The discovery of the largest Anglo-Saxon treasure trove in the UK was announced today. An unemployed coffin maker named Terry Herbert discovered the treasure in July. In order for it to be classified as a “treasure” the items must be over 300 years old. At least 10 percent of the items must be either gold or silver. If the item is declared a “treasure” the value will be split between the owner of the land and the person who makes the discovery.
“…The treasure trove includes intricately designed helmet crests embossed with a frieze of running animals, enamel-studded sword fittings and a checkerboard piece inlaid with garnets and gold. One gold band bore a biblical inscription in Latin calling on God to drive away the bearer’s enemies.
The Anglo-Saxons were a group of Germanic tribes who invaded England starting in the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Their artisans made striking objects out of gold and enamel, and their language, Old English, is a precursor of modern English. The cache of gold and silver pieces was discovered in what was once Mercia, one of five main Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and is thought to date to between 675 and 725. For Terry Herbert, the unemployed metal-detecting enthusiast who made the discovery on July 5 while scouring a friend’s farm in the western region of Staffordshire, it was “more fun than winning the lottery.” The 55-year-old spent five days searching the field alone before he realized he needed help and notified authorities. Professional archaeologists then took over the find.
“I was going to bed and in my sleep I was seeing gold items,” Herbert said of the experience.
The gold alone in the collection weighs 11 pounds and suggests that early medieval England was a far wealthier place than previously believed, according to Leslie Webster, the former curator of Anglo-Saxon archaeology at the British Museum. She said the crosses and other religious artifacts mixed in with the military items might shed new light on the relationship between Christianity and warfare among the Anglo-Saxons — in particular a large cross she said may have been carried into battle.
The hoard was officially declared treasure by a coroner on Thursday, which means it will be valued by experts and offered up for sale to a museum in Britain. Proceeds will be split 50-50 between Herbert and his farmer friend, who has not been identified. The find’s exact location is being kept secret to deter looters. Bland said he could not give a precise figure for the value of the collection, but said the two could each be in line for a “seven-figure sum.” Kevin Leahy, the archaeologist who catalogued the find, said the stash includes dozens of pommel caps — decorative elements attached to the knobs of swords — and appeared to be war loot. He noted that “Beowulf,” the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, contains a reference to warriors stripping the pommels of their enemies’ weapons as mementoes. “It looks like a collection of trophies, but it is impossible to say if the hoard was the spoils from a single battle or a long and highly successful military career,” he said. “We also cannot say who the original, or the final, owners were, who took it from them, why they buried it or when? It will be debated for decades.”
Experts said they’ve so far examined a total of 1,345 items. But they’ve also recovered 56 pieces of earth that X-ray analysis suggests contain more artifacts — meaning the total could rise to about 1,500.
The craftsmanship was some of the highest-quality ever seen in finds of this kind, Leahy said, and many British archaeologists clearly shared his enthusiasm. Bland, who has documented discoveries across Britain, called it “completely unique.” Martin Welch, a specialist in Anglo-Saxon archaeology at University College London, said no one had found “anything like this in this country before.”…”
“…The treasure dates from 675 and 725AD, the time of Beowulf – the great Anglo-Saxon poem. Some of the objects were lying on top of the soil, others were just below the surface. So far, experts have examined 1,345.Archaeologists kept its discovery quiet until yesterday – when they had removed every trace of gold. They were desperate to keep the location secret from ‘night hawkers’ – treasure seekers who raid archaeological sites in darkness using torches and metal detectors. The treasure is so valuable it almost certainly belonged to a king or warlord. At the time it was hidden, Staffordshire was the heartland of Mercia, an aggressive kingdom under Aethelred and other rulers. The gold could have been collected during wars with the kingdoms of Northumbria and East Anglia. Some appears to have been deliberately removed from the objects to which they were attached. Some of the items have been bent and twisted. It may have been hurriedly buried when the owner was in danger. The fact it was never recovered suggests the owner was killed. It may also have been buried by a victorious army as aform of humiliation to the defeated. The future of the hoard, declared treasure yesterday and therefore Crown property, is undecided….”