Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Staffordshire Hoard

The largest Anglo-Saxon gold hoard ever discovered was unearthed this July in Staffordshire by an amateur treasure hunter. The website is here and a gallery of images on Flikr is here.

The hoard seems to be a "trophy hoard," a collection of items, possibly taken in warfare, that were then buried for safekeeping. They are not part of a funeral or offering, at least as far as we can tell. Many of the items are decorative parts of sword hilts and other military gear.

One of the most intriguing finds is a strip of gold inscribed with Latin: [.] I R G E : D N E : D I S E P E N T U // [.] F I N I M I C I T U I [:] E/T
[.] U G E N T Q U I O D E R U N // T T E A F A C I E T [U] A

Elizabeth Okasha takes the inscription as being:

[.]irge domine disepentu[r] inimici tui et [f]ugent qui oderunt te a facie t[u]a

which is a quotation from Numbers 10:35, though probably taken directly from Psalm 67:2, where it is also used. Translated, it means “Rise up, Lord, and may your enemies be dispersed and those who hate you be driven from your face.”

It has not yet been determined what the inscribed strip is, though it may have been part of a shield or helmet. Michelle Brown (annoying name-dropping: she's my friend!) dates the script to the eighth or ninth century. There is already some speculation that the hoard could be part the immense treasure supposedly paid to King Penda of Mercia by King Oswiu of Northumbria, but there really isn't any specific evidence at this stage.

Anglo-Saxonist websites and facebook pages are all abuzz right now. It is an incredibly exciting find, mostly because it is so beautiful, but also because of the potential to shed new light on Anglo-Saxon culture. And it's really wonderful to think that such a find could be made in 2009: what else is buried at the edges of old fields or in areas that for a long time were marginal but are now plowed or developed?


Luke Sineath said...

Why is it always amateurs who find this kind of stuff, the big finds? (Evans, Schliemann etc)

rvman said...

Because there are a thousand amateurs out there digging in the ground for their own reasons and hundreds of guys with metal detectors, for every professional searching for new sites. Locating big finds tends to be random since they are most often in locations not previously identified by archaeologists.