When it was dramatically uncovered by an unemployed amateur metal detector last summer, the vast haul of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver now known as the Staffordshire Hoard was hailed as the finest example of treasure hidden by the founding fathers of the British Isles.
Yesterday, it was confirmed that the collection of ornate sword pommels, helmet parts and processional crosses will remain on display in this country, after they were "saved for the nation" through a combination of local fundraising and a government heritage fund.
The hoard was unearthed on farmland in Staffordshire on 5 July last year by Terry Herbert, a 55-year-old metal-detecting enthusiast from Burntwood. It was later valued at £3.3m by the independent Treasure Valuation Committee, a sum which will be split between Mr Herbert and Fred Johnson, who owns the land on which it was found.
Members of the public donated more than £900,000 towards an appeal to ensure the hoard remained in the region where it was found. Birmingham and Stoke city councils contributed £100,000 each, and the independent charity the Art Fund donated £300,000.
Yesterday, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which was set up to save heritage items at risk of being sold off, pledged a further £1.285m. This grant helped the fundraising total reach its £3.3m target, meaning that the hoard can now be purchased and displayed permanently in the UK.
The campaign had been given a deadline of 17 April to raise the sum, and failure to do so would have resulted in a public sale. While this could have raised more money, it might also have attracted bidders from overseas. In the end, the amount was secured more than three weeks ahead of schedule.
Mr Johnson, 65, told The Independent yesterday that he was happy with his share of the money. "Some people said it would make more on the open market, but I didn't want it to go out of the area," he said. "It belongs to this country, really, because it's Saxon. Besides, there's always the chance that it might not have made as much if it had been sold privately, and I didn't want it to come to that."
Jim Wall, the secretary of Bloxwich Research and Metal Detecting Club, of which Mr Herbert is now the most famous member, added: "It's great that this funding has been found to save the hoard for the nation. I think it's evident from the huge amount of people who've been to see it in Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent that there's huge interest in it, which can only be a good thing.
"The letters pages of the local newspapers are full of ideas about where it should be kept, and everybody in the Midlands region has shown an interest. It's got people talking, sparked a lot of conversation and has made them more aware of history."
Stephen Deuchar, the director of the Art Fund, said he had been "absolutely bowled over" by the enthusiasm and generosity of those who donated money. Donations from members of the public ranged from £1 to £100,000.
The collection, which dates back to the 7th century, is made up of more than 1,600 items, mostly gold and silver. The largest collection of Anglo-Saxon treasure ever discovered, it is believed to have been buried by its owners at a time of danger and never recovered. More than 100,000 people have so far viewed the hoard, which has been displayed in Stoke-on-Trent, Birmingham and at the British Museum.
The historian and broadcaster Dr David Starkey, who helped to launch the fundraising campaign in Birmingham, said: "This is wonderful news for historians worldwide – the Staffordshire Hoard provides us with vital clues to our ancient past, and now we can set about decoding them."