Hoards of coins and other precious-metal objects are usually found in a way that suggests they were buried, by their owners, at a time when they felt under threat.
But archaeologists cannot yet find a trace of a grave, building or anything else that suggests the Staffordshire Hoard was buried in a calculated burial way, so that it could be recovered at a later date.
Because of this, and the fact that the hoard contains no ‘feminine’ items, such as dress fittings, brooches or pendants, there is speculation that it could have been war bounty, seized from vanquished enemies by the victorious.
Various objects also appear to have been ripped from other objects, supporting the idea that they were seized in battle.
However, it cannot yet be confirmed whether the hoard was the spoils of a single battle, or a long, fruitful military career. During the Anglo-Saxon era, Lichfield and the surrounding area was part of the kingdom of Mercia – one of Britain’s largest and most aggressive kingdoms. Mercia stretched from Humber to London and its belligerent kings and chieftains waged brief but ferocious battles.
Three Christian crosses in the hoard are bent into folds, as is a strip of gold bearing a biblical inscription in Latin, “Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face” – the kind of message that may have been favoured by an ancient warrior.
But other evidence suggests that the hoard represents a royal treasury. The many swords and other war implements it contains suggest that it formed a kind of arsenal, provided by kings to young warriors joining their service.
Comparisons have been made to Sutton Hoo, which was discovered in 1939.
Find out more about the Anglo-Saxon period, and its cast of colourful characters.