The entire Staffordshire Hoard, over 4000 pieces, has been brought together for the first time since being discovered in 2009. Experts are now making fascinating new discoveries as they put together the collection.
This month the entire collection was moved to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery where they underwent cleaning. Anglo-Saxon specialist Chris Fern has been leading work on the treasure as part of the Staffordshire Hoard research project. For the last 18 months he has examined each item in the collection individually. The grouping event has tested his hypotheses about which items fit together physically and stylistically. He said: “The great Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, once believed to be artistic exaggeration, now has a true mirror in archaeology.”
Among the 4000 pieces are 500 objects and fragments that have found over the years near the original spot of the Staffordshire Hoard discovery. Excepts are now able to see that nearly 1000 of the fragements are connected to each other, and formed objects like sword fittings and other mounts. At least one helmet, composed of over 1,500 pieces, is contained in the treasure. Anglo-Saxon helmets are incredibly rare in Britain – only five previously were known.
David Symons, curator of antiquities and numismatics at Birmingham Museum added, “The exercise we’ve been going through has been absolutely crucial to the hoard project. For the first time we’ve been able to lay out all the pieces of the hoard, look at them, try to piece thing together, group things together by the decoration on them, and as a result we’ve made huge advances, including 600 joins and associations.”
The research, conservation and scientific analysis has revealed much new information about how the objects were constructed including: the composition of the alloys used to create the objects; the fact that other materials are present alongside the gold and silver, with woods such as hornbeam and ash; animal horn; and glues and resins made of animal and plant extracts. A variety of types of Saxon and re-used Roman glass has also been identified.
It has also revealed the high quality of the art work and exquisite workmanship that was being done in 7th and 8th century Anglo-Saxon England. It shows that the warrior class of this period was far more wealthy than first imagined.
Dr Ellen McAdam, Director of Birmingham Museums, said, “The research and conservation of the Staffordshire Hoard are yielding significant results. We are grateful to the individuals and organizations who have supported this important project. There is more research to come, and we hope it will continue to throw light on life and death in Early Medieval England.”
Adrian Knapper, a Stoke-on-Trent City Councillor, added, “This breath-taking collection of exquisite gold, silver and garnet craftsmanship continues to dazzle and aid our understanding of such a little known, yet clearly incredibly artistically advanced period in our country’s history. This is the first time every one of the thousands of detailed artefacts have been laid out in a fully cleaned state and, like the oldest and most expensive jigsaw puzzle, they are revealing a bigger picture that in this instance is helping answer questions that have remained unknown for centuries about our ancient ancestors.”