Imagine trying to complete a 1500 piece jigsaw when you don’t quite know what the finished picture will look like. That was the latest task for archaeologists working on the Staffordshire Hoard.
Conservationists began the guess work with hundreds of fragments of silver gilt foil-work which slowly came together as a helmet decorated with warriors and beasts. When new, the helmet would have been dazzling with bands of precious metal and elaborately decorated pieces of gold to cover the ears. Bits are missing – the iron frame for instance, the eyebrow and face protectors – and somewhere along the line all the valuable gold and silver has been stripped out. But though not as complete as the famous Sutton Hoo helmet, this one will be a fascinating and important reconstruction of another Anglo-Saxon piece of armour.
Somewhere amongst the 4,000 plus pieces of the hoard is another recently discovered treasure – a sword pommel that stands out from the 70 other examples in the collection. What makes it unique is its mix of British and Irish styles and the multiple ornamentation which uses materials such as gold, silver, garnet, glass and silver niello work, the latter deliberately blackened by its craftsman. Chris Fearne, lead archaeologist on the Hoard, compares its composition to early 7th century illuminated manuscripts ‘like the Book of Durrow. It sugggests the coming together of Anglo-Saxon and British or Irish high cultures.’
Visit Birmingham’s Museum and Art Gallery and take a look. Likewise, The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke on Trent. Or, for more about the provenance of the Staffordshire Hoard, and some its ongoing work, visit Lichfield Cathedral’s Chapter House and look at a few of its treasures. Don’t forget the permanent display at Tamworth Castle (which also has an exhibition of Saxon Soldiers and the story of Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians. And above all, you have 3 years in which to catch the Staffordshire Hoard Mercian Trail Community Touring Exhibition travelling acrosss Staffordshire and the West Midlands with replicas of the the Hoard and interactive displays.
NEWS: Historic England recently announced a grant of £400,000 for further study of the magnificent Staffordshire Hoard – the biggest collection of Anglo-Saxon metalwork or ‘warrior bling’ ever found – by its co-owners Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent councils. Forthcoming plans for the project include an online catalogue of the complete hoard in 2017, while a new gallery opened in October 2014 in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has already seen over 11,000 visitors through its doors.
[Read Maev Kennedy, 1,500 fragments – and one dazzling helmet, The Guardian, May 2015]
For more, see Gale Owen-Crocker’s guest post on the Staffordshire Hoard, dated 05/05/15