An Anglo-Saxon Treasure

The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver ever discovered. The hoard is more than just a treasure. It is a window on the life of England in the 7th century AD and the world of its warrior elite.

The find

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 around 4,000 items, that are nearly all martial or warlike in character.

The artefacts in the Staffordshire Hoard combine to a total of 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.

What was in the hoard?

The Staffordshire Hoard is remarkable for being almost exclusively war-gear. It has 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 hilt fittings include a large number of 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. There is evidence of over 90 swords.

The helmet

Research has revealed that approximately a third of the fragments in the Staffordshire Hoard come from a very high-status helmet. 

Helmets of this period are incredibly rare, there are only five other Anglo-Saxon helmets known. The detail and bold crested design means the Staffordshire Helmet is likely to have had an important owner. 

The reconstructions of the helmet were created over an 18 month period by a team of specialist makers bringing together ancient craft techniques and cutting edge technology.

Who buried the hoard?

We do not know who actually buried the hoard, and whether it was Christians or pagans who left the treasure. We do know that the objects in the hoard would have belonged to the top ranks of Anglo-Saxon society, such as elite warriors or those in a Royal household.

The closest parallel archaeological find to the Staffordshire Hoard is 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.

 

 

When did they bury the hoard?

We think the hoard was buried around late 6th or early 7th centuries (650-670 AD). This is because some objects in the hoard are similar to pieces found at sites which can be better dated. This places the origin of the items in the time of the Kingdom of Mercia.

 

Where was the hoard buried?

The hoard was discovered in a field near the village of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire. This area was the heart of the kingdom of Mercia during the Anglo-Saxon period.

The discovery was 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.

Why did they bury the hoard?

Experts have theorised about why the hoard was deposited where it was. There are many possible answers to this question. It may have been loot from a battle or the ransom for a king. It may have been an offering to the gods or treasure hidden from attackers. We may never know the right answer.

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.’

Taking care of the hoard

The hoard is cared for by Birmingham Museums Trust and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent. The two museums have been working together on a large-scale conservation and research project. Along with archaeologists, scientists, historians and curators from across the UK and Europe, specialist scientific analysis, investigative cleaning and X-ray photography of these amazing finds has taken place.