Staffordshire Hoard

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Staffordshire Hoard
Staffordshire hoard annotated.jpg
A selection of highlight pieces from the Staffordshire Hoard (top) and a gold sword hilt fitting with cloisonné garnet inlay (below), uncleaned by conservators, still showing traces of soil
Flickr - portableantiquities - Hilt Fitting.jpg
  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Stone
  • Garnet
Size over 3,500 items
Writing Latin
Created 7–9thC
Discovered 2009
Hammerwich near Lichfield, Staffordshire, England
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Discovered by Terry Herbert
Present location

The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork yet found. Discovered in a field near the village of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, England, on 5 July 2009, it consists of over 3,500 items[1] that are nearly all martial in character and contains no objects specific to female uses.[2][3] The artefacts have tentatively been dated to the 7th or 8th centuries, placing the origin of the items in the time of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia.

The hoard has been described by Leslie Webster, former keeper of the department of prehistory at the British Museum, as "absolutely the metalwork equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells." She stated further that "this is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England as radically, if not more so, than the Sutton Hoo discoveries."[4] Dr Roger Bland, Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, said, "It is a fantastically important discovery. It is assumed that the items were buried by their owners at a time of danger with the intention of later coming back and recovering them."[5]

Experts have produced a range of theories as to where the hoard came from and how it came to be deposited, and whether the objects were made for Christians or pagans. The average quality of the workmanship is extremely high and especially remarkable in view of the large number of individual objects, such as swords or helmets, from which the elements in the hoard came.

The hoard was valued at £3.285 million and has now been purchased by the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.


Gold artefacts were discovered by Terry Herbert on 5 July 2009, when he was searching an area of recently ploughed farmland near Hammerwich, Staffordshire with a metal detector.[6] Over the next five days, enough gold objects were recovered from the soil to fill 244 bags. At this point Herbert contacted Duncan Slarke, the Finds Liaison Officer for the Staffordshire and West Midlands Portable Antiquities Scheme. The landowner Fred Johnson granted permission for an excavation to search for the rest of the hoard.

2009 excavation

Excavation work was funded by English Heritage who contracted Birmingham Archaeology to do the fieldwork. Ploughing had scattered the artefacts, so an area 9 by 13 metres (30 by 43 ft) was excavated in the search.[7] Because of the importance of the find, the exact site of the hoard was initially kept secret.[8] A geophysical survey of the field in which the hoard was found discovered what could be a ditch close to the find. Although excavations revealed no dating evidence for the feature, further investigation is planned. In total over 3,500 pieces were recovered.[1] A final geophysical survey using specialist equipment provided by the Home Office did not suggest any further artefacts remained to be found.[9]

The discovery was publicly announced on 24 September 2009, attracting worldwide attention. An official website set up to showcase finds from the Hoard received over 10 million views in the first week after the announcement. Whilst Birmingham Archaeology continued to process the find, items from the Hoard were displayed at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery until 13 October 2009, attracting 40,000 people.[10][11] Andrew Haigh, the coroner for South Staffordshire declared the hoard to be treasure,[10] and therefore property of the Crown. A further selection of pieces from the Hoard was displayed at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent. Key items and numerous smaller pieces were then taken to the British Museum, London, where cataloguing, and some initial cleaning and conservation work commenced.

As of 24 September 2009, 1,381 objects had been recovered, of which 864 have a mass of less than 3 grams (0.096 ozt), 507 less than 1 gram (0.032 ozt), leaving just 10 larger items. X-rays of unexamined lumps of earth suggest that there are more to be revealed. Early analysis established that the hoard was not associated with a burial.[12]

2010 excavation

In late March 2010, a team of archaeologists carried out a follow-up excavation on the site, digging 100 metres (110 yd) of trenches and pits in the field. According to Staffordshire county archaeologist, Stephen Dean, there is no more gold or treasure to recover from the site, and the aim of the new excavation is to look for dating and environmental evidence. Archaeologists hope to be able to use this evidence to determine what the landscape looked like at the time that the hoard was deposited.[13]

