Last week saw the 8th anniversary of the discovery of the Bedale Hoard. So what better time to revisit it.
This fantastic hoard of silver and gold objects was an exciting find representing the most northerly assemblage of Viking material from the region. It was acquired by the Yorkshire Museum after being reported as Treasure to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (Accession number – YORYM : 2014.149).
It was discovered on Tuesday 22nd May 2012 by two metal detector users who were searching a field in Bedale, North Yorkshire as they had done many times before.
Realising the potential significance of their discovery the finders left some of the material in-situ and reported it to me. Along with my colleague Adam Parker, Assistant Curator of Archaeology, we attended the site and excavated the remaining material ourselves, a very rare and exciting opportunity.
Once excavated the hoard was found to contain an iron and gold sword pommel and associated fittings, a selection of silver jewellery and 29 silver ingots.
Thanks to the finder leaving much of the hoard in situ we were able to gain valuable contextual evidence relating to the deposition of the hoard which would have otherwise been lost. We were able to determine was that the hoard was deposited in a clear order. Firstly the ingots were packed in a neat 20cm square area suggesting the presence of a box-like container. No traces of a container survived and soil samples taken from around the ingots were inconclusive. The jewellery was then placed on top of the ingots and finally the sword.
The lack of any other features discovered by the excavation suggested that the hoard had been buried in open ground, like most hoards, rather than on a settlement.
The pommel and hilt bands
One of the most interesting pieces in the hoard is an iron sword pommel. It is decorated with gold plaques which feature Anglo-Saxon Trewhiddle style designs of interlaced animals. The use of gold foil in the decoration of pommels is very uncommon. It is usually applied to silver and copper alloy objects making the Bedale pommel unique.
Analysis of the pommel showed evidence of mineralised textile on one side of the pommel which indicates that it was wrapped when buried. Traces of wood above the surface of the textile also suggest that it was boxed after wrapping.
Four gold oval hoops and six gold rivets were found close to the pommel. The hoops match the pommel in decorative style and quality and were probably used as embellishments on the grip and hilt of a sword. It is likely that these fittings were removed from a complete sword before being buried as part of the hoard.
The Trewhiddle style decoration used on these objects derives from Cornwall and only a handful of objects from York have ever been discovered bearing this decoration.
The neck ring
This twisted silver neck ring is the largest item in the hoard and is also unique. It comprises four ropes of twisted rods which were hammer-welded at each end into solid terminals with hooked ends. These hooks would link together when the neck ring was worn.
Although the techniques used in this piece are seen in other jewellery from the British Isles and Scandinavia, its overall design represents an unparalleled ‘Yorkshire’ variant. In addition to its unique style, the sheer size and weight of this piece suggests it was owned by a person of wealth who wanted to display their individuality and status.
Most of the other jewellery in the hoard was distorted or broken in to hack to be used as bullion. This is a common feature of Viking hoards and hack was an important part of the Viking economy.
Two particularly notable pieces of hack are the ‘Permian’ ring and bossed penannular brooch.
The ‘Permian’ ring is a type of neck ring made from a single twisted rod of silver incised with fine spiral grooves. This is a style which originated in northern Russia before spreading into Scandinavia and the West.
The folded over remains of a bossed penannular brooch also feature filigree and zoomorphic decoration in the form of animal heads. Such brooches are an Irish type but this example represents a previously unknown variant.
The Bedale Hoard contains 20 silver bar-shaped ingots. These ingots could be cut to size for use in financial transactions. Nick marks are present on a number of the ingots, indicating that the quality of the silver had been tested with the point of a knife.
A selection of the ingots were subjected to surface metal analysis and were found to contain, on average, around 96% silver, 2% copper, 1% gold and 1% lead.
The objects within the Bedale Hoard highlight the extent of the Viking world with Scandinavian, Irish and Russian influences evidenced in the jewellery. This broad range of cultural influences apparent within the hoard stresses the cultural connections between Jorvik and the rest of the Viking world.
Despite the lack of coins in this hoard which would typically assist in its dating, comparisons of the objects can be made to those from other, datable Viking hoards such as the Cuerdale and Vale of York Hoards. This indicates that the Bedale Hoard objects date from the late 9th to early 10th century. The burial of hoards is often associated with periods of uncertainty or instability. We do not know why the Bedale Hoard was buried, or why its owner failed to recover it. Perhaps it was in light of Viking and Saxon power struggles for supremacy in the region at this time.
The Bedale Hoard was discovered in a part of Yorkshire where very little is known about in the Viking period. As such, it represents a new and exciting piece of evidence that offers a unique insight into life in the region one thousand years.