Thursday, 20 December 2012

More of the Staffordshire Hoard (2012)

More of the Hoard!   (2012)

90 more pieces of the Staffordshire hoard have been turned up by the plough (link). This comes as little surprise as the original finder, Mr Terry Herbert confided to me this year that the original excavation in Farmer Fred Johnson’s field at Hammerwich had been far from complete. This is despite Mr. Johnson’s statement of March 2011 :
“I don’t think there’s any possibility of more gold in that field. Anyone who claims otherwise is talking nonsense in my opinion.   ....And even if there was any more gold there, I wouldn’t bother going looking for it myself as I’ve had enough of the whole thing.”
Conservation of the new "cheekpiece" (cc. Vivienne Bailey)
It is our understanding that most of the recovered items are fairly small but that the bigger items include a gold and garnet cross, tiny eagle-mount and, most importantly, the missing so-called ‘cheek-piece’. We understand that these have been whisked away to the British Museum for cleaning and study, so it is likely to be some time before there is much more real information. Here, we discuss what we know so far;

The items which have been unveiled so far, although eye-catching, are unlikely to shake our understanding of Anglo-Saxon history or the nature of the Hoard; most pieces in this set (tiny decorative mounts, rivet-heads and hilt-plates) are identical to items among the 2008 finds. However, it's worth noting that the many of the most interesting finds from 2008 were not among the "star items" immediately unveiled, and we will be watching closely for updates.

The second "cheek-piece" matches K453 from 2008, and confirms that whatever item the silver-gilt plates were stripped from was bilaterally symmetrical. Unfortunately, this still means that it could have been an ornate saddle fitting rather than a hléorberg. As has previously been discussed, there are various reasons why the identification of these decorative plates as "cheek-pieces" is troubling (link). Further, we already knew a "mirror image" piece to the K453 "cheek-piece" from 2008 existed, from the broken folded edge piece K97, and the second pair of attachment tabs found among the 2008 finds.

Finds from the 2012 excavation unveiled so far (cc Vivienne Bailey)
The small bird-head gold and garnet cloisonné among the publicised 2012 finds is similar to a matching pair from the 2008 set, although differs in various subtle details.

 Xrays of a more complete array of the 2012 finds just visible in some of the conservation photographs also seem to show a large amount of linear rectangular gold and garnet cloisonné strip, which may (speaking optimistically) originate from a highly decorated seax or sword sheath.

So far, the case for this second batch of finds shedding light on the story of the Hoard, and how it came to this isolated field, looks shaky. Indeed, it seems to be more of the same deposition, distributed across the field and deep into the soil with years of ploughing. It will, however, be interesting to learn if anything else turns up after the next ploughing!

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