In what is being described as a “very exciting find” over 200 items dating back to around the year 900 have been discovered near Silverdale, in north Lancashire. Now known as the Silverdale Viking Hoard, the collection cotnains a total of 201 silver objects and a well preserved lead container. Of particular interest is the fact that the hoard contains a previously unrecorded coin type, probably carrying the name of an otherwise unknown Viking ruler in northern England.
The Silverdale Viking Hoard was discovered in mid-September 2011 by Darren Webster, a local metal-detectorist, who reported it to the local Finds Liaison Officer that evening. The hoard comprises 27 coins, 10 complete arm-rings of various Viking-period types, 2 finger-rings and 14 ingots (metal bars), as well as 6 bossed brooch fragments, a fine wire braid and 141 fragments of chopped-up arm-rings and ingots, collectively known as ‘hacksilver’. The lead container is made of a folded-up sheet, in which the coins and small metalwork had been placed for safekeeping, while buried underground. The container is responsible for the excellent condition in which the objects have survived for more than ten centuries. The coins are a mixture 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.
Researchers are interested in the single coin that shows a previously unknown Viking ruler. One side of the coin has the words DNS (Dominus) REX, arranged in the form of a cross, reflecting the fact that many Vikings had converted to Christianity within a generation of settling in Britain. The other side has the enigmatic inscription. AIRDECONUT, which appears to be an attempt to represent the Scandinavian name Harthacnut. The design of the coin relates to known coins of the kings Siefredus and Cnut, who ruled the Viking kingdom of Northumbria around AD 900, but Harthacnut is otherwise unrecorded.
Dr Gareth Williams, the curator of early medieval coins at the British Museum, said: “Some of the coins reinforce the things we already know but with some of them it fills in the gaps where we didn’t even know we had gaps. It is always great when you get a new piece of evidence. This is the first new medieval King for at least 50 years and the first Viking King discovered since 1840. It is a very exciting find.”
The artefacts and coins together bear witness to diverse cultural contacts and a wide Viking mercantile network, extending from Ireland in the West to central or northern Russia and the Islamic world in the East. This perspective further reinforces the picture gained most recently by study of the finds from the Vale of York Hoard, discovered in 2007 and the hoard of Viking coins and objects from the Furness area of Cumbria discovered earlier this year. This hoard was found in April 2011 by a metal detectorist and subsequently assessed by the British Museum and declared Treasure by the coroner. The Furness hoard comprises 13 silver fragments, including a fractured penannular arm-ring. There are also 79 silver coins, or fragments thereof, in the hoard, mostly dating from the AD 940s and 950s – a generation later than many previously known Viking hoards. The Furness Hoard is currently in the process of being valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee.
Probably the most significant connection to emerge from a preliminary examination of the Silverdale finds is the similarity shown by a number of the objects to pieces from the famous Viking silver hoard found in 1840 at Cuerdale, Lancashire. Objects from the Cuerdale Hoard are now on display in several museums around the UK; the largest part of it is held in the British Museum. The Cuerdale hoard can be dated to c. 905-10 on the basis of the combination of the coins. The Silverdale hoard contains many of the same types, and was probably buried at much the same time, or possibly slightly earlier, around c. 900-910.
The Silverdale Hoard was buried at a time when the Anglo-Saxons were attempting to gain control of the north of the country from the Vikings, who had made York the capital of their Kingdom of Northumbria. But the very sparseness of documentary evidence relating to the northwest of England at that time means that discoveries such as the new hoard are of vital importance for the early history of the area. The hoard should be seen in the context of other recent archaeological finds, like the group of Viking graves from Cumwhitton, Cumbria, and further Viking jewellery from near Penrith. All this new evidence sheds increasing light on the region and its material culture during a period of social, military and political upheaval.
The careful burial of the hoard in and under the lead container suggests an intention to keep everything safely together in the earth, until such time as it was possible for the owner to return to recover it. For whatever reason, however, perhaps as the result of death in battle or a voyage overseas, they did not return and the hoard remained lost for centuries.
Source: Portable Antiquities Scheme
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