LONDON (Reuters) - Experts may be one tiny step closer to unravelling the mystery of who buried hundreds of dazzling jewels under a London neighbourhood during a turbulent period in English history covering the Civil War, Restoration and Great Fire.
The Cheapside Hoard on show at the Museum of London from October 11 features priceless gems from as far away as India, Latin America and the Middle East that were buried in the 17th century and discovered in 1912 under an old building in central London.
Since its discovery, the intrigue surrounding the hoard over who buried it, when and why has been one of London’s greatest historical mysteries.
But recent examination of a previously overlooked gem bearing the engraved badge of the first and only Viscount Stafford has helped reveal that the treasure is likely to have been buried around 1640, when he acquired his title but before the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The tiny red stone has helped experts to place a date of burial for the hoard found in Cheapside, a district of London famed for its gold and jewellery trade in the 17th century which was razed to the ground during the Great Fire.
“Because that gem is there (in the collection), that gives us that nice cut off date that the hoard must have been buried after 1640,” Museum of London curator Jackie Keily told Reuters.
It is also possible that other pieces in the hoard may have once belonged to the viscount, who was an avid collector of gems and antiquities, but then sold during the Civil War to a goldsmith or jeweller.
“During that period of the Civil War, you had a lot of people who had to move quickly and liquidate their assets in a hurry so it may be that people were selling things at that time and therefore gems could have come from a whole series of sources,” said Keily.
Experts believe that the hoard itself belonged to a goldsmith or jeweller, due to the variety of pieces and cut gems that had not yet been made into jewellery, who never returned to retrieve the treasure after the Great Fire swept through London, destroying a vaste swathe of the British capital.
“It may be that it was a jeweller or goldsmith that became a soldier, we know that many of them did, and then basically didn’t return,” she added.
The collection, which features around 500 pieces, includes a one of a kind emerald hexagonal watch, an Onyx cameo depicting an Aesop fable and an intricate brooch shaped like a salamander.
Regarded as the single most important find of its type, the hoard also has delicate finger rings, cascading necklaces and decorative adornments embellished with rubies, diamonds, sapphires and pearls.
The exhibition will include paintings, multimedia installations and historical objects from the museum’s collection to help visitors visualize the craftsmanship behind each piece. (Editing by Paul Casciato)