Page last updated at 15:36 GMT, Monday, 15 February 2010

Bronze Age shipwreck artefacts found near Salcombe

Gold wrist bracelet, known as a torc
Among the find was this gold wrist bracelet, known as a torc

Experts have said 300 Bronze Age artefacts found in a shipwreck off the Devon coast could prove European trade thrived as far back as 3,000 years.

The artefacts, including copper and tin ingots, gold bracelets and a bronze sword, were found near Salcombe by amateur archaeologists last year.

Oxford University experts are now studying the objects.

Once the origins of the 295 artefacts have been established, they will be given to the British Museum.

The discovery was made by the South West Maritime Archaeological Group (SWMAG) last year, but its discovery was not announced until earlier this month at the International Shipwreck Conference in Plymouth.

There's definitely more to be found down there
Jim Tyson, SWMAG

Ben Roberts, curator of European Bronze Age at the British Museum, described the artefacts as "phenomenal".

"This is the first evidence of a proper tin trade with Europe," he said.

"To find tin ingots as part of cross Channel traffic is really important, because obviously the Bronze Age was dominated by bronze.

"What we have is potentially part of a very large cargo, so it's phenomenal."

SWMAG divers off Salcombe
The 12-strong team of amateur archaeologists found 295 objects

The team, which has 12 members, has been diving in the area for about 15 years and uncovered a number of other artefacts.

The vessel dates from between 1200 and 900BC and it is thought the copper and tin ingots destined for Britain were collected from several different sources in Europe.

Tin ingots from this period have never been found in Britain before and experts say it shows a high level of sophistication in maritime trade in Europe.

"This is a very important find which shows cross-Channel trade, when there has been no other proof before," SWMAG's Mick Palmer said.

'Receiver of Wreck'

The first hint of the ancient haul was the discovery of some small pieces of copper.

Engineer Jim Tyson, who took part in the dives, said: "These items are amazing.

"You're holding something in your hands that hasn't been seen for 3,000 years.

"The last person to do so must have died in the shipwreck.

"It shows definite communications and trade, these people were trading as we would these days."

The British Museum will have the artefacts independently valued then SWMAG will be given a sum of money.

Bronze Age leaf sword
A Bronze Age leaf sword was also discovered on the sea bed

This will be used exclusively for research and to fund further diving.

The team, whose motto is "History from the Sea", dives every four or five weeks from March until early November.

"There's definitely more to be found down there," Mr Tyson said.

"Between 1977 and 1983 eight objects were found. In 2004 there were 22 objects found.

"In 2008 that went up to 54, then last year we found 295.

"There's more to find - but we just never know what we'll be touching next."

English Heritage and the Receiver of Wreck have been notified.

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