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The Ancient Dorset Gallery tells the fascinating story of the past of the ancient peoples living on the South Dorset Ridgeway Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, from the Lower Palaeolithic Age 3 million years ago to 1066AD. 

The earliest objects on display, flint hand axes found at Corfe Mullen, date from 474,000BC to 427,000BC.  From here the gallery takes visitors on a chronological journey through the lives of the Britons, Romans, Saxons and Vikings who lived in ancient Dorset.

New Acquisitions

Newly acquired by Dorset County Museum, and on display for the first time is the beautiful Tarrant Valley Gold Lunula, a crescent shaped necklace featuring geometric decoration.  Dating to the early Bronze Age (2400 – 2000BC) it is one of only 11 lunulae recorded in mainland Britain, and as such represents a unique and important discovery for Dorset.  This acquisition was supported by Marjorie and Brian Tait, Arts Council England, Victoria & Albert Purchase Grant Fund and the Headley Trust.

Also new to the Ancient Dorset Gallery is a large and beautiful, recently conserved Roman glass jug found during the excavation of Bucknowle Villa.

Rare Objects

Some of the objects being displayed are very rare, including:

  • Gold lozenge - early Bronze Age, originally worn on a chieftan’s costume.  One of three that have ever been found, the other two being found near Stonehenge .
  • Colliton Glass Bowl – one of very few surviving from Roman times, engraved with mythical dancing figures, the followers of the Greek god of wine.
  • Samian vases – Roman with intricate floral designs.

Examples of Some of the Many Other Treasures

  • The Wareham Sword – a 9th or 10th century Saxon weapon from the River Frome at Wareham.  With an Old English inscription on the hilt that suggests its owner was of royal blood.
  • Iron anchor – this large anchor dates from the 1st century BC, potentially the earliest metal anchor ever discovered in Britain.
  • Polished Jadeite Axe – fewer than 20 have ever been found, and this is one of the finest examples, Neolithic Britain 4,000BC.
  • Bronze Age Flesh Hook –  an extremely rare and mysterious object dating from the late Bronze Age.
  • Bronze mirror – beautifully decorated with a scrolling ‘celtic’ pattern, a fine piece of late Iron Age metalwork.
  • Chickerell Gold neck-rings – dating back to 1200-800BC, these lovely items of late Bronze Age jewellery were influenced by designs from Spain, Western France and Ireland.

New Display

In a brand new display are the remains of four Scandinavian men executed on Ridgeway Hill, overlooking Maiden Castle, in about 900AD.  Beheaded alongside approximately fifty other Vikings, the levels of violence perpetrated against them, and the number of people executed, are unparalleled in any other mass grave of its age in the world.  This display tells their harrowing story.