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Author Topic: OTD 5th July 2009: Discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard  (Read 1248 times)


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OTD 5th July 2009: Discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard
« on: July 10, 2021, 02:08:55 PM »
Continuing my series of posts from the Companions' Facebook page, here is the most popular post from the past week commemorating the anniversary of the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard....

It's the anniversary of the Staffordshire Hoard being discovered in a field on 5th July 2009 by a metal detectorist called Terry Herbert. The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found, anywhere in the world. It consists of around 4,000 items which combine to a total of over 5kg of gold, nearly 1 ½ kg of silver and around 3,500 cloisonné garnets.
Remarkably it was buried just below the surface, due to soil erosion over the years, and had been disturbed by ploughing the previous year, scattering it. It was probably buried around 650-675 AD, and lay close to the Roman Road of Watling Street which was still an important route at the time. Excavation at the site confirmed there were no buildings or other evidence for Anglo-Saxon habitation on the site, confirming it had been buried in a relatively remote location (although presumably where it could be found again near the road).
In November 2012 a further 81 pieces of gold and silver items were discovered in the same field when it was ploughed again.
The Hoard comprises primarily war gear which is particularly important as most survivals from the period are church items or female burial pieces, which provides a limited view. This find enables researchers to explore the warrior culture more fully than in the past.
The pieces are removed from weapons rather than representing the main body of the weapon itself (such as the sword blade). There are almost 100 pommel caps for instance and probably helmet fittings. However, swords are the major contributing type of object and it has been suggested that the fittings were taken to depersonalise the original blade. Each object is unique in pattern and probably identified the owner in some way. However, whether these are from a single battle or collected over many years is not clear.
The location of the find is in the Kingdom of Mercia and dates to the seventh century when the kings there were expanding aggressively. The items might represent any of their campaigns against the other kingdoms. One theory is that the burial is a ritual deposit, but it may have been battle loot or a ransom, or just hidden from attackers, or even collected for recycling into new fittings; debate remains keen.
While the quantities are enormous, the quality is also extraordinary indicating that the objects were created for elite warriors. The hoard contains only one written text, a biblical inscription written in Latin and misspelled in two places. It reads: “Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face.” (Numbers 10:35). More generally, there are three kinds of decoration: cut and mounted garnets, gold filigree, and animal patterns.
Most of the garnet decoration uses the cloisonné technique, setting thin slices of garnet cut to fit in the pattern made by gold wire Stamped gold foil placed beneath the garnet allowed light to reflect back, enhancing the brilliance and making its colour a darker red. Some pieces are decorated with stylised animals interlaced in the Anglo-Saxon Style II. There are two sources of garnet in the hoard. The very small garnets came from the Czech Republic and the larger cut garnets are from the Indian subcontinent.
Scientific analysis has also revealed that the goldsmiths managed to remove some of the silver from the surface of the items so that the object appears even more golden. The technique is not understood fully but it shows a very sophisticated understanding of materials and technology.
More recently research has identified that approximately a third of the fragments in the Staffordshire Hoard come from a very high-status helmet, and two reconstructions were created over an 18 month period by a team of specialists. The fragments in the Hoard are too fragile to be put back together but the reconstructions have made use of digital technology to capture form and decoration as closely as possible based on the analysis of the fragments.
A silver gilt cheek piece and an animal headed terminal were identified in the initial finds, with another terminal being identified later. The second field survey in 2012 then picked up a second cheek piece. The terminals fitted onto a crest, and were decorated with Style II interlaced animals, including serpents and quadrupeds. Eventually some of the sheet metal fragments, some weighing less than 1g, were reconstructed and a silver band which had encircled the base of the helmet emerged showing kneeling or running spearmen.
None of the iron or leather of the original helmet survives so reconstruction was difficult. However, the crest, cheek pieces and decorative sheets all indicated a crested helmet, similar to the ones found at Sutton Hoo, Wollaston and Coppergate (York). Although so little of the helmet survives, it is considered the finest example of the type so far, with its golden ornamentation reminiscent of late Roman (4th century) helmets. It is also unique in that the grooved channel on the crest indicates it had an actual hair crest on it. The reconstructions have crests of pale horsehair dyed with madder to a vibrant red to match the dominant red and gold colours in the hoard. It has been suggested that the helmet should effectively be considered to represent a crown.
The reconstruction had to work out the substructure of the helmet, and this was done by analogy for other helmets and fittings matched to holes on the fragments where possible. The final product weighed in at around 3kg which is heavy but manageable. It has proved to be well balanced, and the original probably used iron instead of steel for the frame would have reduced the weight by 1 kg, and is the more likely material used in the original.
The two reconstructions are to be displayed at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery at Stoke-on-Trent.