Saxon Hoard: A Golden Discovery


Saxon Hoard: A Golden Discovery

Dan Snow travels across the old Kingdom of Mercia to unravel the secrets of one of Britian's most significant discoveries - the Staffordshire Hoard.


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Transcript


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'In July 2009, one lucky find lifted the lid on a long-lost world...'

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We all love buried treasure.

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It's like a fairy story,

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these glorious things emerging from clods of earth.

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There's a sort of magic of it.

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'..an astonishing treasure trove of gold and silver

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'hidden in a field in Staffordshire, in the Midlands.'

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You never really ever get involved in finds with precious metals.

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This is real sort of Indiana Jones-type stuff.

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'I'm going to take you on a journey

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'to unlock some of the mysteries of this new-found Anglo-Saxon hoard.'

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Were they looted as a result of battles?

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Were they given to the Mercian king as tribute by his sub-peoples?

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We found them dismembered and bent.

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Were they crammed into a box to be taken away?

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'And I'll discover just how it could help transform

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'our understanding of one of the most fascinating periods in our history.'

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Finds like the Staffordshire hoard show that this was a vibrant

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and colourful and bright society, as much as anything else,

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and it helps us to think about this time in a completely different way.

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This is the story of the greatest find in generations.

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'I want to take you back about 1,400 years, to seventh-century England,

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'to around the time when the Staffordshire Hoard was hidden.

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'The days of Roman Britain had long passed. We'd entered a new era.

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'As the Romans withdrew, bands of adventurers arrived on our shores

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'from northern Germany and Scandinavia.'

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The Dark Ages, the name traditionally given

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to the time between the Romans leaving and William the Conqueror arriving,

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is a time when we have only a very dim knowledge of. You can see why.

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This is Catholme in Staffordshire. It doesn't look like much,

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but it's the site of one of the finest Dark Age finds

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ever made in the Midlands.

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This was an Anglo-Saxon settlement of the seventh century,

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a thriving community with more than 60 buildings.

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'Anglo-Saxon Catholme would have looked like this,

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'villages where people raised livestock and grew crops.

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'We know from archaeological evidence that average life expectancy was just 30,

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'with people facing the hazards of war and feuds

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'and at risk from famine and epidemics.

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'As people abandoned Roman cities,

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'the lifestyle of this largely pagan, illiterate people

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'has left historians with a challenge.'

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When the Romans left, they took their stone-building techniques with them,

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so when the Anglo-Saxons built, they used wood,

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and their buildings have long since rotted back into the soil.

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What they have left are a few bits of fired ceramic.

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This is a weight from a weaving loom and this is a delicate handmade urn.

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Basically, they didn't leave too many clues behind them.

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'This has left historians with a major problem.

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'How do you tell the story of this era

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'with just a few occasional teasing glimpses

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'into life in these long-forgotten kingdoms?'

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It's taking pieces of a puzzle,

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a thousand-piece puzzle, and you've only got eight piece.

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That's the sense in which we've been working up until this point.

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'The discovery of astonishing weaponry in the Staffordshire Hoard

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'shone a new light on our Anglo-Saxon past.'

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The traditional view is that

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life in the Dark Ages was nasty, brutish and short,

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and it's this idea that everyone lived in huts and hovels

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and really didn't have much quality of life.

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That's why we get this term "Dark Age" associated with it.

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But that's so far from the truth.

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'So can this find tell us more

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'about an England divided among warring kingdoms?

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'In the centre was Mercia, a kingdom that stretched across the Midlands

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'and a land with a reputation for aggressive warriors.

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'But archaeological evidence has been very thin on the ground,

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'with few finds of any significance.'

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We just had tantalising glimpses.

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The artefacts we had covered the whole date range,

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from the fifth to the eleventh century, but just one or two items.

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But just a few pieces didn't really give us

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a full idea of how things were at that time.

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You could use documentary material, and you could use the fact

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that you've got Saxon carved crosses and so on

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to put some flesh onto it,

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but the human element was somewhat lacking.

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'In the summer of 2009, all that changed

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'when a reluctant farmer from Staffordshire

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'was finally persuaded to allow metal detectorists onto his land.'

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We'd had several requests in the past for people to come metal-detecting,

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and until the motorway was announced, we never allowed anyone on.

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And then a chap running a club

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approached me, and he said,

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"You may as well let someone on now, because if there's anything there

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"and the motorway takes it, it'll be lost forever."

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And he'd got a good point.

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Anyway, I think eight of them came at the weekend

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and went all over the whole farm.

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And they only found buttons and buckles, what I thought was rubbish.

