The Staffordshire Hoard: The Unfolding Story

Fifteen months have elapsed since the Hoard was stumbled upon in a farmer's field near Hammerwich, but the level of interest in it remains high, as evidenced by a good turnout of members and guests for our festive (freezing) season meeting, when we were addressed by Stephen Dean , Staffordshire County Council's Principal Archaeologist.

Much work continues on conserving the Hoard, as well as in depth research on its origins. Stephen explained that the Hoard is of major importance not only because of the sheer scale of the find, but because of the questions the artefacts are raising about Anglo Saxon life as its detailed examination continues. Nearly 4000 pieces have now been recovered, many small, but still vitally important if the story of Saxon life is to be revealed to us. Dating takes us back to the rule of King Penda around 650 AD, a time when tribes to the north and south of his kingdom of Mercia had been converted to Christianity. Surrounded, Penda, a pagan, struck out, winning battles and skirmishes deep into Northumbria, Angle and Kent lands, returning with what the scholars increasingly agree was war booty. But was it his own, or was it booty of one of his followers, or was it booty he awarded to a faithful warrior, who buried it for security and promptly died in another skirmish before he could return for it? Who knows?

Stephen took us deep into the mindset of the Anglo Saxons. Symbols and signs inscribed on the Hoard's treasures may seem alien or unusual to us, but would be easily interpreted by them. Gold was a symbol of honour and of a great person, but was not necessarily seen as valuable. Indeed the Hoard itself was not that valuable in contemporary 650 AD. Your weapons were adorned with gold fittings to display your position. And why bury the Hoard near Hammerwich? Research suggests that the site, close by the well used roman road of Watling Street, was on a slight rise at that time and more importantly researchers now think, in waste land between two local tribes. It was a kind of no man's land where you could conveniently bury your treasure and although travellers would pass by on Watling Street, few people would happen by this adjacent site and stumble upon your booty.

So the theories multiply, the detective work continues and we are guaranteed yet more revelations as conservation continues over many years to come. The scale of the Hoard is so great that it has significantly increased the total number of Anglo Saxon artefacts in Western Europe, with consequential revisions to our ideas about life in those times that we call the Dark Ages. Exhibitions of artefacts from the Hoard will take place around Staffordshire in 2011, including one to be held at Lichfield Cathedral. We live in truly exciting times!

Roger Hockney
December 2010