Top Five Treasures from the Staffordshire Hoard of the Kingdom of Mercia

The recent discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard has turned up over 1,500 pieces of stunning gold and silver artfacts from the 7th century Dark Ages era. The find has been described as “unparalleled” and represents the largest haul of Anglo-Saxon treasure ever to have been discovered, within an area which was the heartland of theKingdom of Mercia. The Mercian tribe was particularly aggressive in their conquests and fought to expand the land in their control – centered on the valley of the river Trent, what today is the English Midlands – in wars against Northumbria and East Anglia. Out of the more than thousand artefacts, we’ve chosen the 5 most astonishing ones to show to you.

Although the quantity itself is impressive, that should not detract from the quality of the finds. These were amongst the highest quality being produced by Anglo-Saxon metalworkers, and the artefacts that were revealed today in Birmingham would have belonged to the highest levels of aristocracy of ‘the Border People’ (the Old English Mierce, of which ‘Mercia’ is a Latinisation actually means exactly that).

But what are the highlights of the Staffordshire find?Heritage Key offers its Top Five:

1. Golden Folded Cross

This Gold Cross bears five roundels and a D-shaped plate, of which three of the lateral roundels are fitted with ears. Rivet holes for fittings (some of which were found) are also present. Many of the finds at the site had been damaged prior to deposition, and the gold had been twisted or bent, and in some cases broken. It is believed that the the damage is not a result of malicious intent, but that simply the objects were squashed in storage. The Golden Folded Cross is one of the few non-warfare related items to be found – the fact it was folded suggests that it was squashed for burial. It’s possible that this was done by pagans due to the lack of respect shown when burying it, although that is not to suggest it can’t have been done by a Christian.

2. Sword Hilt Fitting

So far, 84 pommel caps and 71 Hilt collars have been indentified from the excavation site. A hilt fitting is a highly decorated piece which would have been attached to a sword or a seax (a short knife/sword).Usually created from gold and meticulously crafted with garnets and elaborate decorations. Such expensive decor would only have been reserved for the highest noblemen of the time. To find a single hilt fitting is in itself a notable discovery, but to find so many in a single excavation is simply extrodinary!

3. Gold Strip with Inscription

This strip of gold is inscribed with biblical verses on both sides. An animal head adorns one end, whilst the other ends in a setting. When translated, the inscription reads “rise up, o Lord, and may thy enemies be scattered and those who hate thee be driven from thy face”. The handiwork on the inscription seems to suggest that the engraver was someone who was more used to working on wax tablets, and the style of the lettering has suggested the artefact is from the seventh or early eighth century.

4. Cheek Piece

This is the side panel for a helmet which would have looked very similar to the now-iconic one found at the Sutton Hoo burial. Though low in gold content, the piece includes the striking depiction of running, interlaced animals. More pieces of the helmet have been unearthed, though it may take some time to fit the parts together. One shows a beautifully detailed animal figure, and is probably the helmet’s crest.

5. Millefiori Stud

This small stud, rounded by gold, is a great example of early work with Millefiori, an early glasswork technique which was also prevalent in the Sutton Hoo haul. It would have most probably been used as a scabbard fitting, and the black-and-white chequered centrepiece give the piece a really British feel; you can almost feel the Round Table in its design.

The most important pieces of the ‘Staffordshire Hoard’ will be on display at the Birmingham Museum from now until the 13th October, after which they will be taken to the British Museum in London for valuation.

Images from Portable Antiquities and Staffordshire Hoard website. Thanks to Sean Williams for his contribution to this entry.