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And then Terry approached me.

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And I'd told him no several times...

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..basically because I didn't particularly like him!

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Anyway, he come and asked me to come on this field specifically,

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and I thought, "He can't come to any harm down there,

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"and he won't find anything."

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'Fred couldn't have been more wrong.

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'Metal detectorist Terry Herbert not only struck gold,

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'he made the find of a lifetime.'

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I was working in the yard, and he came up mid-morning...

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and he said, "Sit down." I said, "What's the matter with you?"

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I said, "What's the matter?" He said, "I've found a Saxon hoard."

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Well, I didn't believe him.

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It wasn't until the archaeologists came on and I had a look meself...

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that I realised what he'd found.

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'When the experts arrived, the extent of the hoard

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'started to become clear.

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'This was a find unlike anything they'd seen before.'

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I was not really believing it,

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because you'd seen the odd piece like this in some of the books,

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but to have row upon row of these things was just quite incredible.

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I think my first thought was very much

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how lucky the detector must have been to have found all this

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and there couldn't possibly be anything left to find.

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So we got to the site, and within seconds

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there was this large oval gold piece with garnets,

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just sat there on the surface, and we thought, "Gosh, this IS real."

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And almost with seconds of breaking the ground,

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piece after piece was coming up.

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We got quite hectic just right from the dot.

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You never really ever get involved in finds with precious metals.

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This is real sort of Indiana Jones-type stuff.

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The largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver ever discovered in Britain

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has officially been declared as treasure.

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'It may have seemed like a movie,

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'but this treasure trove of gold and silver was very real.

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'It was a fabulous find that would make Terry a wealthy man,

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'as he revealed in a rare interview at the time.'

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It came quite as a shock, actually,

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but when the archaeologist was on the field, he came up to me

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and he said, "At the end of this, you'll end up being a millionaire."

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-And that happened, didn't it?

-Yes.

-How much did you get altogether?

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£1,642,500.

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'Fred also got his share of the find.

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'But despite his sudden wealth,

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'he's carried on farming his land near Lichfield.

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'He may have brought the treasure near the surface when he had problems with his plough.

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'But he's still not claiming any of the credit.'

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I feel very lucky.

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I think it's more luck than judgment

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that I actually ended up owning it, you know?

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People have asked me if I feel proud,

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but I don't think pride is the right thing.

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You're proud of something you've done or something you've made,

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something you've achieved.

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But I think this is pure luck.

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'It is a multimillion-pound discovery.

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'But for historians, the hoard's real worth

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'lies in what it can possibly tell us about our distant past.

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'We now have thousands more clues into Anglo-Saxon times -

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'pommels from the top of swords, pieces of warrior helmet,

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'strange serpents and mangled crosses,

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'a Boys' Own collection of warrior bling.

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'And it captured the imagination of the world.'

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So, you think that old metal detector is no good use any more?

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SHE SPEAKS JAPANESE

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It's the biggest haul of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver ever found.

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I never, ever in my career thought I would be holding

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this kind of treasure. It's the sort of thing you dream of.

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I think the fact we made the lead item on the six o'clock news

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was an epic hint that maybe things were going to be big.

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It is the earth yielding up its treasure.

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It literally came from the soil of Staffordshire.

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It was deliberately put there. It was removed from it 1,500 years later.

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But it needs to keep those roots.

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It's very big.

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It's 1,500 objects, and it's 11lb of gold

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and God knows how much more silver, so it's a huge find.

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And I think, if one were to do simple arithmetic,

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this is a multiple of several times

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everything else that we've got from Anglo-Saxon England.

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It wasn't just the press whose appetite was insatiable.

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The public were also desperate to find out all they could

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about this incredible hoard.

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It's outstanding, the quality of the work and the quantity as well.

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This is, I guess, only a small amount of it, but very impressed.

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It's absolutely fantastic. It hasn't disappointed one little bit.

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It's been brilliant.

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I'm a jeweller, so it's quite a thrill to have a look at it.

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At its peak, people were waiting four hours to and see the hoard.

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To get 42,000 people through one gallery in a 19-day period

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is unequalled here.

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Astonishing. It was our experience of the blockbuster.

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And it was wonderful!

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'The hoard was huge, packed with beautifully crafted artefacts.

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'But what does it actually tell us?

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'Can one lucky find really change our thinking about Anglo-Saxon England?

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'Well, before the hoard was found,

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'we already had some idea about what life was like in this period.'

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There really haven't been that many large Anglo-Saxon finds in Britain,

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and perhaps the best-known before the hoard

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was at this incredible set of burial mounds

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at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk.

