Rare Anglo-Saxon treasure sees the light of day


A very rare Anglo-Saxon gold ring is to go on display at Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire after being shown in the BBC2 series Digging for Britain. The series also features excavations at Berkeley carried out by archaeologists from the University of Bristol who have uncovered evidence for a Dark Age monastery before the castle was constructed in the eleventh century.

The gold ring is believed to have been found as long ago as the eighteenth century and was first recorded in the castle’s collections in 1860. However, in recent years it has only been shown in public once at an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1972.

Now, thanks to renewed interest in Anglo-Saxon Berkeley due to the University of Bristol’s excavations, the castle authorities have decided to display the ring for a limited period during September.

The ring is an exceptional example of goldwork, with intricate filigree work, and four beasts heads with inlaid blue and yellow glass eyes. The quality of the craftsmanship places it as one of the finest pieces from the Anglo-Saxon period. Dr Leslie Webster, who was able to examine the ring for the BBC programme, dated it to the early part of the ninth century. This was the period of great artistic achievement in the English Midlands initiated by Mercian king Offa (757-796) which continued until the Viking raids of the mid ninth century.

The archaeologists have been working at a number of sites in and around the castle and the nearby Edward Jenner Museum in the search for the Anglo-Saxon monastery. Professor Mark Horton, co-director of the project said: “We have been uncovering increasingly important Anglo-Saxon metalwork finds from the ninth and tenth centuries, so we decided to call in the TV cameras to show what we had found. It seemed to be an ideal opportunity to get the ring out again and to re-evaluate its significance.”

The earliest documentary evidence for a monastery at Berkeley is 759 AD. The monastery grew to become one of the richest in Gloucestershire before its suppression in the mid eleventh century. Its exact location has never been established.

“Our finds from the excavations now provide a firm context for the ring. They suggest that the monastery lay below the castle and town, and that the ring was mostly likely owned by an abbot or abbess of extremely high status,” Professor Horton explained.

“Unfortunately, the castle’s records do not include evidence as to where the ring was found but maybe one day we will be able to find the exact spot. Meanwhile, it is tangible evidence for the exceptional skill of Anglo-Saxon metalworkers and the wealth and prosperity of Berkeley during the early ninth century.”

Berkeley Castle is open to the public on Thursdays and Sundays until 31 October 2010. The ring will be on display for one month only, from 5 September – 4 October 2010. Normal admission prices apply.

Source: University of Bristol

Sharan Newman