Today’s post is about another favourite medieval afterlife:THE STAFFORDSHIRE HOARD. It comes courtesy of GALE OWEN-CROCKER
Discovered by a metal detectorist in 2009, with 81 further pieces discovered after ploughing in 2012, The Staffordshire Hoard consists of over 3,500 items, mostly gold, a few silver. Although the majority of the pieces are tiny, the collection is the largest, and most valuable, find of Anglo-Saxon metalwork ever made. The value of the original find was assessed at £3,285,000 (£3.285 million) a sum which has been shared between the finder and the owner of the land. The supplementary finds from 2012 are worth £30,000.
Over 60% of the objects are from weapons: exquisitely made pieces from the hilts of swords and fighting knives, decorated in various techniques such as filigree and cloisonné. These were the ornamental of the weapons; the iron blades were not included in the hoard. Parts of a helmet – a very rare object in Anglo-Saxon context – were found in both the 2009 and 2012 discoveries. There was evidence of a Christian community: there were several crosses and a strip of gold engraved with a dragon’s head and a Latin biblical inscription invoking the aid of the Lord against enemies.
The Staffordshire Hoard, like the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, is unusual in representing only masculine identity; most Anglo-Saxon burial sites are cemeteries, and women’s dress and accessories are well represented there. Swords were only owned by the upper stratum of society and a man would only carry one sword; that so many precious sword-parts were assembled here raises awareness of the extent of the male elite.
The hoard was found south of Lechlade, Tamworth and the Roman city of Wall, near Watling Street, a major Roman road which was probably still in use when the treasure was buried, in the seventh or eighth century. Although this was in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia it is not known if any or all of the objects were made there or elsewhere: cloisonné garnet and zoomorphic gold interlace are typical of Kent; mushroom shaped cells, lidded cloisons and zoomorphic cloisonné are typical of Sutton Hoo. Unusual techniques, such as engraved garnets and new motifs, including a warrior in an eagle-head helmet, another with a wolf-head, inspire speculation. Research continues.
The reasons for the selection of only precious metal items and the burial of the treasure are unknown. The hoard could have been a votive deposit; booty; treasure hidden from an enemy; or a collection of items intended for re-cycling, including fitting of new blades to the weapons. The crumpling of some of the crosses could reflect anti-Christian sentiments (King Penda of Mercia, died 655 was a notorious pagan, enemy of the Christian kings of Northumbria and Wessex); or it could simply result from redundant metalwork being packed compactly.
The hoard is well documented on http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk The objects are distributed between museums in Birmingham and Stoke: Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham B3 3DH, Phone 01213031966 http://www.bmag.org.uk/birmingham-museum The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Bethesda Street, Cultural Quarter, Stoke-on-Trent ST1 3DW, Phone 01782232323 http://www.stokemuseums.org.uk
Gale R. Owen-Crocker is Professor of Anglo-Saxon Culture at the University of Manchester, UK, and Director of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies. She has published books and articles on Old English literature, art and archaeology and on medieval dress and textiles, especially on The Bayeux Tapestry. She is the co-founder/editor of the annual journal Medieval Clothing and Textiles.