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The Vale of York Viking hoard

By Tim Dale
BBC York & North Yorkshire

Viking treasure hoard on display

A treasure hunter's dream is how one might describe the Vale of York hoard.

The unique collection of objects was discovered in a field near Harrogate by two metal-detectorists, David and Andrew Whelan, in January of 2007.

Liz Andrews-Wilson, a Finds Liaison Officer in York, says that David and Andrew Whelan had done exactly the right thing when they realised what they'd unearthed: "They were very responsible. Straight away they realised that they'd got something important.

Silver gilt vessel found in a field near Harrogate in 2007.
This find is of global significance
Jonathan Williams, British Museum

"Firstly they found some lead, then some coins. So they realised they'd got something of Viking age. They then bagged everything and had a proper look at the area when they discovered a vessel containing jewellery and other trinkets."

The men then did what the law required and reported their find to Liz Andrews-Wilson's predecessor as Finds Liaison Officer who alerted the coroner.

The coroner determined the find was treasure and then the Independent Treasure Valuation Committee valued the collection at more than £1 million.

The British Museum and the York Museums Trust have raised the money to purchase the collection for the nation. The majority of the money was raised via grants from organisations like the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund.

793: Vikings attack the monastery of Lindisfarne in Northumbria
867: Viking army kills rival Kings of Northumbria, capturing York (Jorvik) in 869
874: Vikings conquer the kingdom of Mercia
878: Wessex is overrun by Vikings and King Alfred goes into hiding
886: Alfred, King of Wessex, agrees a treaty with Vikings to divide England
927: King Athelstan of Wessex, son of King Alfred, captures Jorvik (York) from the Vikings
939: Athelstan, first king of all England, dies. Viking York regains independence
954: The last Viking ruler of Jorvik (York), Eric Bloodaxe, dies.

The final £200,000 was raised by public donations and further funds were also raised to cover the cost of conserving the fascinating items in the hoard.

Jonathan Williams, Keeper of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum, said: "This find is of global importance, as well as having huge significance for the history of England."

The hoard contains a mixture of different objects including coins, complete ornaments and ingots. The objects come from as far apart as Afghanistan in the East and Ireland in the West, as well as Russia, Scandinavia and continental Europe.

The most stunning discovery in the hoard is a gilt silver vessel dating from the middle of the ninth century. It is thought to have been made in either France or western Germany and was probably intended for use in church services. It might have been looted from a monastery by Vikings or given to them as a tribute.

Liz Andrews-Wilson told BBC Radio York's Russell Walker how significant a find it was: "We don't have that many Viking remains of this high calibre across Yorkshire.

An arm bracelet from the Vale of York Viking Hoard
The objects give a unique insight into Viking culture in England.

"So it does pull together a lot of new information that we didn't know about before."

The number of items also make it an important find: "There's 617 coins, there's also arm rings, small little ingots and objects called hack-silver; little pieces of silver taken from jewellery or other objects that have been hacked to pieces ready to be reused."

It is thought the hoard was hidden by a wealthy Viking around the time King Athelstan of Wessex, the son of Alfred the Great, conquered York in 927.

This remarkable collection gives a unique insight into the wealth and culture of Viking Yorkshire in the 9th and 10th centuries and will form part of a major new display in the Yorkshire Museum when it reopens on 1 August 2010 after major refurbishment.

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