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The Staffordshire Hoard

courtesy of www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk

How was the hoard discovered?

On 5th July 2009, on the border of Brownhills and Burntwood, Staffordshire, Terry Herbert was metal detecting in an agricultural field with the written permission from the landowner, when he discovered the largest ever Anglo-Saxon treasure hoard to be found in Britain. Mr Herbert reported the findings to the Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officer at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, as he was required to do so as a legal obligation under the 1996 Treasure Act. The Act states that any gold or silver items that are found to be more than 300 years old are considered to be Treasure, along with any other objects found with them, as Treasure the hoard belongs to the Crown.

During 24th July to 21st August 2009, Staffordshire Council and English Heritage funded an archaeological excavation of the site that was carried out by Birmingham Archaeology, which is based at the University of Birmingham.

On the 14th and 15th September 2009 a final search of the site was carried out by Staffordshire Police using specialist remote sensing equipment provided by the Home Office. It has been concluded by the experts that all the objects from the immediate area have been found.

Types of objects found in the hoard

Image courtesy of www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk

The Staffordshire Hoard consists of more than 1,800 gold and silver objects, which is at least 1.33kg of silver and 5kg of gold. There are military artefacts such as parts of a highly decorative helmet, 84 pommel caps and 135 hilt plates from swords or daggers, but no blades belonging to them have been found. Items such as coins, jewelled objects and two Christian crosses have also been found. A gold plaque was discovered with the images of two birds of prey trying to eat a single fish. Part of one of the bird had broken off. Artefacts made from copper alloy have also been found. An item amongst the hoard that is of particular significance is a folded gold strip with a Latin inscription from the Bible ‘Rise up O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven thy face’ (Book of Numbers: chapter 10 verse 35). Many of the gold objects are decorated with semi-precious stones and some have intricate patterns and animal designs with interlaced bodies. 19 gold sword fittings were unearthed with entwined animal designs created from garnets, which are dark red semi-precious stones. Many of the objects have not still been identified and catalogued as they are waiting to be carefully cleaned, conserved and studied.

The objects from the hoard suggest that the buried treasure belonged to a wealthy person of high status, possibly even royalty. The artefacts demonstrate the highly skilled craftsmanship of those who made these marvellous objects e.g. sword smiths and goldsmiths.

Age of the hoard

courtesy of www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk

The Staffordshire Hoard has been estimated to be 1,300 years old. It may have been buried around 700AD although experts cannot agree at present on an exact date as the hoard is still being studied. According to various scholars the objects themselves may date from anytime between the 6th and 9th century AD. Some of the dating is based on what is already known about Anglo-Saxon metal work and craftsmanship. The types of objects that have been found in the hoard help experts to date the items. For example, the entwined animal designs known as Salin Style II that have been found on 27 gold items suggests that these object are likely to be from the late 6th to 7th centuries. This style of Anglo-Saxon decoration was written about in 1904 by German Scholar Bernhard Salin (1861-1931) in his book Die Altegermanische Tierornamentik (Animal Ornament).

Michelle Brown, Professor of Medieval Manuscript Studies in London dates the gold strip with biblical Latin inscriptions to be from the 7th or early 8th century due to the style of the lettering. This is disputed by Professor Okasha of the University of Cork, according to him the gold strip dates from the 8th or 9th century ‘due to the use of insular majuscule’. This argument would put the burial of the hoard much later than what is estimated by most of the scholars.