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In the 1930s, an archaeologist from the museum excavated this mound,

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and in it he made a series of incredible finds,

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finds that gave us a stunning insight

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into a world that had previously only existed in legend.

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The last remotely comparable find...

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Normally, you find a couple of brooches and this kind of thing,

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if you're lucky a ring.

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We discovered the royal ring of an Anglo-Saxon king,

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which is pretty amazing.

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But this is the only thing that's comparable to it,

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the great discovery in the 1930s called the Sutton Hoo ship,

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which is in East Anglia.

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The Sutton Hoo ship is a deliberate burial.

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It's a wonderful ceremonial burial, and what they did, it must be a king.

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We think it's Raedwald, the king of the East Anglians.

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They dragged this great longboat up from the river.

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They lay the king's body there, and they surround it

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with these incomparable treasures,

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and they dress it, so he's got his great helmet on,

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he's got his massive sword by his side.

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Sutton Hoo is a deliberate creation. It's a grand ceremonial funeral.

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It's like something out of one of the sagas, except in the sagas,

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for example the death of Beowulf,

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they deliberately destroy it.

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It's a funeral pyre. The thing is consumed with fire.

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This was a burial, so it's preserved,

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so that really is the English tomb of Tutankhamun.

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In Sutton Hoo, we really have an idealised sense

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of the hall in miniature for the afterlife.

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So the king, if we can say it's a king, the deceased,

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has been buried with everything they would need for the afterlife.

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And what we get is a real glimpse of the life of the hall

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in Anglo-Saxon times.

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We have drinking horns, cauldrons, everything they would need.

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A lyre to play music on.

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It's like opening a window onto the time

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in terms of looking at it as this vibrant hall life,

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this kingly or noble life of the hall.

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Sutton Hoo may have been a significant find

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but such windows into the past have been few and far between.

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For much of their understanding of this era

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scholars have had to rely on historical texts.

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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,

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originally compiled under the orders of King Alfred The Great of Wessex,

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gives us one account of this time.

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A further picture is painted by a man who may have been

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this country's earliest historian.

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Bede's writing in the late 720s,

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the early 730s,

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was the first to give shape to English history.

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One has to imagine that he is writing in a vacuum.

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He, in effect, is the first person who determines

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the narrative of English history in this very early period.

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And so his contribution was absolutely staggering.

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And he articulates

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the whole of that period.

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He characterises and identifies the different kingdoms,

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we see how they interacted with each other,

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we see what made them tick. We see all of these things

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for the first time in any kind of detail

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from Bede's Ecclesiastical History,

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so it's THE most extraordinary source.

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But it has... It sees everything from a Northumbrian perspective

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and we would dearly like

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to have other views of that period

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written from other parts of the country.

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Though there's debate about the balance and accuracy of these texts,

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they are two of the most valuable sources we have for the Anglo-Saxon period.

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But we also have one of England's most important poems,

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written in old English somewhere between the ninth and 11th century.

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Beowulf tells of a warrior hero

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who sets out to destroy a man-eating monster called Grendel

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in a story which captures many of the beliefs and attitudes of the time.

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"Glittering gold spread on the ground,

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"the old dawn-scorching serpent's den packed with goblins."

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So, rich literary sources like Beowulf, Bede and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,

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along with wonderful, if rare, finds like Sutton Hoo

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have given us an intriguing insight into life during the Dark Ages.

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But there is one particular gap in our knowledge of these times.

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A lack of literary finds from the biggest Anglo-Saxon kingdom of all.

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Mercia.

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Mercia's fascinating

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because we don't have much in the way

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of documentary references to Mercia,

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because what we have, we have The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,

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which is really bigging up Wessex.

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It's all about how wonderful Alfred was and how wonderful Wessex was.

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And we have Bede, the Venerable Bede,

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who has an agenda to say how wonderful Northumbria was.

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We don't have an equivalent for Mercia.

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What everybody said was, the Mercians were a violent,

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rapacious lot who went around hunting, shooting, killing people.

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They didn't get a chance to tell their side of the story.

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But that's where the hoard could help.

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It was discovered at the centre of what used to be this huge kingdom

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and it could give us more clues

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about how these mysterious Mercians used to live.

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'So what can it tell us?

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'I've come to Tamworth, north-east of Birmingham,

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'a few miles from where the hoard was found.'

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And we know that in the middle of the seventh century, which is about when the hoard was buried,

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Tamworth was at the very heart of Mercian royal power.

