A unique find of 33 prehistoric axes in a ceramic pot discovered in a field at Mylor have gone on public display at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.

Known as the Mylor Hoard after the riverside village near which the perfectly preserved axes were found, the find is officially considered to be the most significant of its kind in the county. The axes, which date back to the Bronze Age, lay buried in their pot for nearly 3,000 years until two metal detectorists, Harry Manson and Paul Burgess, happened to come upon them. Immediately recognising their historical value, they contacted the Royal Cornwall Museum.

Regional Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, Anna Tyacke, was then contacted to co-ordinate an archaeological response.

She said: "It was very exciting but I knew we had to act quickly. I found two keen archaeologists who went out there the next day to meet Harry and Paul at the site. They very carefully excavated it – taking care to remove the earth around the pot and axes because that yields important information too."

As officially designated treasure, the find was taken to the British Museum before being acquired by the Royal Cornwall Museum with help from the Headley Trust, the Cornwall Heritage Trust and the V & A Purchase Grant Fund.

Although all but one of the axe heads were completely intact, the pot into which they had been packed and preserved was broken – possibly by a plough. That was where Laura Ratcliffe, the museum’s Conservator and Head of Collections Management came in.

With skill, patience and determination, she spent 100 hours piecing the fragments of pot together, cleaning the axe heads and painstakingly collecting the bits of bracken and fern found within the axe sockets. These, along with other samples of material, were sent off for scientific analysis.

Ms Ratcliffe said: "Finding plant remains in such good condition from this period in British history is extremely rare.

"The plants can tell us what time of year the hoard was buried and also the type of landscape surrounding the hoard at the time it was buried.

"Further analysis of the axes could reveal where the metal came from originally. This could either be local to Cornwall or from mainland Europe as metal was widely traded at the time."

Black stains inside the pot are likely to be food residue – indicating that it was probably used for cooking. As for why it contained axes, Ms Ratcliffe believes it could have been to hide them or keep them safe.

"None of the axes appear to have been used and casting marks from when they were made, usually removed before use, had not been filed off.

"If the site was on a trading route, they could have been stored by merchants for security. Or they could have been hidden during a raid by another tribe," she said.

The Mylor Hoard is on display in the museum’s temporary acquisitions case until March 13. It will then be removed for further conservation work.