In archaeology, a hoard, or "wealth deposit", is a collection of valuable objects or artifacts, sometimes purposely buried in the ground. This would usually be with the intention of later recovery by the hoarder; hoarders sometimes died before retrieving the hoard, and these surviving hoards may be uncovered much later by metal detector hobbyists, members of the public, and archaeologists. Forgetfulness and physical displacement from the location of the hoard may contribute to failing to retrieve it.
Hoards provide a useful method of providing dates for artifacts through association as they can usually be assumed to be contemporary and therefore used in creating chronologies. Hoards can also be considered an indicator of the relative degree of unrest in ancient societies. Thus conditions 5th and 6th century Britain spurred the burial of hoards, of which the most famous are the Hoxne Hoard, Suffolk; the Mildenhall Treasure, the Fishpool Hoard, Nottinghamshire, the Water Newton hoard, Cambridgeshire, and the Cuerdale Hoard, Lancashire, all preserved in the British Museum.
Prudence Harper of the Metropolitan Museum of Art voiced some practical reservations about hoards at the time of the Soviet exhibition of Scythian gold in New York, 1975. Writing of the so-called "Maikop treasure" (acquired from three separate sources by three museums early in the twentieth century, the Berliner Museen, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the Metropolitan Museum, New York), Harper warned:
By the time "hoards" or "treasures" reach museums from the antiquities market, it often happens that miscellaneous objects varying in date and style have become attached to the original group.
Such "dealer's hoards" can be highly misleading, but better understanding of archaeology amongst collectors, museums and the general public is gradually making them less common and more easily identified.
A founder's hoard contains broken or unfit metal objects, ingots, casting waste, and often complete objects, in a finished state. These were probably buried with the intention to be recovered at a later time.
A merchant's hoard is a collection of various functional items which, it is conjectured, were buried by a traveling merchant for safety, with the intention of later retrieval.
A personal hoard is a collection of personal objects buried for safety in times of unrest.
Votive hoards are different from the above in that they are often taken to represent permanent abandonment, in the form of purposeful deposition of items, either all at once or over time for ritual purposes, without intent to recover them. Furthermore, votive hoards need not be "manufactured" goods, but can include organic amulets and animal remains. Votive hoards are often distinguished from more functional deposits by the nature of the goods themselves (from animal bones to diminutive artifacts), the places buried (being often associated with watery places, burial mounds and boundaries), and the treatment of the deposit (careful or haphazard placement and whether ritually destroyed/broken).
However, it should be noted that valuables dedicated to the use of a deity (and thus classifiable as "votive") were not always permanently abandoned. Valuable objects given to a temple or church become the property of that institution, and may be used to its benefit.
- Oras, Ester (2012). "Importance of terms:What is a wealth deposit?". Papers from the Institute of Archaeology (Ubiquity Press) 22: 61–82. doi:10.5334/pia.403. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
- From the Lands of the Scythians; special edition of The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin xxxii no. 5, 1975.
- C. Johns, "The classification and interpretation of Romano-British treasures", Britannia 27 (1996), 1–17: see especially pp. 9–11