A GILDED 10th Century Viking sword hilt thought to be of national importance is due to be taken to the British Museum on Thursday, December 11, by Verulamium Museum's first finds liaison officer.

Archaeologist Julian Watters' new job, covering all of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, is to identify finds brought in by members of the public and date them to go on a national website of historical treasures under the new Portable Antiquities scheme funded by the Heritage Lottery.

Among the first handed in is an artistically worked sword hilt discovered in north Hertfordshire.

Mr Watters had planned to take it to the experts last week, but Verulamium Museum is carrying out urgent conservation work on it first.

"It's been knocked around by the the plough for more than 1,000 years and still it has survived in this condition," he said.

"To actually find something made by a Viking is fairly rare. The British Museum's Viking department are keen to look at it so it's probably of national importance."

Part of Mr Watters' new role is to persuade people to bring in finds they make, often using metal detectors. He says people fear artefacts they dig up will be confiscated by the state, and that's not the case.

He said: "They are always given back to the people who've brought them in. Obviously a lot of the finds are junk items but if something is of historic value then a museum might offer to buy it, though the finder is not obliged to sell."

In the six weeks since he started his job he has also been brought a decorative Roman manicure set in bronze and green enamel, around 1,800 years old, and a Roman "thistle" brooch of bronze with gilding used to fasten a toga.

He's also got temporary custody of a 17th Century cannonball found near Hitchin and a prehistoric flint axe that is probably 5,000 years old, which he says is "basically the original axe, used for chopping trees."

Mr Watters is holding an open day at Verulamium Museum on January 24 when he hopes the public will bring in interesting finds and he's giving a "hands on history" talk there two days later to explain the scheme.

If you come across anything interesting you would like him to identify you can contact him on 01727 751826 or e-mail j.watters@stalbans.gov.uk.