The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found, anywhere in the world.
Discovered in a field near the village of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, England on 5 July 2009, it consists of more than 3,500 items, that are nearly all martial or warlike in character.
The Staffordshire Hoard totals 5.094 kilos of gold, 1.442 kilos of silver and 3,500 cloisonné garnets. There is nothing comparable in terms of content and quantity in the UK or mainland Europe.
It is remarkable for being almost exclusively war-gear, with an extraordinary quantity of weapon hilt fittings, that is, decorative items from the handles of swords and knives. Many feature beautiful garnet inlays or animals in elaborate filigree.
The artefacts have tentatively been dated to the 7th or 8th centuries, placing the origin of the items in the time of the Kingdom of Mercia. Since the find, a research and conservation programme, headed by leading and notable experts in the field, has been launched and will be underway for many years.
What we know:
To date, experts have theorised about why the hoard was deposited where it was, and whether it was Christians or pagans who left the treasure. Every passing day reveals even more unknown facts about the Hoard, its history and its heritage, but here’s what we know so far:
The hoard was discovered very near Watling Street. One of the major thoroughfares of Roman Britain, it ran for about 250 miles from Dover past Wroxeter, and was probably still in use when the hoard was buried.
The average quality of the workmanship is extremely high, and especially remarkable in view of the large number of individual objects, such as swords or helmets, from which the elements in the hoard came.
The hoard contains mainly military items, including sword pommel caps. The pommel cap is the tip of the hilt of a sword that anchors the hilt fittings to the sword blade. Single pommel caps from this period are incredibly rare archaeological finds, and to find this many together is unprecedented.
The closest parallel archaeological find to the Staffordshire Hoard are the artefacts from Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. The great burial of a prince or king, the site was discovered in 1939. A large mound was found to contain a 90-foot-long wooden ship complete with a central burial chamber. This chamber was once furnished with textiles and contained the dead man’s possessions, including magnificent gold and garnet weapon fittings and a striking paneled helmet.
The famous Saxon poem Beowulf contains lines that experts believe may describe circumstances similar to the burial of the hoard: ‘One warrior stripped the other, looted Ongentheow’s iron mail-coat, his hard sword-hilt, his helmet too, and carried graith to King Hygelac; he accepted the prize, promised fairly that reward would come, and kept his word. They let the ground keep that ancestral treasure, gold under gravel, gone to earth, as useless to men now as it ever was.’
It is possible that the red garnets in the hoard came from as far away as India or even Sri Lanka. Scientific analysis is being carried out to discover more.
There are hundreds of pieces of silver foil in the hoard, which are thought to come from one or more helmets.
A biblical inscription from an item in the hoard is written in Latin and is misspelled in two places, and reads ‘Rise up, O Lord, and may they enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face.’