Huge discovery will shed new light on UK Dark Ages

Thu Sep 24, 2009 4:58pm EDT
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By Stefano Ambrogi

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - An amateur treasure-hunter searching in a farmer's field has discovered the largest Anglo-Saxon hoard of gold artifacts ever found in Britain, a haul described by archaeologists as unparalleled.

Terry Herbert, a 55-year-old metal detectorist, came across the hoard in a field in Staffordshire, central England in July.

Much of it was lying close to the surface or even scattered on top of the plowed soil.

Thought to date from the seventh century, the collection of more than 1,500 gold and silver items has been officially declared as treasure trove and thus the property of the state. Herbert will, however, share the financial worth of the hoard, likely to run into millions of pounds, with the landowner.

"It's an incredible collection of material, absolutely unprecedented," said archaeologist Kevin Leahy, an adviser with the UK's Portable Antiquities Scheme.

"We've been asked: 'Is this the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold work ever found in this country?' Really, it's the only one ever found -- we've moved into new ground with this material," he told reporters at Birmingham Museum where it will go on temporary display.

The collection contains about 5 kg of gold and 2.5 kg of silver, far bigger than previous finds -- including that of the Sutton Hoo burial ground in eastern England which contains priceless royal treasures found in 1939 in a huge ship grave.

"This is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England as radically, if not more so, as the Sutton Hoo discoveries," said Leslie Webster, former keeper of pre-history and Europe at the British Museum.   Continued...

<p>Part of a hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure named 'The Staffordshire Hoard' is held by a member of museum staff during a news conference at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery during a news conference in Birmingham, central England, September 24, 2009. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh</p>