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The Staffordshire Hoard

Staffordshire Hoard
For historians, the Staffordshire Hoard is posing more questions than answers

The Staffordshire Hoard is presenting historians with more questions than answers, with huge mysteries surrounding the collection.

Why was it placed in a hole in the ground? Why in a spot away from any town? Who owned it? Can we date it closely?

It is quite possible that none of these questions will ever be fully answered.

Nevertheless archaeologists have been applying a number of tests to try shed at least some light on its origin.

What are the the main questions. We examine some of them here, and have a look at some of the answers that have been suggested.

How old is it?

The usual way that historians date a find is by the materials associated with it, e.g. a nearby grave, signs of a dwelling, coins (which usually have dateable text on them), written materials, and so on. But none of that exists at this site.

Two fragments of wood, which may be the remains of the box in which it was contained, are being carbon-dated. But even if they can be dated, that's still not proof of the Hoard's age.

The present guess, judging on the decorative style of the pieces and the presence of some Christian crosses, is that the Hoard must have been deposited sometime between 675 and 725 - which is a period after the death of Penda, the last Pagan king of the area.

But all that is just educated guesses, and one historian is even saying ninth century.

Who owned it?

No names are enclosed with the Hoard, but such a hugely valuable and beautiful treasure must have been collected by a major figure - or stolen from him!

Pommel from The Staffordshire Hoard
Such beautiful treasures must have been owned by a major figure

Guesses include:

• King Wulfhere - who ruled the Kingdom of Mercia (which covered Staffordshire among a lot of other counties). It's believed he is buried near Stone in mid-Staffordshire.

He may have hidden it during the wars with Mercia's rival, Northumbria in the late seventh century. But why did his heirs not recover it?

• Mercia was a volatile state, so other kings could have buried it during their troubles also. But again - why did they not tell their heirs?

• A warlord, who collected it as booty during the constant fighting of the time. But no major battles are recorded near this spot.

However this theory might explain why no 'female' items or domestic items - all the pieces seem to have military associations - are in the collection.

• Thieves! They would have had to have been extremely daring, as this treasure is worth a fortune.

As nearly all the pieces are just the gold, silver or jewels from military weapons - not the total weapons - it was a small enough trove to shift, and the items are almost all very small.

The site of the find is near to the intersection of two ancient Roman roads, Watling Street and Ryknild Street, so it's a good place for a temporary cache. But did the thieves abandon it when the owner came after them?

• Or… could it be a form of sacrificial giving? Pagan rituals included similar types of buried tributes to their gods; that might explain why the crosses are crushed up as they are.

Where did it come from?

Astonishingly, the gold in these items came from all over the world. The metal is traceable to Byzantium (present Turkey) and the Indian sub-continent (possibly Sri Lanka).

It must have been first worked on by expert English smiths, and then amassed over a long time.

And more…

Why is such a major treasure - or its loss - not mentioned in the history chronicles of the time?

This may be easier to answer: the historical record is in fact very very thin. Not for nothing is this period sometimes called the Dark Ages.

Why was the find so near the soil surface?

This is an odd one! All the finds were in shallow soil, having been probably turned up by recent ploughing. Yet the metal detector who found the trove says the land had been surveyed many times….

Where are the sword-blades?

Hmm. Even stranger. The golden sword hilts are there, and the pommels. But not the blades.

Odd and Odder

Do you have knowledge that would help us unfold these mysteries? Email us with your theories! Our email is staffordshire@bbc.co.uk

Your responses

Archaeologist Johnny Whitteridge came up with this truly fascinating theory, and wrote to us with it:

Several of the reports I read quoted archaeologist as saying the hoard was war spoil from a battle or several battles but "there were no recorded dark age battles in the vicinity". My research shows this to be not true.

The hoard has been conjectured to date from the middle part of the C7th, and around this period there was a large Dark Ages battle at Lichfeld.

It was between King Cynddylan of Powys allied with Morfael against an unknown Anglo Saxon army with kings and a bishop under the walls of Lichfield around 636 - as recorded in the poem Marwnad Cynddylan. In it, Cynddylan and Morfael kill a bishop and a number of monks during the flight; and take the movable wealth of the city and and spoils of the battle. The booty captured by the Welsh at Caer Lwytgoed, as recorded by the poem, consisted of 1,500 cattle, 80 horses, and five bondsmen.

The place name Lichfield also suggests a battle site (prior to the common usage of the name before 650). The first element - 'lich' or 'liches' - is a place name to mean 'the field of corpses'. By the C12th there was also a strong belief amongst the people of Lichfield that there had been a battle in antiquity around the town.

Middle Ages research placed the battle at Christiansfield at Elmhurst a few miles north of Lichfield. Interestingly enough: close by there is a place called Hillard's Cross; Christian battle sites were often marked by a cross to consecrate the ground and the dead. I can find no historical record for who Hillard was or what Hillard's Cross is doing in the area.

The presence of the Roman road running below the city also makes the area more likely to have fielded a battle as a strategic site.

The presence of three compressed crosses in the Hoard show that the spoils of the battle also came from Christian monks, who probably came out from the city to bless and support the Anglo-Saxon army.

I think it is likely that the army of the Britons (ie Welsh), having defeated and stripped the Saxon battle spoils into silver, gold and iron weapon loads then began to move west with the spoils in a baggage train. Perhaps some part of the surviving Anglo-Saxon Army or a new relieving force ambushed and cut off the retreating rearguard and baggage, and in the ensuing melee the gold and silver spoils were buried to free up the fleeing men.

Or perhaps the alliance between Cynddylan and Morfael fell through over the share of the spoils of the sack of the old Roman city; and the battle treasures were hidden during a stand-off between the two leaders?

I hope you found that interesting and may even use this as a basis for further investigation.

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