Revisiting the Staffordshire Hoard

Here’s another guest post by Evelyn Croft, this time about the fascinating Staffordshire Hoard. To read about my own trip to see the Staffordshire Hoard, go here:  England Trip Day 5 and 6

Revisiting The Staffordshire Hoard

“Rise Up O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face…” English translation of Latin inscription taken from three Christian crosses found in the hoard itself.

One of the most awe inspiring finds of recent years was that of the Staffordshire Hoard, a collection of Anglo Saxon metal and gold work which was found, quite by chance by two farmers, tending their land near the small town of Lichfield in Staffordshire. This amazing collection of artefacts were dated to around the 7th or 8th century AD, from the time of the Kingdom of Mercia and have created much debate over our commonly held conceptions of Anglo Saxon life. A recent news story reveals that efforts are being made to raise funds to keep some of the more recently discovered pieces, found in November 2012, with the ones that were uncovered from the original excavation back in 2009 after fears were raised they may end up separated.

An important haul of treasure and knowledge

The Staffordshire Hoard has some 3,500 pieces within it that have been excavated in the four years since the original discoveries were made. In November 2012 a further 91 pieces were uncovered and 81 of these have been officially declared as treasure. In order that they are kept with the originally excavated treasures, the local councils in Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent have to try and raise almost £60,000 to save them. Leaders of both authorities believe the new finds are best kept with the originals so that the entire collection can be kept together. Historians also believe it would be folly to separate them.

The story behind the hoard

The hoard is quite simply unrivalled anywhere else in the UK or Europe. It contains almost 5,100 kilos of gold, 1,442 kilos of silver and garnet stones that may have come from as far away as Sri Lanka. Historians believe that the artifacts mostly relate to war or martial combat. 166 of the pieces were either pommel caps (the tip of the sword that keeps the hilt fittings attached to the blade of the sword itself) or hilt plates and the garnets were used to elaborately decorate these.

The working of the metals and gems themselves are an incredible sight to behold. These craftsmen were creating in times before fancy gadgetry and electricity. They would have had the most rudimentary of tools and equipment to help them create these magnificent pieces, yet they managed to work so successfully and so beautifully to make a hoard that literally takes the breath away.

What is most puzzling about the hoard is that normally, when such finds are buried there is usually a grave nearby or perhaps even a building, something that would normally give a clue as to why so much of such a high value was being buried. Hoards on a smaller scale, but of a similar nature to this are sometimes thought to be hidden away when perhaps the owners felt threatened, were about to be killed or attacked in some way. To make a comparison, we have to look to Sutton Hoo to find anything similar. When that was uncovered in 1939, there were finds similar to Staffordshire, but on a smaller scale. The main difference here was that they knew they were dealing with a lavish burial. Here, there is no such indication.

Another significant fact is that there are no feminine items in there – no suggestion of any fancy jewellery like brooches, hair clips, bracelets or fittings for dresses, nothing to suggest any of the treasure had any female connection, which also leads to speculation that the hoard was mainly the spoils of war that had been seized and accumulated over a period of time by the winning forces of a battle or battles within the realm of Mercia.

The area the hoard was found in

At the time of the original excavation of the site, a geophysical survey and aerial photographs were taken in order that a study of the ground could be made, that might give historians and archaeologists clues as to the lie of the land and any possible buildings that may give clues as to the reason for the deposits. Initial results of both showed that the finds may have been placed close to a ditch or set of earthworks. However, a dig of the area highlighted by the pictures and geophys failed to reveal anything that could positively date the area, though further excavation work is planned at some point in the future. We know for certain that this particular area of England was part of the Kingdom of Mercia around the time the hoard was deposited. It was discovered in a place that would have been very near, or almost on the famous Roman thoroughfare of Watling Street and would more than likely still have been used at the time the hoard was deposited. Mercia was a kingdom that became a place fraught with many violent yet quick battles and skirmishes and had some of the most tyrannical Kings and Noblemen England has ever seen. Athelbald, who ruled the kingdom between the years of 716-757 was one of the first to style himself as King of Britain, yet he was vastly unpopular and eventually was murdered by two of his bodyguards. The spoils may relate to his rule. Some historians are keen to relate the finds to King Edwin of Northumberland (586-633) a monarch who was killed in battle after turning to Christianity in 627. Many others argue that the sheer volume and nature of the finds make the case that they could not solely be attributed to one person alone and the dating of the pieces may also make them too far forward on in history to be linked to Edwin.

Some historians have even turned to Beowulf for answers. They believe certain lines in the poem describe the method in which the burial was left. It speaks of warrior stripping warrior after being killed in battle, that the body of the dead would be looted, anything of worth stolen and then buried: “They let the ground keep that ancestral treasure, gold under gravel, gone to earth, as useless as it ever was”.

Whilst historians may not be any nearer discovering who left this treasure and why, it is a mystery which has kept many engaged and intrigued and looks set to for a long time to come yet. It is hoped that the local councils in Staffordshire and Birmingham can raise the money they need to keep these extensive treasures in England so that they can be studied and viewed by generations to come.


Article by Evelyn Croft


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