After spending years studying hundreds of fragments and then using both cutting-edge technology and ancient craft techniques, two reconstructions have been made of the magnificent helmet contained within the Staffordshire Hoard.
The two versions of the 1,300 year old helmet are now on display at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, the museums which are home to large parts of the Staffordshire Hoard.
The Staffordshire Hoard was found in a field near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, in 2009. It is the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver ever discovered. Heavily damaged before it was buried, the seventh century treasure contains more than 4,000 precious fragments, approximately a third of which are now known to come from a single helmet. This kind of item is incredibly rare – there are only five other Anglo-Saxon helmets known. The detail and bold crested design means the Staffordshire Hoard Helmet is likely to have had an important owner.
“After nearly 10 years the Staffordshire Hoard is still giving up its secrets,” says Dr Ellen McAdam, director of Birmingham Museums Trust. “Research has now shown us that the Hoard contains fragments of a helmet. Only Anglo-Saxon Kings wore helmets, and this is one of a very small number ever to be found.
“It has been carefully reconstructed by scholars and craftspeople to give us an insight into the way Anglo Saxon warriors lived and fought. The displays in Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent will share the results of research with the public to help them understand how the Hoard came into being.”
Much of the original helmet, including the steel base which provided the shape, are missing, while the surviving parts are too damaged and incomplete to be re-joined. Therefore, it will never be possible to reassemble the original physically.
Instead, the project explored how the helmet may have been made and what it looked like, enabling archaeologists to understand its construction better and test theories about its structure and assembly. A team of specialist makers were brought in to create the helmet, including the School of Jewellery at Birmingham City University, Royal Oak Armoury, Gallybagger Leather, Drakon Heritage and Conservation and metalsmith Samantha Chilton.
“This is one of the most diverse, interesting and certainly challenging projects we have ever taken on in the almost 130-year history of the School of Jewellery,” explains Frank Cooper, Senior Lecturer in Jewellery Manufacturing Technologies at Birmingham City University.
“A major challenge was digitally correcting the damaged and missing elements of the helmet’s many components. To achieve this we turned to our laser scanning and CAD skills to create digital files which were then used to drive our CNC milling and 3D printing technologies. From this point forward we reverted back to our jewellery craft skills to cast, stamp and polish and even rivet the collection of components to produce the magnificent helmet can now see.”
Despite the intensive research project, there are still many questions to be answered about the helmet, including who exactly it would have been made for. The Staffordshire Hoard Helmet is comparable to the Sutton Hoo Helmet from Suffolk, of which a famous reconstruction is on display at the British Museum. That helmet is thought to have belonged to a king or prince, and the Staffordshire Hoard Helmet is similarly impressive.
Historic England was one of the main funders of the project. Duncan Wilson, chief executive at Historic England, commented, “Displaying the reconstructed helmet will capture the public’s imagination and link us to an age when armour creates an overwhelming impression of warrior splendour. I’m delighted that the research we have funded is helping to reveal the secrets of this unique archaeological treasure.”
For more details, visit the Staffordshire Hoard website at www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk.