Two prehistoric axe heads buried in County Durham as an offering to the Gods in return for fertile land are to be kept in a museum, much to the dismay of the metal detectorist who found them.

Experts believe the 3,000-year-old bronze age tools, found during an archaeological dig on farmland near Trimdon, were placed on top of one another as part of an ancient ritual.

Painter and decorator Chris Holmes could not believe his eyes when he unearthed the rare artefacts which had been buried around 30 centimetres underground.

The Northern Echo: The axe heads were buried on top of each other as part of a ritual The axe heads were buried on top of each other as part of a ritual (Image: Contributor)

Read more: Plans show how Blackwell Parkland in Darlington will be redeveloped

The 44-year-old said: “The signal went off and a started digging. I went very deep and I saw orange in the hole and at first I thought it was iron.

“I kept digging and when I saw it was a bronze age axe head I started shaking.

“I put my pointer back in the hole and it started beeping again so I kept digging and pulled out the other one.

“They had been sitting on top of each other. I spoke to a guy on the dig who has been doing this for 40 years and he said he had never seen axe heads in such perfect condition. The quality is unreal.”

The Northern Echo: Chris Holmes found the artefacts while on a dig with East Durham DetectoristsChris Holmes found the artefacts while on a dig with East Durham Detectorists (Image: Contributor)

Chris, married father-of-two, who has been metal detecting as a hobby for six years, has found a spearhead, a ring, cannonballs, silver coins and muskets balls on previous digs, but nothing as historically significant as this.

He said: “I am really interested in the history of them. The people who left them would have mud circle houses and the axe heads would have built those houses, provided for them, and fed their children.

“They would have had a wooden handle with a leather strap wrapped around it to hold the head on. I cannot believe how sharp they still are after all this time.

“Thinking about it, the last person to have touched them with their hands, before me, was 3,000 years ago."

The Northern Echo: Chris Holmes holds the bronze age treasures in his hands shortly after finding them near Trimdon Chris Holmes holds the bronze age treasures in his hands shortly after finding them near Trimdon (Image: Contributor)

Chris said: "It is absolutely mind-blowing.

“I was screaming when I found the first one and then when I pulled the second one up I just freaked out.

“It is the kind of find I will never have again in my lifetime.”


The axe heads were found on January 5, 2020, but the decision to record them as treasure was only made last week by Assistant Coroner for County Durham Janine Richards.

A treasure inquest heard they were found in clay soil during a dig by East Durham Detectorists on land owned by Brian Barber.

The court was told Durham University Archaeology Museum has expressed an interest in acquiring them.

Chris, from Wallsend, near Newcastle, said: “The axe heads are something I would love to have kept.

“I have got two children and I would have liked to have put them in glass cases and given them one each.

“But I cannot do that because they have ruled as treasure, which I understand, but am absolutely devastated about.”

For the last three years the artefacts have been kept at the Great North Museum: Hancock under the care of North East finds liaison officer Andrew Agate.

He said the copper alloy axe heads date back to 1125bc-900bc and it is understood there was a lot of bronze age activity in that area.

The Northern Echo: The axe heads are around 3,000 years oldThe axe heads are around 3,000 years old (Image: Contributor)

Andrew said: “They were the first people who were cultivating the land and clearing trees.

“They wanted fertile soil to work with so we would not be surprised if it was some sort of act of wanting fertile land.

“The metal working process is quite complex so deliberately giving up these things that you have made is quite act.

“They were not far from the water course, the River Skerne, and we do associate bronze age deposits like this with watery places so it has some significance. Water is important in the life cycle and was needed for farming.”

Andrew said although the axe heads show signs of wear they are in good condition.

He said: “They are not natural losses that have been broken and thrown away. “Somebody put them there on purpose, which is significant act to try and appease the Gods. They are an offering. With these two pieces, it is a classic bronze age ritual deposit.”

Read next: 

Details of the find were logged on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database which holds information on over 1,608,000 items, mostly found by metal detectorists.

The Northern Echo: North East finds liaison officer Andrew AgateNorth East finds liaison officer Andrew Agate (Image: Contributor)

The axe heads will now go to the British Museum’s valuation committee and a sum of money will be offered as a reward for finding them which is split 50/50 between the landowner and the finder.

Andrew said: “I know the finder is very disappointed that he won’t be keeping them because they are classed as ‘treasure’.

“Treasure items belong to the Crown, never the finder or the landowner and local museums are given the opportunity to acquire the objects.”