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The mighty Mercian kings would fight their enemies,

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beating off invasion or trying to expand their empire,

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and then they'd return here to Tamworth to sign treaties and charters,

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and, of course, reward their loyal followers and warriors with gold.

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And today, Tamworth Castle stares down at what was heart

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of this royal estate.

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WARRIOR BATTLE CRIES RING OUT

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SWORDS CLASH

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'Even before the hoard was found, historians thought they had a pretty good idea

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'of the importance of Tamworth and the people who used to live there.'

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The Royal Court wasn't a group of delicate people all wearing silk

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and satin and posing.

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It was a warrior band.

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The warrior elite surrounding the king, lived and died with him.

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If he succeeded, they got pots of gold, pots of land,

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pots of women, lots and lots of nice horses and life was great.

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If the king failed, they died horribly.

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Yeah.

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Well, actually, if we come out onto the Tower,

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you get a fantastic sense...

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Oh, wow!

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..of the setting of Tamworth and why it was such a special place,

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why it was so important.

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-That's gorgeous.

-It is stunning, yeah.

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You can see the castle's a very strategic spot for looking out,

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to dominate all this ground here and of course, the river crossing there.

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'Marion Blockley is an archaeologist and an expert in Anglo-Saxon history.

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'For her, the hoard is further proof of the wealth and power of Tamworth.'

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-So this is a major British royal settlement?

-Absolutely.

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It's as important as anywhere else in the whole of the modern UK?

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Definitely.

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I've worked in Canterbury, York and many other places

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and I have this feeling...

0:20:040:20:07

Poor Tamworth, it feels neglected, but it was exceptionally significant.

0:20:070:20:11

More charters were signed here, at important times of the year,

0:20:110:20:15

at Christmas, Easter. The Royal Court travelled around

0:20:150:20:18

and Tamworth was the place they wanted to be.

0:20:180:20:21

'The hoard was discovered not far from where we are standing.

0:20:210:20:26

'Marion likes to imagine it could be proof of a battle with Welsh warriors

0:20:260:20:30

'in the 7th-Century Midlands, recorded in a later poem.'

0:20:300:20:33

Any ideas how it might have got there?

0:20:330:20:35

Nearby, two miles away, was a famous battle,

0:20:350:20:37

where two kings, Morfael and Cynddylan, were involved

0:20:370:20:42

in the Battle of the Britons and it's possible,

0:20:420:20:44

as they fled, that took the hoard with them

0:20:440:20:46

and buried it, hoping to come back.

0:20:460:20:48

Sadly, they were killed.

0:20:480:20:49

The story goes that Cynddylan of Powys allied himself

0:20:510:20:55

to a ruler called Morfael

0:20:550:20:56

and together they launched a terrifying raid against settlements called Caer Lwydgoed,

0:20:560:21:01

which some people think is today's Lichfield.

0:21:010:21:03

'The allies were ruthless. The fighting was fierce and bloody.

0:21:060:21:10

'Many were killed.

0:21:100:21:11

'As was practice at the time, they ransacked the town and they left'

0:21:120:21:17

with the spoils of war and the booty they'd captured at Caer Lwydgoed.

0:21:170:21:22

'The battle was recorded in around the 9th century

0:21:250:21:28

'in a lament for one of the Welsh leaders.'

0:21:280:21:31

"Before Lwydgoed they triumphed.

0:21:310:21:34

"There was blood beneath the ravens and fierce attack.

0:21:340:21:38

"Glory in battle, great plunder,

0:21:380:21:41

"before Caer Lwydgoed, Morfael took it."

0:21:410:21:44

That's really rather wonderful, isn't it?

0:21:460:21:49

To think it might have something to do with the hoard is exciting.

0:21:490:21:52

It is. I'm not saying it's true, but, you know, it may well be.

0:21:520:21:55

'This could be a rare teasing moment of clarity in a very murky history.

0:21:560:22:01

'The trouble is that this poem was written around 200 years later

0:22:010:22:04

'than we can date anything in the hoard.

0:22:040:22:07

'And battles like this weren't exactly unusual.

0:22:070:22:10

'Turf wars were an everyday feature of Anglo-Saxon life.'

0:22:100:22:14

We can understand it now, I think, better than it's ever been

0:22:140:22:17

possible since, because we have gangland culture back in Britain.

0:22:170:22:22

It's gang warfare and what happens is,

0:22:220:22:26

when you take over the territory of a rival gang, the lot get bumped off,

0:22:260:22:30

usually in extraordinarily unpleasant ways.

0:22:300:22:33

A close examination of the hoard throws up more questions than answers.

