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The Staffordshire Hoard

Golden treasure from an ancient time

On July 5, 2009, Terry Herbert was sweeping his metal detector over the field belonging to farmer Fred Johnson in central England, located just off the ancient Roman road known today as Watling Street. His detector beeped in one corner of the field, and he started to dig. I imagine he had done this exercise countless times before. I can only put myself in his shoes, but likely every time he began to dig it was with tempered optimism. However, this time, his shovel began to unearth something extraordinary – small pieces of gold, twisted and broken, clearly Anglo-Saxon in origin.

Terry Herbert had just found the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest amount of Ango-Saxon artifacts ever discovered. It consisted of some 3,500 pieces which came from hundreds of different objects. It quickly became apparent the objects were all military in nature – sword hilts, scabbard pendants, a cheek piece from a helmet, etc. Only three objects were non-military, and they were religious in nature, including a twisted golden cross.

I was deep into the writing of The Traveller’s Path in July of 2009, immersed into the world of 7th century Britain, so you can be sure this news item made me sit up and pay attention. Very quickly pictures began to circulate of the objects, revealing some extraordinary pieces.

Even a quick glance at the objects found will help you to understand just how skilled the Anglo-Saxon metalsmiths were. Take a look at some of the finds on the right of the post.

Cheek piece from a helmet

Cheek piece from a helmet – not cleaned up yet. It’s made of gold


Piece from a sword hilt. This is pretty much what it looked like when it came out of the ground – see the dirt on it? Note also the reflective nature of the garnet inlay – achieved by the waffle-like texture of the gold underneath it.


Detail from a seahorse or horse figure. The whole thing is 1.6″ high.

Part of a sword scabbard

Part of a sword scabbard

You look at these things and you can’t help but revise your opinion of the “Dark” ages, right? Not so backward and uncultured as you might think?

Various theories abound as to how this buried treasure ended up in this place. It’s location provides a clue – it is slightly west of Tamworth, the ancient seat of the Mercian kings, and just off the ancient Roman road. At that time objects such as these would have been booty from a battle, stripped from the enemy and taken to be melted down and re-used for your own battle swag. Perhaps this was stolen treasure of one of the Mercian thegns or aethlings who lived in Tamworth, perhaps even the king’s own hoard? Maybe it belonged to Penda of Mercia, the most powerful king Mercia ever had, the staunch rival of Oswy of Bernicia. As to why it was hidden in the ground, well, maybe the warrior who took it was being pursued, and he stopped to bury it there, intending to come back for it later. Alternatively, it could have been a ritual burial, an offering to the gods.

But there it lay, undisturbed for centuries, until Terry Herbert’s shovel brought it to light. If you’re wondering, the whole thing was valued at $5.3 million dollars, and Terry got half. Not bad for a day’s work….

There is a lifetime’s worth of work to be done on all the objects in terms of research and study. One turn of Herbert’s shovel unearthed more Anglo-Saxon objects than had ever been found before, the second-largest one being the Sutton Hoo ship burial, excavated in Kent in 1939. The Hoard is now at the Birmingham Museum, along with an interactive display of life in Anglo-Saxon times. Yet another place on my ever-growing list of places to visit when I get to England next!

How I wish I could have been there on that July day to see this incredibly treasure come out of the ground, to be the first person to touch it since that unknown person buried it so long ago. Wow. It makes me want to get a metal detector and head off to England to see what I could find. Who knows what else is buried under some farmer’s field, just waiting to be found again?

Does this give you the goosebumps too? What kind of treasure would YOU like to find? Love to hear from you….