Archaeology in the news: Staffordshire Hoard


Hold on to your Viking helmets, gentle readers, because as of last week the so-called Dark Ages are about to get a complete overhaul with the discovery of what is being called largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found!

Here’s the link to the official AP article: Shinies!

So here is a basic run-down for those of us who aren’t lucky enough to have gold-encrusted private farm land in England. Our hero, Terry Herbert, like many Britons, has some farm land and also has a metal detector to use upon this land. Britain has been blessed with many centuries of habitation and exciting cultures who had a habit of leaving things in the ground and never coming back for them. Sometimes these things were meant to stay in the ground (grave goods, offerings, etc.) and sometimes they were meant to be buried temporarily and eventually reclaimed (fleeing one’s home/town). In any case, there are a good number of now-empty land areas that once had homes, forts and other kinds of buildings and habitations built on them that for one reason or another became uninhabited and eventually reclaimed by the land. The cool part is that you can still see where a good majority of these buildings are from the air since the land has since been farmed and plowed several times over.

I will refer you all to a previous blog I did about how the Anglo-Saxon and Viking folks were fantastic craftsmen. This new hoard is really just a physical example of ‘No really, look at what these people could do!’ The thing with hoards is that you can never really be 100% sure why the stuff is there, but you can definitely learn a lot about the people who made the things (or acquired them) and that in turn helps create a better picture of the ancient world, which is never a bad thing in my book. Let’s try to take a step beyond OMG IT’S GOLD!!1!. Gold was a pretty plentiful material and as it is rather malleable it was a favorite for use in jewelry and decorative things. Yes, it also had a certain pretty shiny factor.

This particular hoard comes to us from what used to be the kingdom of Mercia. Mercia was one of several large Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that existed in what is now the modern UK. So far, this hoard seems to be dated to between 675 and 725 AD, which falls right smack into the area of time referred to as the Dark Ages. The darkness was not due to a lack of light sources (they had candles a-plenty and many burned buildings to attest to this constant fiery presence) but due to the lack of records of pretty much everything in the wake of the intense power vacuum that the Roman Empire left after it’s collapse. So it’s not as if people weren’t doing anything noteworthy, it’s just that no one thought to really write it all down at the time so now all we can do is guess and theorize as to how things went back then. When in doubt, ‘ritual purpose’. One of the many reasons we have hoards of things (or treasure, if you prefer…) is due to these mysterious rituals and their ritual purposes! Why would a group of people bury a whole lot of perfectly good victory spoils, jewelry and weapons? A ritual! Why would someone leave several pots full of coins in the ground? Ritual! Why would someone be so silly as to put a bunch of sword hilts, but no swords?? Ritual! As far as I’ve learned, most experts still have no conclusive answer as to why these hoards are/were there, but they are happy to have them all the same. They provide a wealthy of material knowledge of whatever group and time period they come from and help fill in knowledge gaps. The best I can think of is that it was an ancient example of ‘Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time…’ But I digress. This hoard is pretty darn special and it makes me wish I were back in the UK. It will be very interesting to see what new things we can learn about the Anglo-Saxons from the 11 lbs. of things that have already been unearthed AND the things that have yet to come out of the ground. Perhaps we will finally learn why a good amount of things were bent/broken! The AP article seems to suggest that a certain bracelet with an adorably misspelled Biblical quote on it was bent out of spite by angry pagan Anglo-Saxons. News flash: lots of Anglo-Saxons WERE Christian. Also, I prefer to use the term ‘polytheistic’, because the term ‘pagan’ irks me. Lets try to view history without the Judeo-Christian Goggles of Judgement, okay? My guess is that a lot of the rather thin and malleable things (bracelets, hilts, crosses, misc. jewelry items, etc.) were bent under the pressure of the dirt…as that is what usually happens to thin metal things when they are underground for a while. They bend! Swords and weapons can be broken ceremonially (No one gets to use this. Ever!) but thin things bend when pressure is applied. But that’s just my theory. I mean, why would you want to bend a perfectly good bracelet-as-offering-or-personal-item? 😛
In conclusion, here’s a picture of some of the shiny goodies that make up the Staffordshire Hoard!

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