Metal detector man finds massive Anglo-Saxon hoard

Author: By Danielle Dwyer, Press Association

The staggering discovery, on private farmland in Staffordshire, will redefine
perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England, experts predict.

Terry Herbert, from Burntwood, Staffordshire, came across the hoard as he
searched a field near his home with his trusty 14-year-old detector.

Experts said the collection of more than 1,500 pieces – which will be
officially classified by a coroner as treasure today – is unparalleled in
size and may have belonged to Saxon royalty.

The hoard, believed to date back to the Seventh Century, contains around 5kg
of Gold and 2.5kg of silver, far bigger than previous finds – including the
Sutton Hoo burial site.

It may take more than a year to value the collection and, given its scale, the
financial worth of the hoard cannot be estimated.

Leslie Webster, former keeper at the British Museum’s Department of Prehistory
and Europe, said: “This is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon
England as radically, if not more so, as the Sutton Hoo discoveries.

“(It is) absolutely the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or
Book of Kells.”

Many of the items in the hoard are warfare paraphernalia, including sword
pommel caps and hilt plates, often inlaid with precious stones.

The exact location of the discovery has not been disclosed but it is
understood to be near the Lichfield border in South Staffordshire.

Mr Herbert, who has been metal detecting for 18 years, came across the buried
hoard in July after asking a farmer friend if he could search on his land.

He said: “I have this phrase that I say sometimes; ‘spirits of yesteryear take
me where the coins appear’, but on that day I changed coins to gold.

“I don’t know why I said it that day, but I think somebody was listening and
directed me to it.

“Maybe it was meant to be, maybe the gold had my name on it all along, I don’t
know.

“My mates at the (metal detecting) club always say if there is a gold coin in
a field I will be the one to find it. I dread to think what they’ll say when
they hear about this.”

He added: “This is what metal detectorists dream of, finding stuff like this.
But the vast amount there is is just unbelievable.”

Dr Kevin Leahy, National Finds Adviser from the Portable Antiquities Scheme,
catalogued the hoard.

He said: “The quantity of gold is amazing but, more importantly, the
craftsmanship is consummate.

“This was the very best that the Anglo-Saxon metalworkers could do, and they
were very good.

“Tiny garnets were cut to shape and set in a mass of cells to give a rich,
glowing effect; it is stunning.

“Its origins are clearly the very highest-levels of Saxon aristocracy or
royalty. It belonged to the elite.”

Dr Leahy, an expert in early medieval metalwork and Saxon craftsmanship,
added: “It looks like a collection of trophies, but it is impossible to say
if the hoard was the spoils from a single battle or a long and highly
successful military career.

“We also cannot say who the original, or the final, owners were, who took it
from them, why they buried it or when. It will be debated for decades.”

Duncan Slarke, finds liaison officer for Staffordshire, was the first
professional to see the hoard.

He said: “Nothing could have prepared me for that. I saw boxes full of gold,
items exhibiting the very finest Anglo-Saxon workmanship.

“This is absolutely phenomenal. When I first saw the material I was absolutely
staggered.

“To see the volume and the quality of this Anglo-Saxon precious metalwork was
absolutely stunning and I was literally speechless.

“It is a hugely hugely important find – the most important one that I have
dealt with, but this has got to rank as one of the biggest in the country.

“The volume and size and range of material is amazing and there are things
here that we have not seen before.

“At this stage we are still unsure why the material was put in the ground and
exactly what some of the material is. Even the dating is difficult because
we’re relying on previously found material to date this.

“This is such a huge amount, this will probably change the way we date
Anglo-Saxon metalwork in the future.”

He added: “I feel very privileged to have been the finds liaison officer that
dealt with Staffordshire Hoard.”

Steve Dean, County Archaeologist for Staffordshire, said: “It wasn’t until
Duncan started to send the photographs through that it actually dawned that
this was something incredibly more substantial than we’d previously imagined.

“We had a look at our records and there was no indication for that area
actually having the potential for that sort of find so it was a big surprise.

“It is almost certainly nationally important and potentially internationally
important and it is going to tell us an awful lot about the development of
the Mercian kingdom, which obviously Staffordshire lies within.

“The quality and quantity is something I haven’t come across and I don’t think
any archaeologist in this country has. It is out of this world.

“It is going to be the basis of research for the next 20 years.

“I’m loathe to compare it to Sutton Hoo because it is something very different.

“Sutton Hoo is a burial, this is different, this is a hoard.

“There is more material and in some places the quality is higher, it is
unique.”

The hoard is currently being held in secure storage at Birmingham Museum and
Art Gallery but a selection of items are to be displayed at the museum from
tomorrow until October 13.

After that a Treasure Valuation Committee made up of independent experts will
value the find.

A joint acquisition between Staffordshire County Council, Birmingham Museum
and Art Gallery and also the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery has been
proposed.

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