My Week: Dr David Symons

The curator of antiquities at Birmingham Museum recalls how the world found out about the Anglo-Saxon hoard in Staffordshire
Click to follow
The Independent Online


Earlier this month I was shown the Anglo-Saxon hoard that had been discovered in Staffordshire and I was asked if I could help with it. Like everyone else, I was completely and utterly blown over.

We've managed to keep it secret for so long but the British Museum said that we could do a small exhibition for it. So the secret will be out on Thursday with a press conference followed by the beginning of the exhibition on Friday. There is much planning to do; working with designers on graphic panels, attempting to condense the history and where the pieces come from for visitors.


I'm working on the exhibition again today. A lot of our choices of the pieces come down to how clean they are. They can't be cleaned until their final ownership is agreed but they still sparkle through the dirt. In the evening I travel down to London to visit my wife who is working on a project at the British Museum this week.


Spend a lot of the day waiting for the boiler man to come to do the annual service on the boiler, so among the very exciting week comes something mundane. I get my favourite curry takeaway before driving back up to Birmingham.


It's the press conference today and we break the story. I'm used to a couple of journalists covering our events so I'm not prepared to be confronted with about 90 journalists and tons of cameramen and photographers. I spend about five hours moving pieces about, holding them up for pieces to camera, generally guarding it. Everyone is very excited and positive about it. I get home eventually, turn on the ten o'clock news and there we are, the lead story, with me holding some pieces to camera. To be the first item on the news, before Obama and Brown and an Aids vaccine, is both humbling and frightening.


I come in early at 8am to find a decision had been made to double the size of the exhibition. We have to move to a bigger venue in the museum before the exhibition opens at 11am. People are queuing outside, which doesn't happen every day. We have 1,000 people through in the first hour. People are surprised at the quality of the hoard.

Many people's impression of the Saxon period is of them living in huts, wearing skins, and in truth they were far more advanced. When you see this stuff, you realise these are people with a striking artistic sense, a skilful metal-working tradition and a very sophisticated civilisation.

I realised there was going to be more interest in this than we'd anticipated when my colleague was contacted by the Vatican press office. I've done radio interviews with Canada, German television interviews; we've gone global, which is not necessarily something that happens to Birmingham Museum every day. Any archaeologist will tell you that this hoard is the kind of thing they dream of.