We have given £400,000 towards some groundbreaking research into the Staffordshire Hoard. It will lead to an online catalogue detailing every one of the hundreds of objects in the Hoard. The plan is for the catalogue to be ready in 2017 with a major book about the collection published the following year.
Working with the owners of the hoard, Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent City Councils, and Birmingham Museums Trust and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery who jointly care for the collection, we have already made some amazing discoveries. But £120,000 still needs to be raised to complete this incredibly important project.
1. It’s the most important Anglo-Saxon find since 1939
The last significant discovery was the Sutton Hoo ship-burial in Suffolk more than 75 years ago.The Staffordshire Hoard was unearthed in July 2009 by a metal detectorist and is a spectacular mix of gold, silver and garnet weighing in at over 6kg.
2. It teaches us more about our warring Anglo-Saxon ancestors
Although fragmented, damaged and distorted, the hoard’s remarkable objects represent the possessions of an elite warrior class, stunning in their craftsmanship and ornament. Why it was buried, perhaps before c675 AD, we’ll never know. Significantly it was discovered close to a then major routeway (Roman Watling Street), in what was the emerging Kingdom of Mercia. Warfare between England’s competing kingdoms was frequent. The Staffordshire Hoard bears witness to this turbulent time in history.
3. There are 4,000 fragments that need to be conserved and identified
Detailed research and conservation of the 4,000 fragments that make up the Hoard is not yet complete, but most of the collection is fittings from weaponry. These were stripped from swords and seaxes (single-edged fighting knives), at least one helmet and other items, and probably represent the equipment of defeated armies from unknown battles, of the first half of the 7th century.
4. The hoard puts us in touch with some pretty important warriors
Recently, archaeologists and a conservator worked solidly to piece together the vast collection of thin, fragile silver sheets, and strips, believed to come from a dismantled helmet. Anglo-Saxon helmets are incredibly rare, and the hoard example is the fifth to be discovered. From these fragments the team identified a ‘helmet-band’ that we think ran around the circumference of the helmet. Many of the sheet friezes were gilded, this along with its rarity, point to a princely or even kingly status for its owner.
5. The hoard keeps on surprising us
There are more than seventy pommels (the part of the sword that fits at the end of a sword-grip) in the Hoard, but a brand new type of pommel has been found in the collection. It is exceptional, a completely unique type. Although Anglo-Saxon in style, it also has British or Irish art influences. Its central garnet and glass inlaid disc can be seen to form an early Christian cross and on the other side is a motif formed of three serpents. So both Christian and pagan beliefs could be represented.
6. The hoard is for everybody!
Anybody can see the hoard and soak in the Anglo-Saxon splendour of it all. It’s on display at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent and is for all of us to enjoy and learn from. The online catalogue and major book that are coming in the next few years will bring the hoard to even more people. It’s a treasure for us all.
Learn more about the Staffordshire Hoard: