Catch the Sun Pendant
08 Sep 2021
by Katy Rink

Visitors will have a chance to marvel at this awesome sun pendant on display at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery from this Friday (Sept 10th)

You'll never believe this rare and beautiful Bronze Age gold pendant is 3,000 years old - it's so intricately designed. The pendant goes on display to the public for the first time at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery this week, as part of the British Museum's National Programmes.

It's the most significant piece of Bronze Age gold metalwork found in Britain for over a century and was discovered by a metal detectorist in the Shropshire Marches in May 2018. Experts have described it as a 'masterpiece of European Bronze Age gold work' and say it is evidence of the importance of the sun in people’s beliefs and cosmology during this period.

The pendant is the only example of a British bulla and has been dated as originating between 1,000-800BC in the late Bronze Age period. 

Cecilia Motley, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for communities, place, tourism and transport, said: "As it was discovered in the Shropshire Marches, it is fitting that Shropshire should be chosen by the British Museum to display it. We are delighted that it will be hosted in the wonderful Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery and I am sure it will be a very popular attraction.”

Neil Wilkin, Curator, Early Europe at the British Museum, said: “The Shropshire sun pendant is an internationally significant object, reflecting the artistic brilliance of communities from the deep past and the social and religious connections that spanned western Europe. It is fantastic that Shrewsbury Museum will have the first opportunity to show the pendant and will do so alongside fantastic objects from their own collections. This will allow the pendant to be set in its landscape and regional context for the first time.”

Maria Bojanowska, Head of National Programmes at the British Museum, added: "The sun pendant is one of the most spectacular objects in our collection. I’m very pleased that through the British Museum’s National Programmes, Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery will be the first place that the public can see this remarkable pendant in person and up close.”

Fay Bailey, Shropshire Council’s manager for Shropshire Museums, added: " The discovery of this exceptional object and associated finds helps to deepen our understanding of Bronze Age Britain and confirms that Shropshire has an important story to tell."

This exhibition promises to be the start of an exciting journey for Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery as it joins with the British Museum to develop a new Partnership Gallery. This, the UK’s first pre-Roman British Museum Partnership Gallery, will focus on the national and international significance of Bronze Age Shropshire and is expected to open in 2024.

The British Museum Spotlight Loan “Gathering light: A Bronze Age golden sun” will remain on display at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery until December 12. For further information, and to book a free ticket, people should visit Shropshire Museums

Gathering light: A Bronze Age golden sun

The elegant form and intricate decoration of the gold pendant includes an exceptionally rare depiction of the sun – not previously seen on objects found in Britain. Solar symbolism was a key element of mythology and belief in the Bronze Age and this pendant celebrates the life-giving power of the sun during the time of the earliest metalworkers. The sun pendant is therefore a hugely significant addition to knowledge of the art and iconography of Bronze Age Britain.

The sun pendant marks the end of an era as one of the final expressions of an art style and belief system that had lasted for almost 1,500 years. Deposited intentionally in a wetland landscape of bogs and ponds 3,000 years ago, the pendant provides a starting point for discussions about the role of both water and the sun in the religious beliefs and life in deep history. Measuring 3.6cm high and 4.7cm wide, this bulla is only the second ever found in Britain. 

The other Irton bulla – now lost – was discovered near Manchester in 1722 and only known from a picture. Its quality was so high that experts of the day believed it must be Roman. It was last recorded in 1806 before disappearing from records. Curators hope it may one day be rediscovered in a private collection. In Ireland, six similar gold pendants have been found, though these are not identical to this gold pendant.

Completing the Story of Ancient Shropshire

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Save the North Shropshire Hoards

Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery will also be fundraising to acquire other finds close to the findspot, including a unique lead gold-ring parcel and an axe which has the potential to date the transition from Bronze Age to Iron Age.

Alongside the sun pendant, Shropshire Museums are hoping to crowdfund the £40,000 needed to be able to acquire other historically significant objects unearthed from the findspot to help tell the complete story of ancient Shropshire. These include an exceptionally rare jewellery parcel wrapped by lead, believed to be one of the first records of using this material, and hoards which have the potential to date the transition between Bronze and Iron Ages.

This vast array of high-quality metalwork from this landscape suggests that the Shropshire site was an important location for a form of religious or ceremonial activity for over a thousand years. These objects and ongoing fieldwork at the findspot reveal important discoveries about this period in British prehistory, advancing our collective archaeological knowledge and understanding of why precious objects would be cast away. Displaying these important objects in situ together for the first time at the museum would be a unique opportunity for visitors to learn about this historic site. To find out more, and to donate money people can visit the Saving the North Shropshire Bronze Age Hoards crowdfunder website.

The sun pendant will also star in the British Museum’s forthcoming major exhibition on Stonehenge, whilst the Museum is seeking three more museums to host the Spotlight Loan from late 2022 onwards as part of its National Programmes and commitment to sharing the collection as widely as possible across the country. Part of the Spotlight Loan will also include further precious objects yet to be announced.