Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Staffordshire Hoard

I've been meaning for some time to write here about The Staffordshire Hoard which, for those of you who haven't heard of it, is one of the prime examples of evidence that the Dark Ages were anything but Dark.

It was discovered, little more than twenty miles from here, quite by chance, in the summer of 2009, by a metal detector user working on what he thought might turn out to be the site of a Roman villa. The amazing thing was that it had not been discovered earlier because a major road development had cut through the countryside a few years previously only yards from where the find was eventually made.

Initially the work to uncover the hoard had to be carried out in complete secrecy for fear that the site would attract thieves. Once the news was allowed out, however, interest was immense and for weeks there were queues of people snaking round our local museum in order to get a look at treasure which had been buried over twelve hundred years earlier.

Money has been raised locally to enable us to keep the hoard in the area where it was discovered and members of our Archeology Department are now involved in its conservation and in finding out as much about the treasure as they can. I was discussing this with a colleague the other day and latest speculation is that the various pieces, almost all made of gold, were probably the battle spoils of a senior military man who hid them with every intention of returning to collect them after whatever campaign he was on was over. For the most part the hoard is made up of the gold decorations from swords, which he would have taken from the men he had defeated. The swords themselves would most likely have been melted down to make more weapons for the fight. The gold would have been seen as the equivalent of a portable pension pot.

Not everything is military, however. There is a stunning gold cross and several very beautiful rings. One remarkable feature of many of the pieces is that they are studied with beautiful garnets which apparently would have come from India. How did such remarkable gems find their way to England? We can do no more than guess.

Conservation is going to be difficult. The hoard was found in plough soil and, as those of you who know about these things will be aware, this means that the individual pieces have been subjected to a fair amount of bashing about. Some items, such as the cross, for example, are so folded back in on themselves that it would be dangerous to try and bring them back to their original form. In those cases the plan is to make sure that no further distortion takes place and to display them alongside digital representations of what the piece would have looked like in the seventh century when it was carried in front of the army to give hope and encouragement to the troops.

Now you can see various exhibits from the hoard in the museums in Stafford and Birmingham and because of the money raised by local people that is where they will remain. I think this is so important. Too often finds make their way into central collections rather staying in the location with which they are associated. They are part of our history and I'm very proud to have them here where they belong.



  1. I recently watched a National Geographic program on the Staffordshire hoard and was fascinated. In fact, I watched it twice! I'm so glad that the pieces get to stay in the area where they were found.

  2. We worked very hard to raise the money, Anbolyn, and it wasn't easy because the hoard was valued at well over three million, but now it's where it ought to be it seems well worth it.