2012 finds

In December 2012 it was announced that 91 additional items of gold and silver metalwork had been found in the field where the Stafforshire Hoard was discovered in 2009. The finds were made in November 2012 when archaeologists and metal detectorists from Archaeology Warwickshire, working for Staffordshire County Council and English Heritage, visited the field after it had been ploughed. Many of the pieces are less than 1 gram (0.032 ozt) in weight, but there are some larger pieces, including a cross-shaped mount, an eagle-shaped mount, and a helmet cheek piece that matches one from the 2009 discovery. These additional pieces are believed to be part of the original hoard.[14][15][16]

In January 2013, 81 of the 91 items were declared treasure at a coroner's inquest, and, after they have been valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee, Staffordshire County Council will have an opportunity to purchase the items so that they can be reunited with the rest of the hoard. Although these items were found by archaeologists, the money raised by their sale will be shared between Herbert and Johnson as they were responsible for the original discovery of the hoard. The ten items not declared treasure were identified as modern waste material.[17][18]

Kevin Leahy of the British Museum has stated that the ten items not declared as belonging to the original hoard may represent part of a different Anglo-Saxon period hoard. Two of these ten items are high quality pieces of copper alloy, but they are different in style to the gold and silver items of the original hoard. He concludes that "Anglo Saxons clearly visited the site more than once to bury items".[19]


The hoard consists of approximately 3,500 pieces,[1] comprising up to 5 kg (11 lb) of gold and 1.3 kg (2.9 lb) of silver,[20] and is the largest treasure of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver objects discovered to date, eclipsing, at least in quantity, the 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) hoard found in the Sutton Hoo ship burial in 1939.[8] The Saxon goldsmiths were able to alter the surface of the gold to give the appearance of a higher gold content, a technique not previously credited to them.[21]

Most of the items in the hoard appear to be military, and there are no domestic objects, such as vessels or eating utensils, or feminine jewellery, which are the more common Anglo-Saxon gold finds. Reportedly, the contents "show every sign of being carefully selected".[12] There is broad agreement that the typical object in the hoard was made in the 7th century, but the date when a hoard was actually deposited is some point after that of the latest object found. Debate has already begun as to the date of some objects, and the process of forming views as to which objects are the latest, and their dates will no doubt take many years or decades.[22]

A summary of the preliminary contents of the hoard, as of late 2009, is shown in the table below. This excludes items such as the gold horse's head that were in one of the 33 soil blocks that had not been examined at the time of publication of these figures.

Summary of items found[23]
Description Gold Silver Base
or glass
Uncertain Total
Appliqué 1 1
Bead 1 1
Boss 6 1 7
Brooch 1 1
Buckle and plate 2 2
Button 1 1
Cross 5 5
Dome 1 1
Edging 11 69 6 1 87
Fish 1 1
Fitting 35 11 3 4 53
Foil 16 16
Fragment 79 177 29 19 4 7 315
Garnet 26 26
Glass gem 1 1
Mount 15 4 19
Panel 3 3
Pin 2 5 7
Plate 58 13 1 1 1 74
Ring 12 1 13
Rivet 27 29 5 4 65
Setting 2 1 3
Sheet metal 36 233 12 3 2 286
Slag 2 2
Snake 5 5
Spillage 1 1
Stone 1 1
Strip 94 102 5 1 1 203
Stud 9 3 1 13
Sword hilt plate or fitting 178 29 8 1 1 217
Sword pommel 69 10 5 2 86
Sword pyramid 8 1 1 10
Sword scabbard loop 1 1
Wire 34 13 1 1 49
Unidentified 2 4 1 2 1 8 18
Total 712 707 78 39 36 22 1,594


File:Staffordshire Hoard Pommel Caps.jpg
Assorted uncleaned gold fittings, three with cloisonné gold and garnet.

The contents include many finely worked silver and gold sword decorations removed from weaponry, including 66 gold sword hilt collars and many gold hilt plates, some with inlays[12] of cloisonné garnet in zoomorphic designs (see lead picture).[24] The 86 sword pommels found, constitute the largest ever discovery of pommels in a single context, with many different types (some previously unknown) supporting the idea that the pommels were manufactured over a wide range of time.[25]


The Staffordshire Hoard official press statement notes that the only items in the hoard that are obviously non-martial are two (or possibly three) crosses. The largest of the three crosses is missing some decorative settings (yet some are present but detached) but otherwise remains intact, and it may have been an altar or processional cross. Yet the cross is folded; either prior to burial "to make it fit into a small space" or as a sign that the burial deposit was made by pagans. On the other hand, the statement notes, "Christians were also quite capable of despoiling each other's shrines."[26] A gold and garnet fitting, made for the corner of a flat rectangular object, may be for the corner of a book-cover, which in this context would almost certainly have been a religious book.[original research?]

