THOUSANDS of Roman artefacts found in one of the region’s rivers are to be housed by the British Museum after being declared treasure.

The pottery, jewellery, coins and other objects are believed to be the single largest collection of votive offerings in the country.

They have been collected over a period of 25 years by two divers from County Durham at a site on the River Tees at Piercebridge, near Darlington.

Tomorrow they will travel down to London where they will be curated by the British Museum.

Divers Rolfe Mitchinson, from Burnmoor, and Bob Middlemass, from Sherburn Hill, accrued the collection at Piercebridge which was the location of a Roman fort.

They were discovered underwater near the remains of two Roman bridges which crossed the Tees.

Mr Mitchinson said: “We really haven’t got a clue how much it is all worth.

“It’s bigger than the votive offerings at Bath and on the Roman wall. It’s up amongst the biggest in the country.

“Hopefully it will come back to a museum in the north. We don’t want it to stay down in at the British Museum. It’s very individual and belongs to the local area of Darlington.

“It would be lovely to see them back at this end of the country.”

It is believed the votive offerings were thrown into the water in order to appease the gods.

The collection also contains hundreds of ‘curse tablets’ which were lead capsules thrown into the water wishing people either good or bad health.

The bridges were the subject of an investigation by the Channel 4 Time Team programme in 2010.

The archaeology team tried to work out why so many of the offerings were found on the river bed and tried to prove the bridges were Roman.

The programme theorised that the in the centre of the river there may have been an island containing shrines to the gods where people made offerings.

The island has since eroded leaving the offerings on the river bed. The programme also believed that one of the bridges may have been prehistoric and adapted by the Romans.