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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Staffordshire Hoard

The internet has buzzed these last couple of days with news about the Staffordshire Hoard.

This image was taken from the blog at In fact a great deal of the information regarding the find can be found on that blog as there seem to be a growing number of posts everyday. A quick browse of youtube will also add a growing number of news reports about the hoard.

The amateur treasure hunter named Terry Herbert, in some association with the Portable Antiquities Scheme in England which encourages people to go out with their metal detectors, did just that. In July of this year he came upon what is being toted as the largest Anglo-Saxon hoard of gold and silver that has ever been discovered. The last report I saw said that the items numbered 1,500. It was automatically toted as a big find. Apparently at least one scholar noted to Mr. Herbert that the find was not unlike the finding of King Tut's Tomb in its importance.

The sheer magnitude of the find is significant, but people who have come to see the exhibit at the Birmingham museum have noted that what strikes them the most is the intricacy of the metal work. Interesting as well, according to these early finds, is the nature of the collection. The items seem to be mostly masculine in nature. You don't find women's brooches or pins, which is what you typically find. Instead the find seems to be of a masculine nature; mostly the items are martial, bits of swords and hilts and the like. Speculation has been that this is perhaps from one battle, or perhaps it is the accumulated trophies.

Hoarding is not unusual. Anglo-saxon and viking hoards containing gold and silver have been found before. This particular find is generating a lot of excitement however. In fact, at least one former professor of mine has reported back 'that she has seen perfection.' She was awed (an this is impressive as she is a professor of Anglo-Saxons) by the intricate work and by the significance of the find. Facebook responses had already comeback on whether or not she has heard of any catalogue for the items.

What is really interesting for us, as Public Historians, is the way the wider audience has reacted to the find, and the implications that has had for the museum. Currently a portion of the collection is being showcased at at the Birmingham Museum. They are not disclosing the location of the farm where the find was made because they want to avoid treasure seekers swamping the area. The initial finds were only made in July after all. But it is in the midlands, and the find is also significant because its location is in the heart of the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia (some have speculated that the hoard may have belonged to a king). The exhibition is only going on until the middle of October, but so many have swarmed the museum to see the exhibit that on opening day they had to close it down for a little while while they moved it to a room with more space. It is closing in October because the items are being sent to the British museum for appraisal and for further study.

But because there has been such a strong public reaction, and because not just the people of England, but the people residing in the midlands have such a strong personal connection to the artifacts, the Birmingham museum has now begun a fight to keep the artifacts there, where the permanent exhibition would draw visitors, not unlike the exhibition for the Book of Kells draws people into the museum in Dublin. And the power behind possession of these items really comes across when you see the words used to describe the find, and the words of awe even sober serious academics like my professor use when talking about it. There is going to be a struggle.

It is also worth thinking about how much more excitement there is because of the physical nature of this find, the fact that it could be 'a king's' hoard, and is not just the wash bucket of your average everyday Anglo-Saxon. The fact that the find is made up largely of gold and silver is significant in calculating the power possession of the artifacts will have. But whoever left them there, clearly had a great deal of power himself.

All my information and photos came from and some from the Birmingham Post.

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