Friday, 16 December 2011

Landscape for a treasure?

Recent news has provided us with the latest treasure found with the help of a metal detector. This time the find was made on a field in the outskirts of Silverdale in Lancashire. The treasure contained a 201-piece silver hoard from AD900 and revealed the name of an unknown Viking king of northern England in Northumberland called Airdeconut, not to be mixed with a later well-known Scandinavian and English ruler Harthacnut. Silver arm-rings, brooch fragments, ingots and all but one of the coins had all been found in, or underneath, a lead container. Whoever placed the items there apparently did not make it through the traumatic experience that led to the hoarding in the first place. The person never returned and a metal detectorist was able to find it with his Christmas present.

The picture on the British Museum web site

This find included coins of Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Viking, Frankish and Islamic types, including coins of Alfred the Great (871-99) and his god-son the Viking leader Guthrum, who became king of East Anglia with the baptismal name of Athelstan. It is the proof of the wide contacts the elite in Danelaw had but the news tell very little of the place where the hoard was buried. Nevertheless, this is often the case with the treasure finds partly to protect the find spots, which often are under emergency excavations shortly after the find. This was the case in Staffordshire with the now famous Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire hoard found in farmland in Hammerwich parish, near Lichfield in Staffordshire. After recognizing the importance of the find, English Heritage and Staffordshire County Council funded an excavation that was carried out between 24 July and 21 August in 2009, just after the original find was made in July. However, following the excavation the finder Mr Herbert found a few more pieces, but a final search that September, by a specialist police remote sensing team, found nothing else on site, which suggested the entire hoard has now been recovered. This shows how the secrecy is important, at least initially, since there may be an extended period of recovery.

A sword pyramid on the Staffordshire hoard web site

Similar secrecy needed to be maintained at Hallaton in southern Leicestershire, where the local archaeology group (Hallaton Fieldwork group) with its metal detectorist member was essential in both finding and excavating the treasure alongside The University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) with the help from the English Heritage. This treasure is a local pride and unlike the previously mentioned treasures reveals details of the later days of pre-Roman Iron Age. The joint effort discovered more than five thousand silver and gold coins, the remains of an ornately decorated Roman silver-gilt helmet and some silver finds the function of which is not clear. Hallaton is one of the most important Iron Age sites in Britain, now interpreted as a shrine.

A part of the Hallaton treasure

Here we know more about the context and dissimilarly to the Silverdale and Staffordshire treasures this was definitely a structured deposit. No a trace of a grave, building or anything else have been found at the Staffordshire hoard site whereas the Hallaton hoard is part of a complex. According to the archaeologists studying the finds the hoarding was made between around 50 BC and the Roman invasion of AD 43 in an open air shrine. This was located on a hilltop and was probably enclosed by a ditch with a palisade to one side. The Hallaton Helmet was found just outside the palisade together with a pig’s jaw and 1170 coins and even more coins beneath it. The find spot at an archaeological site, detailed study of the find together with further project funding have allowed interpreting this site and allow exploring its landscape.

  • A selection of objects and coins from the Silverdale Hoard will be on display at the British Museum in Room 2, from Thursday 15 December through the New Year.
  • The Hallaton Helmet will be on display for the first time at Harborough Museum with Roman cavalry and infantry in attendance on Saturday January 28, 2012.
  • The inaugural meeting of the Friends of the Hallaton Treasure is planned for February 2012.
  • No comments:

    Post a Comment