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Festival of Archaeology 2020: The Amber Cup

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The final archaeology object we are featuring in celebration of this week’s annual Festival of Archaeology (11-19 July) run by the Council of British Archaeology (CBA), is one of the most renowned, the Bronze Age Amber Cup.

It was discovered in Hove in 1856 when a huge burial mound, known as the Hove Barrow, was excavated during construction of Palmeria Avenue. About nine feet below the surface of the barrow workmen found an oak coffin, which was documented at the time as being carved from a single tree trunk. Within the coffin were fragments of human skeletal remains, a perforated whetstone, a bronze dagger, a stone axe hammer, and a complete cup made from amber. Based upon the results of the radiocarbon dating of a piece of the oak, it most likely dates to the Early to Mid Bronze Age, around 3,500 years ago.

The amber cup has a band of incised parallel grooves encircling the body of the cup, except under the handle, as well as incised grooves on the handle of the cup. Two chips are present on its rim, it is suggested the chip on the left of the handle happened when it was accidentally struck with a spade by the workman who found it.

It is the best preserved of only two such Bronze Age vessels known in Europe. The axe head and perforated whetstone are also rare objects. This implies the Hove Barrow was an important burial monument. The cup is made from a single piece of amber from northern Europe, suggesting trade links between England and the Baltic.

Baron Goldsmid, the owner of the land where the cup was discovered, donated it to the museum, in the early stages of its formation, in 1857. When the museum reopens, this beautiful cup can be seen on display in the Elaine Evans Archaeology Gallery.

Discover More

Explore other objects in our Festival of Archaeology series

Heather York, Curator