Gold strip

One of the most intriguing items in the hoard is a small strip of gold inscribed on both sides with a quotation[note 1] from the Old Testament in Latin: SURGE DNE DISEPENTUR INIMICI TUI ET FUGENT QUI ODERUNT TE A FACIE TUA ("Surge Domine et dissipentur inimici tui et fugiant qui oderunt te a facie tua"), which translates as: "Rise up, Lord; may Your enemies be scattered and those who hate You be driven from Your face."[26]

Michelle Brown, Professor of Medieval Manuscripts Studies in London, believes that, based on the use of uncial letter forms, the style of lettering used implies a date of 7th or early 8th century, whereas Professor Elisabeth Okasha of University College Cork, an expert on early medieval inscriptions, has identified traits in the insular majuscule script that are similar to later inscriptions datable to the 8th or early 9th century.[12]

The gold strip may have been originally fastened to a shield or a sword belt,[27] but Nicholas Brooks, Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at Birmingham University, interprets the gold strip as an arm of a cross: a round cabochon jewel would have been fitted to the terminal end, and the other end would have fitted into the central fitting of the cross. He suggests that the majuscule script used on the gold strip would have been in widespread use from 635 onwards, and so the gold strip could date to the mid 7th century, contemporaneous with the gold and garnet pommels and other sword jewels in the hoard.[28]


Michael Lewis, the deputy head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme at the British Museum, notes that there are two possible reasons behind the burial of the hoard: either it was a votive deposit (an offering to the gods) or "a treasure chest that got lost, or they couldn't come back for it." Lewis comments that "from my 21st-century perspective, I find it bewildering that someone could shove so much metalwork into the ground as an offering. That seems like overkill."[29]

Kevin Leahy, National Finds Adviser of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, says that the quantity of gold is extremely impressive and that, "more importantly, the craftsmanship is consummate, this was the very best that the Anglo-Saxon metalworkers could do, and they were very good." Leahy says that the finds must originate from the highest possible levels of the Saxon elite. He comments also that the find does not consist simply of loot, pointing out that swords were specifically singled out, that most of the gold and silver items appear to have been intentionally removed from the objects they were previously attached to, and that, if the depositer was just after the gold, fittings from sword belts would have been discovered. Leahy also theorizes that the intention behind the removal of the gold fittings may have been to depersonalise the objects; removing the identity of the previous owners. The blades may have then been reused.[30]

Leahy observes that the hoard appears to be a collection of trophies, yet that it is impossible to say whether the hoard consists of the spoils of a single battle or is the result of a long series of successful military engagements. He says that the reason for the burial is unknown, and theorizes that the deposit "may have been tribute to Heathen gods or concealed in the face of a perceived, but all too real, threat, which led to it not being recovered." He also notes that further work will result in a better understanding of how the hoard came to be buried.[30] Leahy points out that the find includes dozens of pommel caps—decorative attachments to sword handles—and that Beowulf contains a reference to warriors stripping the pommels of their enemies' swords.[31]

Nicholas Brooks has suggested that the hoard may have belonged to the Mercian court armourer. He theorizes that under the system of heriot (death duty), the Mercian king would have received weapons and gold bullion from Anglo-Saxon nobles at their death, and that the Mercian court would have distributed these weapons to men who came into its service. Brooks takes the absence of strap-ends, strap attachments and buckles in the hoard to indicate that the weapons were broken down into their constituent parts, and that the different parts of the weapons were the responsibility of different offices: the court leather-worker would have been responsible for providing those entering Mercian service with adorned belts and harnesses, whereas the court armourer would only have been responsible for metal objects such as the hilt collars, hilt plates and pommel caps that make up the majority of pieces in the hoard.[28]

Historical background

Folded panel from a cross, with interlace

The area of Staffordshire where the hoard was found was part of the kingdom of Mercia in the 7th and 8th centuries, an era for which contemporary written texts are scant, aside from the writings of Bede, whose Ecclesiastical History, finished in 731, was written from the Christian perspective of a monk in Northumbria; Bede, moreover, appears to have had no contacts in Mercia.[32] Archaeology is called into play to supplement the terse written sources regarding the missing cultural history.

