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.
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.
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