Saturday, 13 June 2015

Hoard on show

On a recent trip to Birmingham I could finally see the Staffordshire Hoard with my own eyes. This hoard is remarkable in several different ways. Most importantly, it shows how this can go horribly nicely with metal detector finds, Not only was the find duly reported to the finds liaison officer of the Portable Antiquities Scheme who contacted the county archaeologist who visited and assessed the site shortly after the find. The immense importance of the find was immediately spotted. Not only that but the location was kept secret and the site was properly excavated before the hoard was announced a Treasure at the coroner’s inquest. The Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent councils agreed to acquire the treasure that was sent to the British Museum to be valued. Grants and record donations from the public guaranteed that the hoard could be placed on show in the Birmingham Museum.

The sad detail is that the Birmingham Archaeology, which excavated the find spot, has since ceased to exist due to its closure by the University of Birmingham. It is sad that commercial activity that effortlessly links to the research efforts of different universities has not been valued recently, but a business that follows the cycles of the building trade can look every now and then less lucrative, but when a unit hits rich, it hits news gold. Nevertheless, now the objects in precious metals are in the safe hands and conserved by the Barbican Research Associates.

Even if the hoard clearly is made up by scrap metal meant to be recycled, the sheer beauty of the Anglo-Saxon art work is breathtaking. I have always admired the inlaid red garnets and gold designs. The most stunning objects are displayed in their own treasury and some items, such as the largest cross, are also reconstructed, due to their original folded and stripped off quality. There is also a partial reconstruction of an Anglo-Saxon house with benches and games as much information as you can give of a find that has apparently been dug into the ground in a forest to be safe. There were practically no archaeological features in the field where the find was made and objects needed to be excavated and lifted with the help of a metal detector. The displays include also some other Anglo-Saxon finds from the area plus a model of a house excavation. The videos of key persons who dealt with the find giving their spoken insights add to the more personal feel.

The hoard is very popular with the visitors. Naturally, we visited during the half-term week, but most of the visitors were couples or groups of friends in their more advanced years. However, the children were avidly using the horizontal touch screen table and playing with the object info. Most visitors seem to pay close attention to different objects and not rush through. Nevertheless, I do not know how popular the Staffordshire Hoard Bath Duck, available in the museum shop, is with the punters but it made me smile.

This is all free and accessible to everyone. The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery also has a marvellous collection of Pre-Raphaelite Art, which the visitors had to pass on the way to see the hoard. Not that one had to be forced to marvel the beauty of it. Let’s hope that the new government will see the beauty of it, too, and realise that the local government provides culture for everybody. If these riches are lost for the taxpayers, due to the continuous cuts, it would be a huge loss to everybody and deprive the nation of its heritage.

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