Monday 28 November 2011

Another "Haul" of Viking Hack Silver from Britain

Yet another hoard of Viking silver things has been dug up in northern Britain by a metal detector wielding artefact hunter ("An amateur treasure hunter has discovered a "nationally significant" Viking hoard including hundreds of pieces of silver jewellery and coins"). This one was apparently still in its lead box - which to survive more or less intact must have been below plough level.
Darren Webster unearthed "the find of a lifetime" when his metal detector picked up a signal at an undisclosed location on the border of Cumbria with north Lancashire. He could barely believe it when he dug up a casket containing 200 pieces of silver jewellery, coins, hacksilver and ingots. [...] "I got a good signal on my detector so I dug about 18 inches and then I saw a lead pot. It was slightly open. I could see all the coins and jewellery inside. It was a great feeling."
The Telegraph used the right word: "The haul is now being studied by experts at the British Museum who will reveal their findings in December". the annoncement is accompanied by archaeologists and museum folk coming out with the usul trite narrativisation. Sabine Skae, curator of Barrow's Dock Museum, said
she hoped the new hoard would help put Cumbria and South Lakeland on the map as having an important Viking heritage. "Over the past ten years there has been an increase in small finds and now some larger finds which is really forcing people to look at Cumbria in a new way," she added. Stephen Oppenheimer, an anthropology lecturer at Oxford University, said big hoards such as this paint a new picture of what Vikings were doing in England. The discovery of big hoards break down the stereotype of Vikings just coming over here to raid our churches and take valuables back to their own country.
Which is odd, as I am sure I read a stereotype somewhere about this zone of England called the "Danelaw" or something like that. Perhaps I got it wrong. I am sure a flood of big hoards like this is going to give us a truer picture than excavating a farmstead or two and investigating settlement patterns in the landscape. The Coroner's inquest is being rushed through and will be held in "mid-December".

Daily Telegraph, 'Amateur treasure hunter finds Viking hoard', 27 Oct 2011

UPDATE 14th Dec 2011: Andrew Hough, 'Viking hoard provides new clues to 'previously unknown ruler', Daily Telegraph, 14 Dec 2011

Jack Malvern, 'Metal detector forager discovers Viking hoard of silver in Lancashire field', Times, December 15, 2011

The publicity spin being put the new hoard is that it "contains valuable coins bearing the identity of a previously unknown ruler, it emerged yesterday".

The hoard was found in September by company director Darren Webster, 39 (who has a stone tile workshop in Yealand Conyers, Lancashire), using a metal detector on land around Silverdale (and why would a metal detectorist be searching there, then?), in north Lancashire.
""The first thing I discovered was the lead pot it was contained in."When I lifted that out of the hole that's when I noticed silver falling from the pot".
The assemblage contained 27 Anglo-Saxon (of Alfred the Great), Anglo-Viking (Viking Northumbrian kingdom), German and Islamic coins, and some 174 pieces of silver objects, ingots and pieces of silver jewellery (including 10 arm rings, six brooch fragments, two finger rings, 14 ingots, six brooch fragments and a fine wire braid which may have been worn as a necklace), in a lead (-lined?) box. There were also 141 fragments of hacksilver. It is "the fourth largest ever found". the coins date to around 900AD. More narrativisation:
"The hoard was placed in a lead box and buried underground at a time when the Anglo-Saxons were attempting to wrest control of the north of the country from the Vikings [...] around the time the Vikings had been expelled from Dublin and were fighting the Anglo-Saxons to keep control of the north of England.[...] Experts believe the hoard [...] could have been buried by a Viking warrior before he went into battle [and the] jewellery are thought to have been worn to signify rank of the influential owner.
well, except it quite clearly is an early tenth century hacksilver hoard isn't it? Like the whole spread of them that occur from the Baltic across to the Irish Sea in this period. Were there "experts" coming out with this "buried it before a battle" junk from the noomismatic department of the BM by any chance? Perhaps they should look at some of the latest continental literature on these hoards and tell the public what they say rather than feeding them romantic (and nationalistic) news-pap to justify the plunder of the archaeological record by their "partners" with metal detectors. Just to make it more palatable that at a time when we cannot afford to keep other artworks in the country we are yet again going to have to fork out to buy back another bit of needlessly-dug-up-from-the-in-situ-archaeological-record we are given more palliative pap-news:
One silver denier, bears the name Charles [which "Carolus"?]. Others bear the name Airdeconut, a Viking ruler in northern England. Officials said the inscription Airdeconut, appeared to be an attempt to represent the Scandinavian name Harthacnut. They said this was because many Vikings had converted to Christianity within a generation of settling in Britain. On the other side were the words DNS (Dominus) REX, which was arranged in the form of a cross. “The design of the coin relates to known coins of the kings Siefredus and Cnut, who ruled the Viking kingdom of Northumbria around AD900, but Harthacnut is otherwise unrecorded,” a museum spokesman said. “It is a very significant find. It is a very large haul and it is the fourth large Viking find in the UK. Because it is recently discovered there is lots of research to be done.”
Yes indeed, but first it has to be VALUED. Mr Webster said he would "love" the collection to go to his local museum in Lancaster. In order that this could be achieved, so that the British can see the archaeological heritage which he dug up, he was waiving the reward fee and donating all the other objects he has taken from the archaeological record (together with full documentation of the context of discovery) to the local archaeological museum together with a donation to cover the costs of conservation and archivisation of the Darren Webster collection. I made that last sentence up, Mr Warren most likely has not yet decided what to do with the reward money or his other finds.

Jack Malvern of the Times has some details of the discovery. He says that the hoard of silver was "buried one metre down in the earth" and quotes the finder Mr Webster:
"My machine was telling me that I'd found some kind of silver. So I was slightly disheartened when I saw a lead pot. It was as I was lifting it that silver pieces started falling out of it." Once the lead container had been prised open the [silver was found].
Note the total silence about the archaeological excavation that took place to recover the items from in situ in this box, recorded the box itself in situ (a lead box? Lead-lined box? Why?), whether the box had been buried and objects placed in it over a period of time, what the box was buried in and next to. Why the silence? Why the silence, please British Museum?

Looking at the position and geographical setting of the find, could we not be looking at an indicator of a trade emporium rather than the more romantic Blood-and-Glory "before the battle" scenario apparently favoured by the British Museum?

So, due to current policies on Treasure hunting and artefact collecting with metal detectors, Britain has accumulated yet another "haul" of Viking hacksilver to put alongside the ones that they already have as a result of the proliferation of reported treasure finds due to the proliferation of "metal detecting". So, how is the publication of the other ones coming along? Will it be a monographic series like the (soon to be renewed) Polish one? How many more unpublished Viking silver hoards (to put this or that region "on the map") do we need taken out of the archaeological record in the next four decades? Are we not close to reaching saturation point, and if so, what then?

Vignette: The images of the hoard were released to coincide with the release of the PAS Annual Report in December Photos of hacksilber and coin by Geoff Pugh.

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