A BUS driver is in for a bumper pay day after unearthing one of the largest ever hoards of Bronze Age axe heads with his metal detector.

Tom Peirce, an amateur treasure hunter from Ringwood, started combing a field after dropping off a school coach party at Putlake Adventure Farm, near Swanage.

Within a few minutes the device began beeping and the 60-year-old dug 10 inches into the ground to find a partial axe head.

He realised he had struck it lucky when he dug deeper and found dozens more.

Over the next two days he and colleague Les Keith uncovered nearly 500 bronze artefacts dating back 3,000 years.

The hoard, which included 268 complete axe heads, is one of the biggest of its kind found in Britain and is thought to be worth about £80,000.

Mr Peirce, 60, will have to split any proceeds with landowner Alfie O'Connell.

Mr Peirce said: "This was a once in a lifetime find. It's like winning the lottery - you don't think it is going to happen to you."

Mr Peirce stumbled upon the field after taking a group of schoolchildren for a day out at the farm.

He asked farmer Mr O'Connell for permission to search the two-acre field and later returned with Mr Keith.

The hoard was found up to two feet down in three holes spread 50 feet apart.

Grandfather Mr Peirce, of Ash Grove, Ringwood, said: "When we took them out of the ground some of them were so pristine you would think you had just bought them at B&Q, yet they were 3,000 years old."

There were so many of the artefacts the pair couldn't collect them all so returned the following day with fellow detectorist Bryan Thomas, 75.

Mr Peirce added: "We were very lucky because there was not much else in the field.

"If we had tried another place or walked in a different direction we'd never have found them."

The axes are currently being assessed by the British Museum, which may buy them.

The East Dorset coroner will hold an inquest at which they are likely to be declared treasure.

The landowner and finder would then receive a reward to the market value of the hoard.

Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology, said the group had been asked to search the site. He said: "It is one of the largest and most important finds of its kind because of the size of it and the condition they were in.

"The axe heads would have been cast nearby.

We have been looking for signs of a settlement in the area but haven't found anything.

"It is likely we are off the edge of it."

He added: "The artefacts could have been used as a form of currency and buried at a time of crisis but many people believe they were buried as an offering to the gods.

"A lot of Bronze Age objects like this were buried in the ground and it is a bit of a coincidence that many people didn't go back for them."

  • The headline for this story came from 2CR listener Carl from Ferndown in the Headline Game on Tuesday's Breakfast Show.