The Staffordshire Hoard was discovered by metal detectorist Terry Herbert in a field near Lichfield in 2009. The find is one of the most significant discoveries of Anglo-Saxon treasure ever found, arousing regional, national and international interest.
Metal detecting is a popular hobby where a simple piece of electrical equipment is able to locate metal objects buried in the ground. Archaeologists and forensic detectives also use other equipment to detect objects hidden deeper underground. These more complex equipment can find other items if conditions are favourable, including, for example, human remains, metal objects and mineral deposits. This branch of science is known as ‘geophysics’ and is an important aspect of modern forensic work.
Archaeology is an exacting science which painstakingly retrieves objects without destroying the context of the find. This is important as much information is gained from its location, position and depth. The surrounding environment can be an important clue to why and when the items were buried or lost underground.
Pagan Anglo-Saxon cremated remains and burials are sometimes found with personal items and objects which reflect the dead person’s power and influence. These finds provide a wealth of information for historians and help us understand the customs, beliefs and everyday society of past cultures.
The Staffordshire Hoard itself is a unique discovery. It is not a burial as no bones were found, nor were female adornments present. It seems that all this treasure is military in nature. This makes it the only find of this type and period in the world. It was vital that the excavators followed the main principles of archaeology and carefully extracted the artefacts.
Ancient Weaponry & Injury
Experts have established that the Staffordshire Hoard is comprised mainly of military items. The Anglo-Saxon period was particularly unstable with different warlords competing for dominance. The kingdom of Mercia was an important region in Anglo-Saxon times and was continually in conflict with the powerful lords of Northumberland.
These were brutal times and the main weapons used in battle were swords, axes, spears and arrows. These weapons did serious damage and mortality rates would have been high. All these different weapons produced different injuries on the human body. Advances in modern technology now allow forensic detectives to accurately identify the exact weapon used, by analysing the marks left both externally and internally – an important form of evidence in any criminal investigation.
Nobody knows who buried the Hoard. The passage of time has eradicated any forensic evidence that may have been left and there were then none of the resources available to us to help retrieve such a valuable treasure. Nowadays there are a number of forensic techniques which could be used to identify the person or persons who buried the artefacts.
Shoeprints are an important feature of modern detective work. Forensic analysis can identify whether the shoeprint belonged to a woman or man and even the type of shoe worn. If modern technology had been available, it may have been possible to establish whether the treasure had been buried by a nobleman, warrior or peasant from the impressions left at the scene.
Real or Fake?
The Hoard is mainly comprised of gold, silver and semi-precious gems – garnets. The value of all these items can be quite considerable, but imitations or other similar minerals are virtually worthless. Iron pyrite, or ‘fool’s gold’, is a prime example of this and, as suggested by its name, has ‘fooled’ many a prospector into believing they had ‘made it rich’.
A simple method of ‘panning,’ which sifts the heavier minerals and metals from other materials, has been used for centuries. Advances in modern technology now enable scientists to determine more accurately the chemical composition of such minerals. This can assist in providing an age for a golden artefact, or gemstone, as well as providing information about the possible country of origin of the raw gold and garnets. Microscopes are only one method used in the detailed examination of the garnets to try to establish if they are genuine or a man-made substitute.
The evidence gathered from using different scientific techniques has established that all the gold, silver and garnet items found in the Staffordshire Hoard are authentic, with the possibility that some of the material was sourced from overseas.