Viking coin hoard found in Furness, Cumbria

Published: Friday 1st July 2011 Author:

Barrow-in-Furness hoardA Viking treasure hoard of silver coins has been unearthed in the Furness countryside. 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 peninsula.

Furness bristles with 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 (designated as potential Treasure) 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. 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 of which only 3 have been reported to the Scheme prior to this discovery.

The location of the findspot, identities of the finder and landowner will not be disclosed, although it is understood that they wish to co-operate 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. Since its discovery, the hoard has been kept at Barrow's Dock Museum where curator Sabine Skae described it as 'very exciting for Furness.'

Ms Skae accompanied the hoard to the British Museum late last week where it was closely examined by a team of experts. It will return to the British Museum after today's press event. The British Museum's curatorial verdict will later be made known to the coroner who is likely to confirm the hoard as Treasure. Once the status of the hoard has been determined, it will then be valued by the independent Treasure Valuation Committee, and the Dock Museum hopes to be able to acquire it permanently.

Ms 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.

Dr Gareth Williams, Viking expert at the British Museum, said:

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. I hope that the Dock Museum is successful in acquiring such an important find for the region.

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.

Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock hailed the discovery as an important development for the area both in terms of its historical significance and for the capacity it holds in boosting tourism:

The Furness peninsula is off the beaten track, but it is steeped in history. Furness Abbey and the castle on Piel stand as silent witnesses to some of the most important events in the history of these islands and people from all over the UK and across world come to visit. But this discovery has the potential to give Furness an extra dimension in tourism. It is a rare find and we very much hope the Dock Museum will eventually be able to acquire the hoard on a permanent basis where a new audience will be keen to view this link with the Vikings of long ago.

Contact: Dock Museum curator Sabine Skae 01229 876401

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