Largest Anglo-Saxon treasure since Sutton Hoo, discovered in England
Experts say the collection of gold and silver pieces, completely reshape our understanding of the Dark Ages. The find containing almost fifteen hundred gold and silver items thought to date from the 7th or 8th century, staggering archeologists with it’s unparalleled in size and may be worth millions. It has been declared treasure by South Staffordshire meaning it belongs to the Crown. A hoard of this historical importance is a national treasure and therefore will be destined to go into a museum for the benefit of the nation.
about 5kg of gold and 2.5kg of silver, making it far bigger than the Sutton Hoo discovery in 1939 when 1.5kg of Anglo-Saxon gold was found near Woodbridge in Suffolk.
Scientist are saying this could alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England as radically, if not more so, as the Sutton Hoo discoveries, and is seen by some to be the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells. The Book of Kells and Lindisfarne Gospels are intricately illuminated manuscripts of the four New Testament Gospels dating from the 9th and 8th Centuries. So little is known about the period that the artifacts have already led historians to question some of their fundamental beliefs — such as whether Christianity had been embraced by the pagan Saxons much earlier than previously thought. This is possibly evidences by a war cross potentially found at the site.
After the Romans left Britain in the early 5th century, Anglo-Saxon tribes who had been sporadically harassing its shores for years invaded in force. The Angles and Saxons, were a warlike people from the shores of Northern Germany and they eventually invaded much of England. Here they established new kingdoms ranging from Wessex in the west to Kent and East Anglia in the east, while further north the Northumbrians dominated. But the most obscure of all the anglo Saxon kingdoms was Mercia, located in What is now the Midlands. This was the least understood of all the Germanic kingdoms, with its people geographically and ideologically isolated from the rest of Anglo-Saxon Britain, retaining more of it’s pagan past, while the other kingdoms became increasingly Christian. It in the heart of Mercia that the Staffordshire Hoard was discovered, and precisely for that reason this could be an important discovery.
The quality of the items shows a high level of workmanship, including intricately patterned helmets, as well as scabbards and sword hilts encrusted with exquisitely cut garnets. One item of particular interest in the haul is a strip of gold alloy, probably taken from a shield or sword belt. It is engraved, in misspelled Latin with a passage from the Old Testament: “Rise up, Lord, and may your enemies be dispersed and those who hate you be driven from your face.” How quickly they converted to Christianity is a still a mystery. The burials at Sutton Hoo, about 625, were pagan but some Christian symbols were found.
The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were not Christians until St. Augustine’s arrival in 597 led to their gradual conversion. At first this conversion happened very slowly with the more southern ones converted first and with Mercia being farther inland was thought to have held on to paganism the longest. The significance of the find may cast doubts on what historians have always thought about the Kingdoms of Mercia in this era, believing it was still pagan and worshiping the Norse pantheon of gods such as Wodin and Tyr.
Whether the inscription, together with the several crosses also within the haul, indicates that Christianity was more prevalent or simply that they had been taken from further afield, is not yet clear. One thing that is certain is that all the items have a warlike theme. It appears they were decorative fittings stripped from the weapons they once adorned like a collection of trophies. Beyond this it is impossible to know at this time whether the hoard was the spoils from a single battle or taken by other means.
The Anglo Saxon tribes spoke Old English, a Germanic language which modern-day Britons would find largely unintelligible, yet is the root of their ancient tongue. Although the famous epic poem Beowulf is the most famous written volume of these people, it survives in only a single manuscript that has luckily come down to us through the ages. So in a contrast to common perceptions, we have very little other written materials from these early English tribes, and anything that does exist describing these people is from a later period. This discovery is certain to fuel our imagination, and provide us with more answers to some of the questions we still need to answer about the early development of England.