Viking silver coin hoard discovered in northern England

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 A Viking treasure hoard of silver coins has been discovered in the northern English country of Cumbria. The find is being billed as ‘the missing link’ by experts who say it is the long-awaited significant evidence of 9th and 10th Century AD material culture of the settlers upon the area around Barrow-in-Furness.

The 92 silver coins and artefacts (several ingots and one near-complete silver bracelet) were discovered and brought to the surface in May by a locally-based metal detectorist. Amongst the coins is a pair of Arabic dirhams – silver currency which circulated in 10th century Europe but rarely found in the United Kingdom.

The location of the discovery, identities of the finder and landowner were not disclosed, although they are co-operating in the best interests of historical research.

It is thought that the silver was put into the ground sometime around 955 AD when the Viking invaders had established footholds in the north of England. While the size of the Furness hoard is smaller than the 10th century Vale of York Hoard which was found undisturbed near Harrogate in 2007, it is by far the largest amount of Viking treasure ever found in this area.

Dr Gareth Williams, Viking expert at the British Museum, commented, “On the basis of the information and photographs that I have seen so far, this is a fascinating hoard. By the mid-950s, most of England had become integrated into a single kingdom, with a regulated coinage, but this part of the north-west was not integrated into the English kingdom until much later, and the hoard reflects that. It is a good reminder of how much finds like this can tell us about the history of different parts of the country.”

Since its discovery, the hoard has been kept at Barrow’s Dock Museum. Sabine Skae, who has been in charge of collections and exhibitions at the Dock Museum for almost eight years, said, “This is a very exciting find for Furness. It has national significance because hoards from this period are rare and also nothing has been found in such quantity in this area before. While it is difficult, at this stage, to place a precise value on the find, it is likely to be worth tens of thousands of pounds. I would also like to stress that it’s really important for metal detectorists to speak to landowners before conducting any searches.”

The Furness area contains many place-names whose origins are Norse, for example Barrow, Yarlside, Roa and Ormsgill. Prior to this discovery, coins and artefacts of varying antiquity have been discovered by metal detectorists and field-walkers in the recent past. In 2006 a solitary merchant’s weight, thought to be Viking or a little earlier, was found in farmland between Barrow and Dalton, which sparked local interest.

But this new discovery surpasses all previous Viking discoveries for the region. It is the first time that such a significant amount of Viking numismatic material has been recovered from the Furness soil. This discovery indisputably links the area with the Norse mariners, and local history stands to be amended as a result. Previous Viking discoveries reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Cumbria, include the Cumwhitton burials (excavated in 2004 with help from English Heritage).

It is further anticipated that Barrow and Furness could benefit enormously from the rare discovery in terms of attracting tourism while also sparking a major interest from archaeologists who will be keen to devour new information about a little-known period of British history.

Barrow Borough Council leader Cllr Dave Pidduck said, “This is an interesting find from an historical point of view, in terms of our links with the past it is extremely important.The hoard is something you can actually touch that links us with the Vikings. The schoolboy’s image of the Vikings storming ashore from their longboats may not be so accurate because they might have settled here as farmers and traders and this find can shed light on that.”

Source: Portable Antiquities Scheme

Sharan Newman