The site of the discovery, at Johnsons Farm near Brownhills, is immediately south of Watling Street, and only 2.5 miles (4.0 km) west of the important Roman staging post of Letocetum. Watling Street was a major Roman road that would have seen continued use in the Anglo-Saxon period, and it acted as the demarcation line between the Anglo-Saxon and Danish-ruled parts of England during the 9th century. The hoard has been speculatively connected with king Edwin of Northumbria (d. 632/633).[33]

Michael Lewis's view is that attempting to link the hoard to a particular individual is not realistic. He notes that, during the period from which the hoard dates, some rulers from Mercia are well known, including Penda and Offa. Penda ruled slightly before the period of the hoard, and "Offa is right at the end, so it has to be someone in the middle." Moreover, the historical record for the period shows a dependency on Bede, who wrote from a Christian perspective, yet the Mercians at the time were likely pagans, and therefore "could have been overlooked by Bede even though they might have been important, because he wasn't interested in them—-for whatever reason." Lewis comments that the hoard will assist in looking back at literary sources and historical figures with more scrutiny.[29]

In his 2015 book The Anglo-Saxon Age: The Birth of England, local historian Martin Wall postulates a connection to Peada, Penda's eldest son, whose kingdom of Middle-Anglia had converted to Christianity at this time. Peada was poisoned by his queen, who was the daughter of King Oswy of Northumbria. Welsh poetry commemorates a large raid on Wall-by-Lichfield in 656, where much booty and livestock were taken, and this was only two miles from the site of the hoard.[34]


File:Terry Herbert (finder) and Caroline Lyons (Treasure Team).jpg
Terry Herbert examining items from the Staffordshire Hoard at the British Museum in October 2009. The items have been laid out for valuation by the Treasure Valuation Committee.

On 25 November 2009 the hoard was valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee at £3.285 million, which, under the provisions of the 1996 Treasure Act, is the sum that must be paid as a reward to the finder and landowner, to be shared equally, by any museum that wishes to acquire the hoard.[35][36]

After the hoard was valued, it was announced that the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery intended to jointly acquire the entire hoard, and a public appeal was launched to raise the £3.285 million needed to purchase the hoard. The Art Fund co-ordinated the appeal. If the sum had not been raised by 17 April 2010, the Hoard might have been sold on the open market and the unique collection permanently broken up.[37]

However, on 23 March 2010 it was announced that the sum had been raised three weeks before the deadline, after a grant of £1.285 million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) was added to the money already collected from individuals, councils, and other groups and associations.[38] Although the purchase price has been achieved, the Art Fund appeal is still continuing, in order to raise a further £1.7 million to help fund the conservation, study and display of the hoard.[38]

Terry Herbert, the finder of the hoard, and Fred Johnson, the farmer on whose land the hoard was found, each received a half share of the £3.285 million raised by the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.[39] A feud later ensued between the two men.[40]


The hoard was first displayed at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (from 24 September 2009 until 13 October 2009), and subsequently part of the hoard was put on display at the British Museum (from 3 November 2009 until 17 April 2010). Eighty items from the hoard, including a gold horse's head that has not previously been exhibited, went on display at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent from 13 February 2010 until 7 March 2010.[41] Key items from the Hoard are on long-term temporary display at Birmingham Museum and at the Potteries Museum . Approximately 80 Hoard objects are on display in Gallery 12 in Birmingham and a further 80 in Stoke-on-Trent. Items from the hoard were on display at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, DC, United States, from 29 October 2011 to 4 March 2012.[42][43] The hoard will be put on permanent display at the Birmingham Museum and at the Potteries Museum, but there are plans to make some items from the hoard available on loan to historic Mercian sites, such as Tamworth Castle and Lichfield Cathedral, as part of the Mercian Trail.[44][45]

On 26 January 2012 the hoard was featured in the hour-long BBC2 documentary Saxon Hoard: A Golden Discovery presented by TV historian Dan Snow.[46]

