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PostPosted: 25 Sep 2009, 07:38 
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The largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found has been unearthed on farmland in Staffordshire by a metal detector enthusiast, archaeologists revealed today.

Terry Herbert, 55, from Burntwood, came across the huge treasure estimated to be worth more than £1 million as he searched a field near his home. The exact location of the discovery has not been disclosed but it is understood to be near the Lichfield border in South Staffordshire, in what was once the independent Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia.

Experts said that the collection of more than 1,500 military artefacts, including helmet, sword pommel and sword hilt ornaments possibly looted on the field of battle 1,400 years by a victorious warlord, may have belonged to Saxon royalty.

The hoard contains around 5kg of gold and 2.5kg of silver, far bigger than previous finds such as the Snettisham hoards. Some of it was lying in the open on top of the ploughed field.

The South Staffordshire coroner held an inquest in Cannock today at which he officially classified the find as treasure. Now a Treasure Valuation Committee made up of independent experts will put a market value on the hoard, a process expected to take more than a year, and local museums will be given the option to buy it.

The hoard is being held in secure storage at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, but some items are to be displayed at the museum from tomorrow until October 13.

Staffordshire County Council, Birmingham Museum and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery have already discussed buying the treasure jointly. The money is paid to the finder, who usually gives half to the landowner — suggesting that both Mr Herbert and the farmer stand to receive a substantial sum.

At today's bullion prices, 5kg of gold is worth more than £100,000, according to gold merchants Baird & Co, but experts in historic artefacts said the hoard is liable to fetch more than ten times that. In 2007 the British Museum paid £125,000 for a single set of golden sword pommel and hilt ornaments inlaid with garnets, dating from the same period as the Staffordshire Hoard — around 650 AD, when Penda was king of Mercia.

Penda, a pagan ruler who was probably the most powerful Anglo-Saxon king of his age, was killed in battle in 654 AD by the Christian king Oswy of Northumbria, who then briefly usurped his throne until thrown out by Penda's sons.

Dr Michael Lewis, of the British Museum's Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure, said that some of the items in the Staffordshire Hoard were unique and could not be compared to any earlier find in order to ascribe a value. He warned that it would be hard to identify who buried the treasure because so few writings survived from the Dark Ages, and most of what did related to Christian figures rather than pagan kings and fighters. But the richness of the hoard pointed to it belonging to a king.

Mr Herbert claimed that finding it with his 14-year-old detector was destiny. "I have this phrase that I say sometimes: ’Spirits of yesteryear take me where the coins appear’, but on that day I changed coins to gold," he said.

"I don’t know why I said it that day, but I think somebody was listening and directed me to it. Maybe it was meant to be, maybe the gold had my name on it all along, I don’t know."

Under the 1996 Treasure Act, anyone who finds a group of coins buried together, or any artefact that is 300 or more years old and has a 10 per cent gold or silver content, must declare it to the coroner within 14 days. About 500 such finds are reported each year.

Dr Kevin Leahy, National Finds Adviser from the Portable Antiquities Scheme, who catalogued the hoard, said: "The quantity of gold is amazing but, more importantly, the craftsmanship is consummate.

"This was the very best that the Anglo-Saxon metalworkers could do, and they were very good. Tiny garnets were cut to shape and set in a mass of cells to give a rich, glowing effect; it is stunning.

"Its origins are clearly the very highest-levels of Saxon aristocracy or royalty. It belonged to the elite."

He speculated that the treasure might have been built up by a warlord in the course of a long military career, but could equally have been the loot from a single battle. He predicted that historians would debate it for decades.

The fact that the largest of the golden crosses had been unceremoniously treated, its arms folded inwards so that it could fit into a smaller space, has already prompted speculation that the hoard was buried by pagans.

Leslie Webster, former keeper at the British Museum’s Department of Prehistory and Europe, said that the importance of the find couldn't be overstated. "[It is] absolutely the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells," he said.

"This is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England as radically, if not more so, as the Sutton Hoo discoveries."

Mr Herbert, who has been metal detecting for 18 years, came across the treasure on July 5 after asking a farmer friend if he could search on his land.

"This is what metal detectorists dream of, finding stuff like this. But the vast amount there is just unbelievable," said Mr Herbert.

"My mates at the [metal detecting] club always say if there is a gold coin in a field I will be the one to find it. I dread to think what they’ll say when they hear about this."

Duncan Slarke, finds liaison officer for Staffordshire, was the first professional to see the hoard. He said: "Nothing could have prepared me for that. I saw boxes full of gold, items exhibiting the very finest Anglo-Saxon workmanship.

"This is absolutely phenomenal. When I first saw the material I was absolutely staggered. To see the volume and the quality of this Anglo-Saxon precious metalwork was absolutely stunning and I was literally speechless.

"I feel very privileged to have been the finds liaison officer that dealt with the Staffordshire Hoard."

Steve Dean, County Archaeologist for Staffordshire, said: "It wasn’t until Duncan started to send the photographs through that it actually dawned that this was something incredibly more substantial than we’d previously imagined.

"We had a look at our records and there was no indication for that area actually having the potential for that sort of find so it was a big surprise.

"It is almost certainly nationally important and potentially internationally important and it is going to tell us an awful lot about the development of the Mercian kingdom, which obviously Staffordshire lies within.

"The quality and quantity is something I haven’t come across and I don’t think any archaeologist in this country has. It is out of this world. It is going to be the basis of research for the next 20 years."


Chloride and Sodium: Two terribly dangerous substances that taste great together!

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