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Hoards and Caches

Hoards and Hoarding Behavior Throughout Prehistory


Harrogate Viking Hoard

Harrogate Viking Hoard

Portable Antiquities Scheme

"Hoards" or "caches" refer to collections of objects which were intentionally gathered together and buried underground. Discovered after decades, centuries, or even thousands of years, ancient hoards give us a glimpse into the past that is unlike almost any other kind of archaeological deposit: a purposefully-created collection of related objects found in the exact manner in which they were deposited.

Earliest Hoards and Hoarding

The oldest hoards identified to date are associated with the hunter-gatherers of the Mesolithic period of Europe and Paleoindian period of the Americas beginning about 10,000 years ago.

In Europe, hoards included perishable items such as foodstuffs and meat joints, and precious items such as Baltic amber beads and human remains. Hoards were often placed into watery areas, sometimes in ceramic vessels. Personal ornaments and weapons were also important elements of Mesolithic and later Neolithic hoards. In the Americas, hoards such as the East Wenatchee site and the Fenn Cache mostly contained finished and unfinished stone tools, suggesting they may have been cached by tool makers.

Hoarding for reasons of personal wealth also signaled a change in human behavior, if that is indeed what took place, emphasizing wealth accumulation and social stratification. Caching would have been a necessary part of a mobile hunter-gather living strategy; or as a protection against intruders.

Hoarding Through History

Later hoarding behaviors are apparently more diverse. Mesopotamian votive hoards such as the Asmar Sculpture Hoard (3rd millennium BC), appear to have been religious offerings. In Egypt, mummy caches such as the Cache at Deir el Bahri (circa 1000 BC) were created by New Kingdom priests to protect royal mummies from looting. Hoards of bronze vessels created during the Zhou dynasty of China appear to have resulted from political instability as wealthy Zhou families fled eastward in the 8th century BC.

These categories are not exclusive, and interpretations of hoards vary. "Hoarding behavior" is a pretty much universal human trait, and so archaeologists interested in hoards can be found on every continent.

Examples: East Wenatchee Site (Washington, USA), Cuerdale Hoard and Staffordshire or Ogley Hay Hoard (UK), Cache at Deir el Bahri (Egypt), Asmar Sculpture Hoard (Iraq), Tekke Hoard (Crete), Fröslunda Hoard (Sweden).


Bradley, Richard. 1996. Hoards and hoarding. pp. 305-307 in Brian Fagan (ed). 1996. The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

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