AN amateur treasure hunter prowling English farmland with a metal detector stumbled upon the largest Anglo-Saxon treasure hoard ever discovered, a massive collection of gold and silver crosses, sword decorations and other items, British archaeologists said yesterday.
One expert said the treasure would revolutionise understanding of the Anglo-Saxons, a Germanic people who ruled England from the fifth century until the Norman conquest in 1066. Another said the find would rank among Britain’s best-known historic treasures.
“This is just a fantastic find completely out of the blue,” said Roger Bland, who managed the cache’s excavation. “It will make us rethink the Dark Ages.”
Leslie Webster, the former curator of Anglo-Saxon archeology at the British Museum, said the amount of gold uncovered (5kg) suggested that early medieval England was a far wealthier place than previously believed.
She also said the crosses and other religious artifacts mixed in with the mainly military items might shed new light on the relationship between Christianity and warfare among the Anglo-Saxons.
The seventh-century hoard, found by 55-year-old Terry Herbert in Staffordshire, consists of about 1,500 pieces of gold and silver, mostly weapons and other military artifacts, some inlaid with precious stones. Experts say the finely crafted pieces could have belonged to Anglo-Saxon royalty.
Herbert, from the town of Burntwood, found the gold on a friend’s farm on July 5 and spent the next five days scouring the field for the rest of the hoard.
Herbert recovered the first items before professional archaeologists took over the excavation.
“Imagine you’re at home and somebody keeps putting money through your letterbox, that was what it was like,” Herbert said. “I was going to bed and in my sleep I was seeing gold items.”
The hoard was officially declared treasure by a coroner yesterday, which means it will now be valued by a committee of experts and offered up for sale to a museum. Proceeds would be split 50-50 between Herbert and his farmer friend, who has not been identified. The exact location is being kept secret to deter looters.
Bland said he could not give a precise figure for the worth of the hoard, but he said the treasure hunter could be in line for a “seven-figure sum”.
Herbert said the experience had been “more fun than winning the lottery”, adding that one expert likened his discovery to finding Tutankhamen’s tomb.
The hoard is in storage at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Some of the items are due to go on display tomorrow.
“The quantity of gold is amazing but, more importantly, the craftsmanship is consummate,” said archaeologist Kevin Leahy, who catalogued the find.
Leahy said there was still much to learn about the treasure, its purpose, and its origins. “It looks like a collection of trophies, but it is impossible to say if the hoard was the spoils from a single battle or a long and highly successful military career,” he said.
Webster said the find was “absolutely the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells” – a reference to famous manuscripts produced around the same time.
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