Britain’s greatest treasures from the mysterious golden Age of Stonehenge are to go on permanent display for the first.
This will be the largest collection of Early Bronze Age gold ever put on public display in England.
In a move that will transform public understanding of the Stonehenge era, the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes, 15 miles north of Stonehenge, is exhibiting 500 Stonehenge period objects, including 30 pieces of gold treasure which have rarely been seen by the public before.
The new permanent exhibition will open today.
The large specially-designed new high security and humidity-controlled exhibition facility, constructed inside the museum, cost £750,000 to build, with funding coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, Wiltshire Council, the North Wessex Downs Area of Natural Beauty and other sources.
Among the ancient Stonehenge era treasures placed on permanent display for the first time are a beautifully decorated gold lozenge, a magnificent bronze dagger with a gold-covered haft, a golden sheath for a dagger, a ceremonial axe, gold beads, necklaces, ear-rings, pendants and other items of gold jewellery, a unique jet disc (used to fasten a luxury garment), rare traces of ancient textiles and two of the finest prehistoric flint arrow head ever found.
“These and other spectacular treasures from the Age of Stonehenge were unearthed by antiquarians and archaeologists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but until now it’s never been possible to give the public permanent access to them,” said David Dawson, director of the Wiltshire Museum.
"But now, after generous funding from a number of national and local organisations, we have been able to create a secure and stable environment in which they can be enjoyed by visitors to the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site from Britain and around the world.
“Stonehenge is an iconic monument – but this is the first time that such a wide range of high status objects from the spectacular burials of the people who used it, has ever been put on permanent display.
"The most precious gold, jet and amber objects from the period are being permanently brought together to tell the story of the people who lived in and around the Stonehenge landscape when the monument was one of the great religious focal points of western Europe.
"Indeed, many of the items may well have been worn by Bronze Age priests and chieftains as they worshipped inside Stonehenge itself.
"Axes and daggers on display in the new purpose-built galleries are identical to images of weapons carved into the giant stones of Stonehenge itself.
“We believe the new displays are a major step forward in helping to explain the extraordinary sophistication of the remarkable people who used the world’s most famous prehistoric monument."
The new facility not only features treasures from the Age of Stonehenge, but also recreates some of the key places they were unearthed.
Archaeologists have recreated the famous Bush Barrow burial, where a Bronze Age chieftain was buried in regal splendour overlooking Stonehenge itself. The museum hopes that the new display will help attract substantial numbers of additional tourists to Devizes, generating jobs in the local community.
“Devizes is mid-way between two of the world’s most important ancient monuments – the great prehistoric stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury. Visiting the Wiltshire Museum completes the experience of seeing these two iconic sites," said Mr Dawson.
The new facility, consisting of four new galleries, form the centre-piece of the relaunched Wiltshire Museum. The museum is run by the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, an independent charity founded 160 years ago. It now has 1,000 members.
The new galleries – featuring gold from the time of Stonehenge – are the first part of a totally new re-presentation of Stonehenge and its landscape.
Two months after the new facility in Devizes opens, English Heritage will open its new Stonehenge Visitor Centre and in 2014 Salisbury Museum will also inaugurate new displays.