Golden hoard sheds light on Dark Ages

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The chance discovery of a huge cache of Anglo Saxon treasure in a Staffordshire field has been hailed as one of the most significant archaeological finds in decades

It must have been among the epic battles of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia – aristocratic warriors charging into combat draped in their gold and silver finery, surrounded by cadres of brutish guards.

Fourteen hundred years later, on 5 July 2009, unemployed Terry Herbert tramped across familiar fields in Staffordshire, carrying his 14-year-old metal detector. He murmured a prayer in hope of finding something before sunset: "Spirits of yesteryear, take me where the coins appear."

His detector bleeped over a haul of ancient gold and silver so immense that it has been classed the most significant hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure ever to come to light, exceeding the impact of the legendary Sutton Hoo discovery of 1939, a ship burial site dating from the 7th century.

Mr Herbert's Staffordshire hoard contains 5kg of 7th-century gold and 2.5kg of silver, far surpassing the 1.5kg of Anglo-Saxon gold found at Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge in Suffolk. He uncovered beaded ornaments lying beside 88-per-cent gold artefacts decorated with complex and exquisite animal engravings. Eighty-four bejewelled sword fittings are each believed to be worth in excess of £10,000.

One of the most spectacular pieces in the shimmering haul is a gold strip that carries the biblical Latin inscription: "Rise up O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face."



The charm did not save its owner, and was most likely stripped from his corpse after victory.

The artefacts are likely to change our perception of the Dark Ages and rewrite history. Several archaeologists spoke of how they wept when they first viewed them; historians hope that, like Sutton Hoo, it will shed light on a part of England's past that remains caught between myth and historical documentation. "People laugh at metal detectorists," said Mr Herbert yesterday. "I've had people walk past and go 'Beep beep, he's after pennies.' Well no, we are out there to find this kind of stuff and it is out there."

The 55-year-old from Burntwood, Staffs, added: "People have said it [the hoard] is bigger than Sutton Hoo and one expert said it was like finding Tutankhamun's tomb. I just flushed all over when he said that. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, you just never expect this."

Extraordinarily, much of the loot was scattered in – and even atop – the field's top soil, probably disturbed by recent ploughing. The haul was found down to a depth of about 14 inches in an area only 20 yards long. One gold band was found next to a modern 20-pence piece, lately of a farmer's pocket, presumably.

The 1,345 items were officially declared "treasure trove" yesterday by the South Staffordshire Coroner, Andrew Haigh, rendering it property of the Crown. They will be valued by a committee of experts and offered to British museums.

The proceeds will be divided equally between Mr Herbert and the unwitting farmer whose field near Lichfield contained the bounty. Both will become millionaires, although archaeologists hope to keep the farmer's identity secret, lest there be any more Anglo-Saxon gold down there. The discovery guarantees Mr Herbert the bungalow he has always wanted.

Leslie Webster, former keeper at the British Museum's Department of Prehistory and Europe, said the latest treasure "is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England as radically, if not more so, than the Sutton Hoo discoveries". She said that it was "absolutely the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells" – referring to the illuminated manuscripts of the four New Testament Gospels dating from the 8th and 9th centuries. There will now follow decades of conjecture and study. In the 7th century, Engand did not yet exist. A number of kingdoms with tribal loyalties vied with one another for control, in a state of pretty much perpetual warfare.

Dr Kevin Leahy, who has been cataloguing the find for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, said it was likely that this was buried by an "incredibly powerful individual or individuals" and that it was probably "war trophies" taken from a battlefield. "All the archaeologists who've worked with it have been awestruck."

Dr Roger Bland, head of portable antiquities and treasure at the British Museum, said: "It is assumed that the items were buried by their owners at a time of danger with the intention of later coming back and recovering them."

Many of the ornate artefacts are related to warfare: crosses and garnet studded gold items that appear to be parts of helmets and sword fittings. Yet others, such as the series of gold snakes, have, for the moment, left experts nonplussed as to their function or ritual meaning. "It will be debated for decades," said Dr Leahy.

The last of the treasures came out of the ground only three weeks ago and none has been cleaned. The still-earth-covered collection is being kept in secure storage at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and a selection of the items will be displayed at the museum from today until 13 October. Deb Klemperer, local history collections officer at The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Staffordshire, which hopes to acquire the treasure along with the area's county council and Birmingham Museum and Gallery, said her first view of the hoard "brought tears to my eyes – the Dark Ages in Staffordshire have never looked so bright nor so beautiful".

Ian Wykes, an archaeologist and leader of Staffordshire County Council's historic team, declared: "For any archaeologist this is the find of a lifetime and reaffirms why you became an archaeologist in the first place."

There is more to come. Fifty-six further clods of earth have been x-rayed and are known to contain metal artefacts; the total number of items is expected to rise to 1,500. Thirty other objects were found and dated to the 20th or 21st centuries.

Mr Herbert said: "I don't know why I said the prayer that day, but I think somebody was listening and directed me to it. This is what metal detectorists dream of, finding stuff like this.

"My mates at the [metal detecting] club always say that if there is a gold coin in a field, I will be the one to find it. I dread to think what they'll say when they hear about this."

Treasure hunt: Previous finds in Britain

* In 1938, the archaeologist Basil Brown discovered the Sutton Hoo ship burial below one of a series of low mounds near Ipswich – perhaps the most magnificent find of its type. The 30m-long oak ship from the 7th century had a burial chamber which contained weapons, armour, gold coins, gold and garnet fittings, silver vessels and silver-mounted drinking horns.

* The Hoxne hoard was also discovered in Suffolk, in 1992, containing more than 15,000 gold and silver coins, gold jewellery and silver tableware – pepper pots, ladles and spoons. Coins show the burial took place after AD407.

* In 1831, kings and queens, knights and bishops carved from walrus ivory and whales' teeth were found in mysterious circumstances on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. Chess was a popular game in the 12th century, whence the pieces date, though this is unlikely to have been known to the cow, who is rumoured to have discovered them, 700 years later.

* Fourth-century silver tableware of outstanding quality was discovered during ploughing at Mildenhall, Suffolk, in 1942. It was made famous four years later by Roald Dahl's non-fiction children's story on the find.

Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sport LIVEFollow the latest news and scores from today's Premier League as Liverpool make a blistering start against Norwich
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLESir Cliff Richard has used a candid appearance on an Australian talk show to address long-running speculation about his sexuality

Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix

Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit