Important Viking hoard highlights the continuing success of the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme

Published: Wednesday 14th December 2011 Author:

A group of Viking silver artefactsThe launch of the Treasure and Portable Antiquities Scheme reports today shows their continuing success. 157,188 finds were recorded in 2009 and 2010 (67,089 and 90,099 respectively), and 1,638 Treasure cases (778 and 860 respectively) were reported in the same period. The Scheme's website (http://www.finds.org.uk) now features 750,000 finds from across England and Wales contributing enormously to the archaeological record.
Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, said:

"It is widely recognised that both the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act 1996 have been a great success. They are both helping to enrich museum collections, with the most important archaeological discoveries being acquired for the nation. It is a tremendous achievement that the Staffordshire and Frome hoards are now on display in public collections where they can be enjoyed by all."

The launch of the Reports provides the perfect opportunity to reveal the one of the most important finds currently undergoing the Treasure process. The Silverdale Viking Hoard was discovered in mid-September 2011 by Darren Webster, a local metal-detectorist, in the Silverdale area of North Lancashire. The find was reported to Dot Boughton the local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) that evening. The find is hugely significant containing 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. 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.

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.

Also included are coins from the Viking kingdom of Northumbria, issued c. 900. Amongst these is one with the name Alwaldus, a type attributed to Alfred's nephew Æthelwold, who tried unsuccessfully to claim Alfred's kingdom after his death, and subsequently fled to the Vikings in Northumbria, where he was accepted as a king, before being killed a few years later. The mixture of origins for the coins is similar to other Viking hoards from Britain and Ireland from the end of the 9th and beginning of the 10th centuries. The arm-rings and fragmentary brooches are similar to Viking-period jewellery found in the Irish Sea region and Scandinavia around the late 9th and earlier part of the 10th century. This was a time when Norse settlers were attempting to establish trading centres and farmsteads especially in Ireland, large areas of England later known as the Danelaw, and in the north and northwest of Scotland. The hacksilver and weight-adjusted arm-rings served as a form of currency in a bullion economy. Some of the arm-rings are very finely decorated with elaborate punchwork, while others display unique features which will require further research. For example, the punch patterns may show links with other hoards or workshop areas.

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.

Other objects on display at launch:

  • A selection of objects from a Bronze Age Hoard from near Lewes, East Sussex. This is an interesting find because the hoard includes items used locally, nationally and internationally. The bronze 'Sussex loop' bracelets have only been found within a radius of 50 miles of Brighton, and so are very particular to this part of the country. The palstave axe heads are typical of examples found throughout Britain, while the gold foil appliqués are previously known only from northern France. The presence of these in the hoard, along with the amber beads, demonstrates clearly the presence of a cross-Channel trade network in the Middle Bronze Age nearly 3500 years ago. The inquest for this hoard is due to take place on 15 December 2011, and Lewes Castle Museum hopes to acquire the items.
  • One of the most important, yet unassuming objects, recorded by the PAS in 2010 was a lead spindle whorl inscribed with Norse runes (LIN-D92A22) which was found by Denise Moncaster at Saltfleetby, Lincolnshire and recorded by Adam Daubney (Lincolnshire FLO). John Hines (Cardiff University), who studied the inscription, notes that it refers to the Norse gods Odin and Heimdallr, and also þjalfa, who was a servant of the god Thor. However, the exact meaning of the inscription, and its function on this object (spindle whorls were used as a weight on a spindle while spinning wool etc), are unclear.

Notes for editors

  • As required by the Treasure Act 1996, the Silverdale hoard was reported as potential Treasure to the coroner within 14 days of its discovery. The hoard has come to the British Museum for inspection and analysis by the specialist curators here. The curators have prepared a report for the coroner describing the contents of the hoard and advising whether the hoard qualifies as Treasure. In order to be Treasure, the hoard needs to meet the criteria laid out in the Treasure Act (see http://finds.org.uk/treasure/advice/summary for more info). The coroner will decide at the inquest on the 16th December whether the hoard is Treasure.
  • If the hoard is declared Treasure, an independent Treasure Valuation Committee will set a market value for the hoard. If that sum is raised it is then equally divided between the finder and the landowner. The Lancaster City Museum has expressed an interest in acquiring the find for its collection
  • The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is a voluntary scheme (managed by the British Museum) to record archaeological objects (not necessarily Treasure) found by members of the public in England and Wales. Every year many thousands of objects are discovered, many of these by metal-detector users, but also by people whilst out walking, gardening or going about their daily work. Such discoveries offer an important source for understanding our past. More information can be found on www.finds.org.uk

Contact: Hannah Boulton/ Esme Wilson + 44 (0) 20 7323 8394

Comments

There are 1 comments on this story.

  • Diane O'Flynn wrote @ 08:09:41 on the 15th January 2012. Very exciting to have these momentous and historical finds of important artifacts catalogued and commented upon on the web where the pubic and schoalrs can access them.
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