Sunday, 27 September 2009

Garnets, Tolkein, Silver and Gold ....

What does the dirt beneath your feet hold? A treasure trove of wonders perhaps? Just like the hoard unearthed by a Staffordshire man using his trusty metal detector. The clay soils of Staffordshire were practically impossible to farm, so the lands were left relatively unscathed by agricultural upheaval until mechanisation arrived some five hundred years ago.

The farmlands, woods, forests, mountains and dales of ancient times still hold glittering caches from the dark ages of a cultural world, we still do not fully understand during those realms and empires of yore.

A sword hilt fitting, gold with cloisonné garnet inlay, from the Staffordshire Hoard. Soil can be seen on the object as it has not yet been cleaned by conservators.

The Lichfield area became the ecclesiastical centre for Mercia after a number of their Kings were buried in the newly built monastery grounds, when the first Christian king donated land to Abbot Chad. A cathedral was built in AD 700 to house the bones of St Chad after his beatification.

The hoard exemplifies craftsmanship of the highest level, the treasures deemed to be for kings, queens, royalty and aristocratic nobles – exquisite intricate workmanship of an art not seen before. Articles in common use at that time made of gold and silver, decorated with garnet, filigree, millefiori – swords, hilts, helmets, a scabbard boss, a crushed cross – all ornately decorated or depicted with animals of the day.

An amazing collection of over 1,500 gold and silver pieces, the gold items weighing over 5kg, which is three times more than the last great treasure trove in 1939. The Sutton Hoo find seventy years ago seems to establish that this period in English history of presumed barbaric times, was in fact a pretty sophisticated place. One of the pieces found in 1939 came from Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey), thus proving that trade links had been far more extensive than previously thought.

Gold scabbard boss with inlaid garnets
Picture: STAFFORDSHIRE HOARD courtesy of The Telegraph

The most intriguing object is a small inscribed strip of gold with a Latin quotation from the Old Testament Book of Numbers, which translates: “Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face”. This tiny artefact would suggest that Christianity was widespread in seventh century Britain.

We pride ourselves on our Anglo-Saxon heritage, but there’s a feeling that British history essentially begins in 1066 with the Norman Conquest – perhaps this find (the Staffordshire Hoard) will enable historians and archaeologists to unravel the twists and turns of our past and find our way through the mists of time.

Britain about the year 802, showing the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in red/orange and the Celtic kingdoms in green.

This treasure trove was found in the Kingdom of Mercia, one of the Anglo-Saxon heptarchic kingdoms, centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries now known as the English Midlands. The name itself Mercia derives from the Latinisation of the Old English “Mierce”, meaning border people.

J R R Tolkein is one of the many scholars who have studied and promoted the Mercian dialect of Old English and introduced various Mercian terms into his legendarium – especially in relation to the Kingdom of Rohan. Tolkein weaves Mercian monarch’s names into this kingdom, eg Freawine, Frealaf and Eomer.

The name garnet, long used since the Bronze Age for gemstones and abrasives, came from either the Middle English word gernet meaning ‘dark red’, or the Latin granatus “grain”, possibly a reference to the Punica granatum “pomegranate”, and plant with seeds similar in shape, size, and colour to some garnet crystals.

Pomegranate arils

Now that these objects of wonder have been officially classed as treasure they will be evaluated, pondered over, scientifically explored using the latest techniques available to trace their origin, thus establishing perhaps a revised thinking of our Anglo-Saxon history.

Little is really known of this period, a great deal of it conjecture in the true sense, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of annals charting the history of the Anglo-Saxons (400 AD – 800 AD); it was initially created in the 9th century and added to as time went on. The earliest of these annals was dated 60 BC, and they were updated annually until the early 800s AD, when the Vikings started to conquer England, prior to the great Norman Conquest of 1066. Other works, such as The Venerable Bede’s “Historia” completed in AD 731, like other historical writing from this period were a mixture of fact, legend and literature.

Three glittering prizes (in 1938, 1942 and 1992) have been found in East Anglia – the area that became the Roman and Anglo-Saxon main centre between London and York, and for North Sea trade to Scandinavia and the Rhine into mainland Europe.

From 700AD . . . part of the Staffordshire hoard. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Reuters; courtesy of The Guardian

An abandoned hoard (dated 1455) in Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood fame uncovered in 1966; fleeing Vikings in 902 from Ireland buried coins, ingots, amulets, rings, brooches etc in the river bank of the River Ribble in Lancashire found by workmen in 1840; men plundering a burial cairn for stone on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, unearthed a gold cup in 1837.

And now the greatest Saxon treasure of all, the Staffordshire Hoard – until the earth gives up more buried wares from fleeing warlords – has been detected and laid bare for us all to admire, to excite the archaeologists, historians, scientists – who are describing this treasure as the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells, and will almost certainly rewrite that period of English history.

Dear Mr Postman – it has been a long week – my poor uncle is not at all well, but fortunately he can be moved from the short stay hospice up to the Nursing Centre where my mother has been for these past two years. In fact we’ve managed to get him into the room next door, which is the same room he had when he recuperated from a fractured pelvis not quite two years ago.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

14 comments:

  1. So interesting, Hilary! It does seem as if there are still many treasures to be unearthed. I appreciate all the research you must do to make these posts so intelligible to us. I am sorry to read about your rough week and your uncle. Take good care....Blessings!

