Thursday, 4 March 2010

Staffordshire Hoard

Yesterday, along with my father and brother, I traveled up the M6 to visit the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition at the Stoke Museum in Stoke. Although we had to wait several hours in the bitter cold it was definitely worth it. I'd missed seeing the exhibition when it was at Birmingham and we didn't know when it would be back on show. The exhibition finishes on this Sunday (7th March) and will probably be the last time they will be on display together for a long period as they have to cleaned (most of the objects are still covered in good old Staffordshire dirt!).

Remains of a sword hilt.

Found by metal detectorist in the summer of 2009 the local newspaper provided enough information (owner of the land, name of the farm, nearest town etc.) to locate the hoard's original position surprisingly easy. It was supposed to be a secret to protect the site from treasure hunters (how ironic!). The Hoard was actually found a few miles away from where I live in the sunny borough of Walsall, just outside Brownhills in the heart of Mercia. The site is not far from the Roman site of Letocetum (modern day Wall) off Watling Street (modern day A5). But the 'Brownhills, West Midlands Hoard' doesn't quite have the same romantic sound to it. Another local treasure from Brownhills is the fashion model Erin O'Connor but that's a different story.

There really were too many fantastic objects to list them all. There were over 100 items on display but the the hoard contains over 1800 (and counting) objects made from various metals. There is 5kg of gold, 1.3kg of silver and has been valued at £3,285,000.

Queue outside museum - only three and half hours to go!

Endurance stamps - you receive one for waiting every 1hour 20minutes.

Dating from the 7th or 8th centuries (approx.) numerous objects are made from, what is known fittingly as, the garnet cloisonné technique. These items closely resemble the gold and garnet objects recovered from the burials at Sutton Hoo. However there are little or no personal ornaments in the Hoard (so far). In fact, as far as it is know, all the remains are battlefield relics. Although there is also a cross inscribed with stirring Biblical text. The text almost inspires you to go and pick a fight with any passing pagan Viking upstarts.

A particular highlight for me was seeing the remains of at least one helmet. The right cheek plate contains two Staffordshire knots and is the earliest known representation of this symbol, preceding the previous recorded instance by several hundred years. Along with strips showing tiny armed figures, on display in the ‘helmet case’ were two stylish eyebrow shaped strips of gold. I’d never seen these before in the media and I can’t wait to see if anyone tries to make a replica. To say it would look stunning would be an understatement. 

It is the workmanship on these treasures that leaves the lasting impression. A nice touch was that the partition walls the same objects on display were shown nearby greatly enlarged. A two foot high image of a highly stylised horse showed incredible details; the real thing is less than 2 inches long and the details are difficult to even see.

If you don’t have the opportunity to visit Stoke then if, and when in the future, I would urge anyone to see these objects. It will change your view of the so-called Dark Ages forever. It did for me anyway, I’ve already been eyeing up a few Anglo-Saxon miniatures.

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