Rare Viking hoard from the time of the 'last kingdom' found in Oxfordshire

Published: 4 years ago Author:

Watlington Hoard, a selection

At the launch of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure annual reports in the British Museum's Citi Money Gallery, Ed Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture, announced the discovery of a significant Viking Hoard. Uncovered near Watlington, Oxfordshire, the hoard dates from the time of the 'last kingdom', when the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex were fighting for their survival from the threat of a 'Great Heathen Army', a fight which was to lead to the unification of England.

The find includes rare coins of King Alfred 'the Great' of Wessex (r.871-99) and King Ceolwulf II of Mercia (874-79), as well as Viking arm-rings and silver ingots, and is said by archaeologists to be nationally significant. The hoard was found at Watlington by James Mather, a metal-detectorist, and excavated by the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The find was block-lifted and brought to the British Museum where the soil-block was excavated in the lab, and the finds studied by experts from the Ashmolean and British Museums. The hoard consists of 186 coins (some fragmentary), 7 items of jewellery and 15 ingots.

A selection of photos can be viewed on the Portable Antiquities Scheme Flickr site, here:https://www.flickr.com/photos/finds/albums/72157662136312876

The hoard was buried around the end of the 870s, in the period following Alfred's decisive defeat of the Vikings at Edington in 878. Following their defeat, the Vikings moved north of the Thames and travelled to East Anglia through the kingdom of Mercia. It seems likely that the hoard was buried in the course of these events, although the precise circumstances will never be known.

James Mather, the finder of the hoard, said

"Discovering this exceptional hoard has been a really great experience and helping excavate it with archaeologists from the PAS on my 60thbirthday was the icing on the cake!It highlights how responsible metal detecting, supportive landowners and the PAS contribute to national archaeological heritage. I hope these amazing artefactscan be displayed by a local museum to be enjoyed by generations to come."

Gareth Williams, Curator of Early Medieval Coinage,
"
The hoard comes from a key moment in English history. At around the same time, Alfred of Wessex decisively defeated the Vikings, and Ceolwulf II, the last king of Mercia quietly disappeared from the historical record in uncertain circumstances. Alfred and his successors then forged a new kingdom of England by taking control of Mercia, before conquering the regions controlled by the Vikings. This hoard has the potential to provide important new information on relations between Mercia and Wessex at the beginning of that process."

Under the Treasure Act 1996 there is a legal obligation for finders to report such finds. Since 1997, when the Act became law the number of finds reported has increased fivefold from 201 cases in 1998 (the first full year of the Act) to 990 in 2013, and 1008 in 2014. If declared Treasure such finds may be acquired by museums, with preference going to the local museum. Of the finds reported Treasure in 2013 (the last year for which figures are available), 363 were acquired by 91 local museums, so they can be displayed close to where the items were discovered.

If declared Treasure, the Ashmolean Museum and Oxfordshire Museums Service will be working in partnership with others, and potential funders, to try to ensure that this important find can be displayed for local people to learn about and enjoy.

Contact: Ian Richardson 020 7323 8611

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