Dr Kevin Leahy: The delicate, mysterious spoils of a 7th-century war

Share
Related Topics

The scale of this hoard is stunning: there is so much material that we may have to rethink our knowledge of the 7th century.

Staffordshire was the heartland of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, which was militarily aggressive and expansionist during the 7th century under the kings Penda, Wulfhere, and Aethelred. This material could have been collected by any of these men during their wars with Northumbria and East Anglia, or by someone whose name is lost to history.

The hoard's two most striking features are that it is of exceptionally high quality and that it is unbalanced; there is absolutely nothing feminine, no dress fittings, brooches or pendants (the gold objects most commonly found from the Anglo-Saxon era). The vast majority of items in the hoard are martial – war gear, especially sword fittings.

The quality of the gold is amazing, and, more importantly, the craftsmanship is consummate. This was the very best that the Anglo-Saxon metalworkers could forge – and they were good. Tiny garnets were cut to shape and set in a mass of cells to give a rich, glowing effect; it is dazzling. The hoard's origins are clearly the very highest levels of Saxon aristocracy or royalty. It belonged to the elite.

This is not simply loot. It looks like a collection of trophies, although at this stage it is impossible to say if the hoard was the spoils from a single battle or a long and highly successful military career. The discovery throws up questions that will be debated for decades: who the original and final owners were, who took it from them, why they buried it and when.

How did the hoard come to be buried in that field? It may have been a tribute to the pagan gods or concealed in the face of a perceived threat which led to it not being recovered. When we have done more work on the hoard we will be able to say more.

I hope the find will stimulate interest in this magical period; in the past, the 7th century has been looked at from the point of view of East Anglia and Kent. It's going to be hard to forget the Midlands after this.

One of the final stanzas of the Old English poem Beowulf reads:

They let the ground

Keep that ancestral treasure

Gold under gravel, gone to earth

As useless to men now as it ever

was.

Well, it's not useless now. Let's see what we can do with it.

Dr Kevin Leahy is national finds adviser at the Portable Antiquities Scheme and an expert in early medieval metalwork and Saxon crafts

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - West Midlands - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - Yorkshire & Humber - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Embedded Linux Engineer - C / C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A well funded smart home compan...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - Python / Node / C / Go

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: *Flexible working in a relaxed ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress – arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?