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  2. Hello Hilary,

    That is good news about your uncle. You will not have to travel different directions to see them both.

    What a great story about the found treasure. They will be learning from that for quite some time.

    Have a great day.

    Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

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  3. Hi Jan .. many thanks for your kind words and I'm really grateful for your comments, and for the fact that you enjoy these tiny snippets of information and interest.

    Yes - it has all been very quick and somewhat unexpected ... I'm grateful for your support re my uncle's illness and my mother's continuing care.

    Many thanks - have a good week -
    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

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  4. Hi Dan and Deanna - it is good news re my uncle - though extremely sad .. but as you say it will mean I only need to be in one place at a time.

    The treasure is quite extraordinary - really beautiful and just to think it was spread out buried in an open field: anything to lighten the load when you're fleeing, I guess.

    Thanks for your thoughts - all the best
    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

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  5. Oh I was so surprised to read about this find on your site. I was in the UK for a tour in August and our tour guide was very well informed about this very find and the new models for historians to evoke. We ended up having a delightful conversation to continue our knowledge update while the other tour goers went shopping - it was one of my favorite tea breaks of the trip.

    Nice to see some pictures and gain some more information. Thank you for your good work

    Oh when one is care giving something the decisions are very quick in coming - I am finding that after they are gone it is harder to fill up those slots in my time - I have never been so tired. Hope all goes well on the home front.

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  6. Hi Hilary,

    That's great news your uncle will be next door to your mom. I pray his health improves.

    What a fascinating post. It's hard to imagine these buried treasures remaining below the surface of the ground for so many years. They sure had beautiful jewelry, didn't they? I'm in awe of the craftsmanship of the bracelet (top photo). It's a real beauty.

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  7. Hello Hilary,

    Good to hear that your life will be a little easier with your uncle and mom in the same facility! It is a difficult and stressful time....so our hearts go out to you!

    I was somewhat surprised at your comment about Anglo Saxon heritage...England has a very diverse and rich heritage of Romans, Normans, Vikings and Anglo Saxons. The Anglo Saxons were of Germanic decent so...it is interesting to hear that....especially considering what happened with WWI and WWII.

    Best Regards

    Pete Baca
    The Car Enthusiast Online

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  8. Hi Patricia .. many thanks - how interesting that you were here last month. Good tour guide - but perhaps they came from Staffordshire or the Midlands and so knew about it. I hadn't heard before I saw the tv and the newspaper with its spread. Brilliant you had such an interestig tea break and historical update.

    Glad you like the pictures - there are more excellent ones on the newspaper sites.

    Care giving is tiring as you say. I just want to glean as much information from them both as I can - my uncle was telling a story to one of his personal carers yesterday .. I must take a recorder and notepad and paper to make notes. Thanks for your thoughts ..

    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

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  9. Hi Barbara .. thank you - it is good news .. minor blip - down the corridor .. as Health and Safety won't allow them to move the bed??!!

    The workmanship is consummate - it looks just beautiful. It is quite extraordinary what they achieved in those days and then if fleeing - buried them. We're lucky that they've been found.

    It was so interesting to write .. the fact that the land hadn't really been ploughed for nearly a thousand years - protected it by allowing the soils to build up over it.

    Good to see you ...

    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

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  10. Thanks for your thoughts Pete - I appreciate them.

    Yes - we do have an enormous heritage - the historians however consider that the Anglo-Saxons are relatively unknown (dark ages) - presumably because there aren't many records, or buildings etc left - so there has not been a great deal to scientifically investigate - except 'hearsay' through the Chronicles et al ..

    & yes - the tribes of the Angles, Saxons and the Jutes came over from the German lands and took over England - hence our name: England

    These artefacts will throw a bit more light on the times of 400 - 700 AD.

    Good to see you ..

    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

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  11. Every time I come here, I find fascinating insights into something happening in the UK! You put so much research into these, I'm sure Googling kids all over the country are benefiting at homework time!

    I'm hoping things will be a bit easier for you with your mum and uncle in the same place. If it's considerably less travelling, I hope you can manage to set aside some time to do something lovely just for you.

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  12. Hi Janice .. thanks for being here .. occasionally things happen down South! I have to say I haven't had any googling kids over .. I'd love them to!

    Yes - I hope so .. things are still being sorted and I'm not sure exactly what's going to happen .. but time will tell - my uncle will be well cared for - that is the main thing .. & he's said he loved my 'stories' ..

    Sometime I'll do something for me! It's their time now for a while.

    Thanks so much for your kind thoughts about the blog and my mother and uncle. I appreciate these thoughts.

    All the best - Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

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  13. Its amazing how you continue to make time to share such thought-provoking posts during this period in your life when you are helping family. The heart always tells you the right thing to do in a given moment. You share your love and its appreciated in ways you may not sense or recognize right now. Sometimes the attention you give brings more pleasure than the work and time you devote, but its all very meaningful. You light up the lives of loved ones.

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  14. Hi Liara .. thank you very much. My uncle loves the stories, and my mother too .. and I have a tale to tell about that soon ..

    I just love these mixes .. and so do they - it lightens up their lives, and mine too .. and seems to interest others - really what more could I want just now?

    Thanks - it's good to see you ..
    all the best Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

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