A HOARD of 3,000-year-old buried treasure unearthed in the region has provided an intriguing insight into the area's past.

Three amber beads, two bronze rings, a bugle-shaped fitting and a fragment of a spearhead, found six inches below ground in a field near Sedgefield, County Durham, are thought to have been part of an ancient burial ceremony.

Robert Collins, from the Museum of Antiquities, in Newcastle, said the items, thought to date from between 1000 and 800BC, also suggest there were fixed settlements in the Sedgefield area.

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He said: "This find helps to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge of what was happening in County Durham during that period.

"Sedgefield does seem to have been an area which was occupied. Apart from this find, we have also found items from the Neolithic period (4000-2000BC) in the area."

The hoard was discovered in August last year by Susan Lister and Philip Townsend, two members of Quaker Acres, a metal detector group, which was scouring the area in search of treasure.

Mrs Lister, 51, of Wolsingham, County Durham, described the moment she found the treasure. "I got a signal on my metal detector and when I dug down I was elated. I knew it was something of interest when everyone started gathering round to look. It was all stuck together with hard clay, but I could tell it was old."

The discovery has just come to light because the courts must now decide whether the item should be legally classified as treasure. The items are being stored in the British Museum, London.

However, the Bowes Museum, in Barnard Castle, County Durham, is thought to be interested in buying them and if the courts decide the items are treasure, they could be returned to the region.

Mr Collins said: "There is not a lot of treasure found in the North statistically, so it's nice to have this find."

The hoard promises to further boost a growing interest in local history in the area. Since Channel 4's Time Team explored Sedgefield's soil back in 2002, Durham University has kept up an interest and earlier this summer local people were invited to take part in the Sedgefield Community Archaeology Project, a two-week-long dig searching for Roman settlements.

Alison Hodgson, of the Sedgefield Local History group, said: "I think it's great that people are taking a greater interest. When people are engaged with something, they're less likely to be involved in destroying it."

The hearing to decide whether the hoard should be classified as treasure will be heard at Chester-le-Street Magistrates' Court, on Tuesday, September 12, at 2.50pm.