courtesy of www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk

Dr Kevin Leahy, National Advisor to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, specialised in Early Medieval metalwork and Saxon craftsmanship, who catalogued the Staffordshire Hoard and wrote a book on it, suggests that the hoard may be trophies or spoils of war from the Anglo-Saxon era. The majority of the artefacts are military items that have been torn or detached from their original form. For example, sword fittings that have been purposefully detached from their blades, but the there are no swords to be found in the burial. Leahy’s theory is that in the Anglo-Saxon battle field when a warrior was killed his sword fittings were stripped off by the enemy so as to take away the status of the person killed and the blade was then reused in another sword. Leahy states that it is not yet certain who the Staffordshire Hoard belonged to, but the items found in the hoard indicate that they may have belonged to a warrior king, or some one of high military status or wealth, as reflected by the number of gold and war related objects found e.g. helmets and sword fittings. Leahy suggests that the hoard may have belonged to an Anglo-Saxon Mercian king, because, the place where the hoard was found belonged to the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. This was a dominant force in the centre of England in the 7th century AD. The area of Mercia was then ruled by warrior kings such as Penda (633-655), Wulfhere (658-675) and Aethelred I (675-704). During the 7th century, England was split into several kingdoms that constantly fought with each other for power and territory. Leahy’s theory is that the military objects in the hoard may have been gathered by Mercian kings or warriors from wars between Northumbria and East Anglia, or a person that we no longer have any record off. The findings of the Staffordshire Hoard has put in to question the current understanding we hold about Anglo-Saxon history, chronology, culture, religion, technology, arts and craft. What we already know about the Anglo-Saxons may have to be re-interpreted and re-written. The hoard has revealed that the Midlands may have been an important place for sophisticated and highly skilled metalwork, crafts, sword smith and goldsmith practice. Previously, all knowledge from the 7th century Anglo-Saxon era has been about the quality of craftsmanship from East Anglia and Kent areas.

The Staffordshire Hoard has been compared to the Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo ship-burial treasures, which is believed to have dated from the early 7th century AD. The Staffordshire hoard consists of three times more treasure than that what was found at the Sutton Hoo burial, which was 1.66kg of gold. The Sutton Hoo ship-burial was unearthed in Suffolk in the spring and summer of 1939, just before the start of the Second World War. Some of the objects that were found buried with the body of a dead man include: weapons, armour, helmet, gold coins, fine linen, fur cap, woollen cloaks, silver vessels and drinking cup and horn. The finds are displayed at the British Museum, London.

Future of the hoard

A selection of important objects from the hoard was on display from 25th September 2009 to 13th October 2009 at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. A staggering 65,000 visitors queued for hours to see the display. The hoard was then sent to the British Museum for valuation. Staff at the museum provided advice to the independent Treasure Valuation Committee who valued the hoard at £3.285million on 25th November 2009. Although the hoard belonged to the Crown under the 1996 Treasure Act, museums could still apply to purchase the treasure by paying the finder and the landowner the amount that the finds were valued at. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, various local councils and the Art Fund led a public campaign to raise £3.285million to keep the Staffordshire Hoard in the West Midlands. The hoard was saved for the nation on 23rd March 2010 by a last minute donation of £1,285,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund which secured the hoard’s future in the West Midlands. The hoard will now be under joint ownership of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.

Terry Herbert will be sharing the £3.285 million with the landowner. In July 2009, Mr Herbert was unemployed and now he is a millionaire.


  • 5th July 2009: Terry Herbert discovered the Staffordshire Hoard in Staffordshire.
  • 24th July to 21st Aug 2009: Site excavation by Birmingham Archaeology.
  • 14th and 15th Sept 2009: Final search of the site with Police remote sensory equipment.
  • 25th Sept to 13th Oct 2009: Exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Objects were then sent to the British Museum for valuation.
  • 3rd Nov 2009 to 7th Feb 2010: Items on display at the British Museum.
  • 25th Nov 2009: Treasure Valuation Committee values the hoard at £3.285million.
  • 13th Jan 2010: Art Fund starts public campaign to raise £3.285million along side Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and other local councils.
  • 13th Feb 2010 to 7th March 2010: Selection of items on display at Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent.
  • 13th March 2010 to 17th April 2010: Items on display at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
  • 23rd March 2010: £3.285 million raised to keep the hoard in the West Midlands. NHMF £1,285,000, Public donations £900,000, Trusts and foundations £600,000, Art Fund £300,000, Birmingham City Council £100,000 and Stoke-on-Trent City Council £100,000.

Useful Links

The Staffordshire Hoard www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk
The Art Fund www.artfund.org
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery www.bmag.org.uk
Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent www.stokemuseums.org.uk
British Museum www.britishmuseum.org
Portable Antiquities Scheme www.finds.org.uk
The Treasure Act 1996 www.finds.org.uk
Staffordshire County Council www.staffordshire.gov.uk
Current Archaeology www.archaeology.co.uk
National Heritage Memorial Fund www.nhmf.org.uk