Two metal detectorists are celebrating after a ‘nationally important’ Roman bronze hoard of artefacts they dug up sold for £240,000.
James Spark and Mark Didlick uncovered the bust of emperor Marcus Aurelius last year alongside a statuette of the god of Mars on horseback, a horse-head knife handle and a large bronze pendulum.
The immaculately preserved items were buried in a field in Ryedale, North Yorks, as an offering to the gods as part of a Roman religious ceremony in about 160AD.
The finely-modelled bust of the Roman ruler Marcus Aurelius, who ruled from 161-180AD, depicts him with hair and beard flamboyantly curled.
It would have been attached to the end of a sceptre which probably belonged to a senior military commander about 1,850 years ago.
Found alongside it was the toy-like god of Mars on horseback, the decorative end of a knife and a plumb-bob (conical pendulum) – a weight that acted like a spirit-level used by the Romans in construction.
The antiquities were found over a one square metre area in a field.
It was initially thought the four objects might be worth about £15,000 in total.
But the auction house that sold them increased their estimate to £90,000 after receiving worldwide interest ahead of the sale.
The objects sold for a hammer price of £185,000 with Hansons Auctioneers, of Etwall, Derbys, following a bidding war.
The winning bidder, a London buyer who was in the room, paid £240,500 including fees.
On the rostrum, auctioneer Charles Hanson said: “It was an extraordinary result for an extraordinary lot.
“It was an honour to auction these fascinating historical items – antiquities which had not seen been for 1,800 years.
“This was a lot like no other. It provided a tantalising insight into Roman life centuries ago.”
Adam Staples, Hansons historica expert, said: “I’m thrilled for the finders and landowner who watched the auction.
“It was a fantastic result.”
He added: “The hoard of artefacts was probably buried as a religious offering which marked the closure of a rural shrine or the death of a priest.
“The artefacts would have formed a suite of ritual implements, to be utilised when performing religious ceremonies and for predicting the future.
“He (Aurelius) is indeed very lucky not to have been broken by his 1,850 years spent underground.
“The bust has survived extremely well and is in very fine condition with a glossy green patina.
“This is a nationally important group of artefacts.”
Mr Spark, 40, from York, previously described the moment he and Mr Didlick found the hoard.
He said: “We were having a pretty slow day when, as we were just about to pack up, I came across a strong signal.
“The first item recovered was the horseman which I thought was Victorian at first. The second item then popped up and it was the bust – this was a game changer!
“We knew straight away that we had stumbled upon something very rare and unique.
“We ran the detector over the hole again and were shocked to find that we had another target in the hole and this turned out to be the plumb bob weight.
“Mark returned the following day and unearthed the fourth item which was the galloping horse that would have been a knife terminal.
“There are some known Roman link roads in the area so they may have some link to that.
“We are really pleased to find the items and add to the local history of the area and proud to find such an important historical artefact.”
The two metal detectorists will split the proceeds of the sale with the anonymous landowner.