS and Treasure at the British Museum, said that ‘even the smallest and most modest items offer clues about our history, so we encourage everyone who makes a find to continue to come forward.’