The Staffordshire Hoard
The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found, comprising over 4,000 items. Archaeologists believe the Hoard was buried during the 7th Century (600-699AD), at a time when the region was part of the Kingdom of Mercia.
The Hoard was jointly acquired by the Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Birmingham City Council after it was discovered by a metal detectorist in 2009, near Lichfield, Staffordshire. The discovery is still transforming our knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon era.
In November 2019, the 10 year conservation project and research project came to a close with the publication of a major research monograph and the full catalogue published online via the Archaeology Data Service.
Most gold objects found from the Anglo-Saxon era are pieces of jewellery such as brooches or pendants. The Staffordshire Hoard is unique in that it is almost entirely made up of war gear, especially sword fittings. Over 1,000 pieces are from a single, ornate helmet. It is the grandest example to have been found from the period and would have been fit for a king. An 18-month research project produced two reproductions of the helmet. You can see one on display next the Hoard at the museum.
Anglo-Saxon metalworkers were very skilled, and the Hoard represents the pinnacle of their work. The quality is even more striking when we consider that the items were crafted without the aids of modern jewellers: power tools, magnification, and bright, artificial lights.
Although most of the hoard pieces were parts of weapons and armour, they are still highly decorative. Many pieces feature elaborate designs made from filigree (twisted wire) and garnet inlays. The quality of the Hoard means it was probably associated with leading figures from Anglo-Saxon aristocracy or royalty.
No one can be sure why the Staffordshire Hoard was buried. Many of the pieces are bent or warped. It looks like they were forcefully pulled to strip them away from the objects they were attached to. One theory is that the Hoard is a collection of trophies from one or more battles, buried for safe-keeping or as an offering to pagan gods.
Alternatively, stripping away fittings from swords, shields and helmets may have been a ritual way of stripping away the identity of the previous owner. The war gear was re-purposed and redecorated by the victor, and the old gold fittings buried as a gift to the gods. Such an event is documented in the famous Saxon peom, Beowulf:
One warrior stripped the other, looted Ongentheow’s iron mail-coat, his hard sword-hilt, his helmet too, and carried graith to King Hygelac; he accepted the prize, promised fairly that reward would come, and kept his word. They let the ground keep that ancestral treasure, gold under gravel, gone to earth, as useless to men now as it ever was.
You can currently seeing objects from Hoard on display in our gallery, Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, located on the ground floor of the museum. The display features a raised wooden-floored mead hall, with columns and banners adorned with Anglo-Saxon artwork– representing ancient designs on the Hoard artefacts – along with a replica fire pit and king’s chair.
You can also find the Staffordshire Hoard on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.
You can find out more about the Staffordshire Hoard through the links below: