The Staffordshire Hoard: An Unparalleled Treasure of Anglo-Saxon England
with Chris Fern, MA, FSA (Heritage Consultant, University of York)
at Sutton Hoo on Saturday, 9th June, 2018
The Staffordshire Hoard, discovered in 2009, is the largest accumulation of Anglo-Saxon treasure ever found. It included hundreds of gold and silver fittings from military and ecclesiastical equipment. A seven-year programme of analysis has just been completed, funded by Historic England, the findings of which we will consider. The treasure makes a profound contribution to our understanding of élite Anglo-Saxon society in a time of inter-kingdom warfare and the changing religious allegiance.
09.50 – 10.15: Coffee on arrival
10.15 – 11.15: War-hoard: discovery, reassembly and quantification. The Hoard is an incredible find from an otherwise barren, windy field overlooking the Roman road named Watling Street by the Anglo-Saxons, now the A5. In total, after conservation was complete, 4600 fragments were counted. It took six years to make sense of them, out of which some six hundred significant objects are now counted. Most are gold (c. 4kg) with a smaller number in silver (1.7kg). Many are decorated with fine filigree-wire ornament or are inlaid with blood-red garnets in the equally precise technique of cloisonné. In England, only the royal burial ground of Sutton Hoo, discovered in 1939, contained an assemblage that is comparable in its ability to impress. Most of the objects are fittings from military equipment, mainly swords, but with at least one helmet, and a few are from church objects. All were dismantled before burial from the possessions of warrior and ecclesiastical élites, including probably from the effects of princes, bishops and kings. In its overall character it can be considered a royal treasure.
11.15 – 11.40: Coffee break
11.40 – 12.40: ‘Object-biography’: manufacture, use and disuse. This session will start by looking at the raw materials used to manufacture the objects of the Hoard, before considering how they were transformed into superb miniature works of art to decorate weaponry and church equipment. Evidence of wear and repair shows that these objects were used, in some cases for a considerable period of time, and it moreover provides an insight into the role of the sword in the élite warrior society of the day. Damage is a feature of almost all the finds, which occurred before burial as the result of crude dismantling.
12.40 – 14.00: Lunch break
14.00 – 14.50: Style and substance: the ornament of the Hoard. The mainly gold fittings of the Hoard were mostly fashioned with delicate filigree wire ornament or superb garnet cloisonné, the high fashions of seventh century in England. Animal ornament (Style II) features on many also, and in particular it is interesting to consider its meaning. Crosses also occur. The symbolism of this art will be explored in detail, for what it can tell us about the mentality of the warrior society of the day.
14.50 – 15.10: Tea break
15.10 – 16.00: Chronology and context: when, where and who? The Hoard’s hundreds of rare and in some cases novel forms are a challenge for dating. There are no definitive explanations for the questions ultimately posed, but the painstaking analysis that has been undertaken, allows us the best chance of getting close to the truth. The border territory of Mercia, where the assemblage was buried, was an ‘unfinished’ kingdom at the edge of Anglo-Saxon England in the seventh century. History paints a bloody picture of its leaders, who are amongst the candidates for the owners of the royal treasure
c.16.00: Thanks and Close
About Chris Fern, MS, FSA
Chris Fern was the lead academic specialist for the Staffordshire Hoard Project. He is a Heritage Consultant and Research Associate at the University of York. His publications include Before Sutton Hoo: the Prehistoric Remains and Early Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Tranmer House, Bromeswell, Suffolk (EAA 155), and Beasts, Birds and Gods, with George Speake on the Hoard, and (in prep. with Tania Dickinson and Leslie Webster) The Staffordshire Hoard: an Anglo-Saxon treasure.
Academia webpage: https://york.academia.edu/ChrisFern
Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading
- Nicholas Brooks 2010. ‘The Staffordshire Hoard and the Mercian Royal Court’, https://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium/papers/nicholasbrooks
- Michelle Brown 2010. ‘The manuscript context for the Inscription’ https://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium/papers/michellebrown
- Chris Fern 2017. ‘Treasure at the Frontier: Key Artefacts from the Staffordshire Hoard’, in S. Semple, C. Orsini & S. Mui (eds), Life on the Edge. Social, Religious and Political Frontiers in Early Medieval Europe, 419–39 (available at https://york.academia.edu/ChrisFern )
- Carly Hilts, ‘Rethinking the Staffordshire hoard: piecing together the wealth of Anglo-Saxon kings’, Current Archaeology, 290 (2014). 12–7
- Karen Høilund Nielsen 2010. ‘Style II and all that: the potential of the hoard for statistical study of chronology and geographical distributions’, https://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium/papers/karenhoilundnielsen
- Leahy 2010. ‘The Contents of the Hoard’, https://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium/papers/kevinleahy
- Leahy & R. Bland 2009. The Staffordshire Hoard, British Museum Press
- Leslie Webster 2012. Anglo-Saxon Art, British Museum Press
More papers on the Hoard can be viewed at: https://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium/
Clips discussing the Staffordshire Hoard can be viewed on Youtube: