The most spectacular heap of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found in the UK will remain in the region where it was found last summer, after lying buried in a field for 1,300 years, thanks to a £1,285,000 (US$1.9 million) grant from the UK National Heritage Memorial Fund.
The grant goes to Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent museums, which will share the treasure — known as the Staffordshire Hoard after the county in which it was unearthed by metal detectorist Terry Herbert.
The grant ensures the necessary £3.3 million has been raised to pay Herbert and Fred Johnson, the owner of the field where it was discovered.
Unusually, when the fund’s trustees met on Tuesday, there was no argument about the extraordinary quality of the hoard, or the merits of making the grant.
“The Staffordshire hoard is an extraordinary heritage treasure. It is exactly the sort of thing the National Heritage Memorial Fund was set up to save, stepping in as the ‘fund of last resort’ when our national heritage is at risk,” fund chairperson Dame Jenny Abramsky said.
Historian David Starkey said the fund would “have been demented not to give the money.”
“This is by far the most important archeological discovery in Britain since the second world war, and beyond that this is a find of the most extraordinary beauty, brilliance and technical sophistication which has really caught the imagination of the public,” he said.
The British Museum, which would once inevitably have been seen as the natural home for a find of international importance, gave its blessing and practical support to the campaign. The total includes thousands of small donations from members of the public, some sent from as far as Australia.
Herbert called in the experts after having covered his dining room table with gold and become considerably alarmed at what he might have found.
Archeologists and forensic scientists who hit the field — under the cover story from the local police that they were investigating a murder — found most of the pieces just below the surface: eventually they retrieved 2.5kg of silver and 5kg of gold.
One gold-and-garnet Anglo-Saxon sword pommel would be regarded as a find of international importance: There were scores in the hoard, along with unique and enigmatic objects still baffling the archeologists such as the wriggling gold serpents and a biblical inscription on a strap of gold folded in half like a shirt collar.
“These are pieces from the period which we were brought up to call the dark ages, and they prove that it was no such thing,” Starkey said.
“When the Normans invaded in 1066, they may have been better organized chaps, but it wasn’t that they were the civilized ones invading a primitive backwater, they came because they were desperate to get their hands on the wealth of Harold’s England,” he said.
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