See also


  1. This phrase, used in the liturgy for consecration of churches, is from Numbers 10:35, and appears in Psalm 67:2 in the form "exsurgat Deus et dissipentur inimici eius et fugiant qui oderunt eum a facie eius". The apparent mistakes are due to the engraver's error and common Medieval spelling variants.[12]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Alexander, Caroline (November 2011). "Magical Mystery Treasure". National Geographic. 220 (5): 44.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "The Find". Staffordshire Hoard. Retrieved 14 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Leahy & Bland 2009, p. 9
  4. "The Staffordshire Hoard: Comments sent to us".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Anglo-Saxon gold: largest ever hoard officially declared treasure". London. 24 September 2009. Retrieved 24 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Leahy & Bland 2009, pp. 4, 6
  7. Leahy & Bland 2009, p. 6
  8. 8.0 8.1 Kennedy, Maev (24 September 2009). "Largest ever hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold found in Staffordshire". London. Retrieved 24 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Leahy & Bland 2009, pp. 6–8
  10. 10.0 10.1 Leahy & Bland 2009, pp. 8–9
  11. "Crowds visit Anglo-Saxon hoard". 25 September 2009. Retrieved 26 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 "The Staffordshire Hoard: Discovery and Initial Assessment" (PDF). Portable Antiquities Scheme. Retrieved 24 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Team digs for clues at Staffordshire Hoard site". Tamworth Herald. Retrieved 8 April 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Staffordshire Hoard: More fragments found in Hammerwich". 18 December 2012. Retrieved 18 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "New Finds Discovered in Staffordshire Hoard Field". 18 December 2012. Retrieved 18 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Kennedy, Maev (18 December 2012). "Staffordshire hoard site yields further 90 fragments". Retrieved 18 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Staffordshire Hoard inquest rules most new items treasure". 4 January 2013. Retrieved 4 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Treasure found near Staffordshire Hoard to be valued by British Museum". The Telegraph. 4 January 2013. Retrieved 3 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "More Staffordshire Hoard treasure may still be buried". Express & Star. 5 January 2013. Retrieved 5 January 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "The Staffordshire Hoard: Press statement".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Britain's greatest treasure hoard reveals how goldsmiths fooled the Anglo-Saxon world
  22. Stoke Museums media pack; See also the views of Brooks, Brown, Okasha and Webster cited below.
  23. Leahy & Bland 2009, p. 44
  24. "Catalogue of the objects". Portable Antiquities Scheme. p. 82. Retrieved 24 September 2009. 449 ... Gold ... Sword Hilt Collar<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Fischer, Svante and Soulat, Jean. "The Typochronology of Sword Pommels from the Staffordshire Hoard". Retrieved 26 March 2011.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. 26.0 26.1 "The Inscriptions". Current Archaeology. Retrieved 24 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Satter, Raphael G. "Largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure found in UK". Retrieved 22 December 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. 28.0 28.1 "The Staffordshire Hoard: interpretative comments from Nicholas Brooks". Retrieved 22 December 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. 29.0 29.1 Lewis, Michael (24 September 2009). "Hoard Shines Light on Dark Ages". Retrieved 25 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. 30.0 30.1 "The Staffordshire Hoard: Kevin Leahy's Interpretation". Retrieved 26 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Satter, Raphael G. (25 September 2009). "Treasures Shed Light on Dark Ages". Express. Washington, D.C. p. 7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. Yorke, Barbara (2005) "The Origins of Mercia" in M. P. Brown and C. A. Farr, Mercia: an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in Europe, 2005; p. 100
  33. "'I’ve been told that the Vatican think it may be the lost treasure of St Edwin,' she [Deb Klemperer, from the Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent] told the Sunday Mercury. [...] 'St Edwin was killed in battle with King Penda of Mercia in 632 AD, and I think it is likely that it is his hoard'" "Staffordshire hoard is wanted by The Pope and Vatican" (Sunday Mercury, 20 December 2008), "Midlands museums face Vatican battle for Staffordshire Hoard" (Birmingham Mail, 21 December 2009).
  34. Wall, M. (2015) The Anglo-Saxon Age: The Birth of England Amberley Publishing, Chapter 5.
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  39. "Golden times ahead for Staffordshire Hoard millionaire". Express & Star. 19 July 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. "'Sometimes I wish I'd never found that Hoard': How sharing £3m find of Saxon gold led to a bitter feud" at
  41. "Dazzlingly detailed horse leads Staffordshire Hoard galloping back to Potteries". Culture24. Retrieved 26 January 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  43. "Staffordshire Hoard goes on display in Washington DC" BBC 29 October 2011
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  46. "Saxon Hoard: A Golden Discovery" at


External links