0:22:360:22:41

'There are bits of weaponry, which belong to high-status warriors.

0:22:410:22:44

'But there are also an extraordinary number of them,

0:22:440:22:47

'especially the ornate pommels.'

0:22:470:22:50

-So these are pommels for the top of a sword, are they?

-That's right.

0:22:510:22:56

They're highly decorative.

0:22:560:22:57

The stunning thing is that there are more than 90 of these in this hoard.

0:22:570:23:02

I mean, I couldn't believe it.

0:23:020:23:04

I've spent 30 years digging Anglo-Saxon sites, finding one or two of these objects.

0:23:040:23:08

And to see so many, literally, my jaw dropped.

0:23:080:23:11

This quantity of swords is quite remarkable.

0:23:110:23:15

'One possible explanation is that the hoard was part of a king's collection.

0:23:160:23:21

'It may have been on its way to the palace here at Tamworth,

0:23:210:23:24

'when it was somehow intercepted.'

0:23:240:23:27

Tamworth was a Royal Treasury. At that time, kings used to

0:23:280:23:33

receive gifts of heriots,

0:23:330:23:35

something known as a heriot. Warriors, elder men, the important

0:23:350:23:39

sort of middle-class people of the society at that stage, would actually

0:23:390:23:44

bequeath their most significant items of weaponry,

0:23:440:23:48

their best swords, their best helmet, to the king.

0:23:480:23:52

And often the king would then distribute high-quality swords

0:23:530:23:56

back to their favoured warrior,

0:23:560:23:59

so it sort of gives us a context for this group of objects.

0:23:590:24:02

It's possible, there are so many interpretations,

0:24:020:24:06

but it is possible that this group of objects, which are mainly weapons,

0:24:060:24:11

with the exception of a few crosses, were actually acquired by a king,

0:24:110:24:16

they were given to the king over a long period of time,

0:24:160:24:19

and that king then redistributed them to his most favoured warriors.

0:24:190:24:24

Or someone pulled a heist against the king and ran off with it!

0:24:240:24:30

That's the intriguing thing, because it's bent -

0:24:300:24:32

there's all sorts of ways we can interpret the fact it's been bent.

0:24:320:24:35

To some, the way the hoard is broken and twisted

0:24:350:24:38

suggested it could record the very moment when it was taken,

0:24:380:24:42

perhaps as spoils from a bloody battle.

0:24:420:24:45

You look at it, you look at that cross,

0:24:450:24:47

you can see exactly what it once was,

0:24:470:24:51

you can see the moment it was crumpled,

0:24:510:24:54

you can practically see how the hands tore it off.

0:24:540:24:58

Again, I think it's a pommel, where you can actually see how it had been jemmied off.

0:24:580:25:04

There's that moment of action, it's frozen for ever.

0:25:040:25:08

The hoard also offers proof of the wealth of sections of this society.

0:25:080:25:14

This piece isn't actually from a sword,

0:25:140:25:17

it's a sort of guard where you'd have a single-sided stabbing knife,

0:25:170:25:20

called a seax.

0:25:200:25:22

I see, it's almost this piece here?

0:25:220:25:24

Exactly, it's the equivalent to this piece here,

0:25:240:25:27

but it would have been from a single-sided.

0:25:270:25:30

-But that's solid gold.

-It's solid gold.

0:25:300:25:32

The owner of that must have been...

0:25:320:25:35

amongst the most rich and powerful men in the kingdom.

0:25:350:25:38

And if you look, it's exquisite detail,

0:25:380:25:41

the light catching it, these gripping birds, it is unbelievably beautiful.

0:25:410:25:46

The guys who wore and carried these items of decorative jewellery

0:25:460:25:52

were described as the strutting peacocks,

0:25:520:25:57

they were - this was their show armour.

0:25:570:25:59

Very little of this stuff shows any evidence of being, you know,

0:25:590:26:03

hacked about in battle.

0:26:030:26:05

This was the stuff you wore on the parade ground.

0:26:050:26:08

In examining the hoard, we come across another mystery.

0:26:080:26:12

We have a really interesting problem, I think, with the Staffordshire hoard,

0:26:120:26:17

in that you have all the attachments to weapons,

0:26:170:26:20

but there aren't these sword blades,

0:26:200:26:23

and we read in the literature about how finely wrought these things were,

0:26:230:26:28

from examples at Sutton Hoo,

0:26:280:26:30

you can see that these things were incredibly complicated to make,

0:26:300:26:34

the actual blades of swords,

0:26:340:26:35

and were very prized, so why weren't they deposited in this hoard?

0:26:350:26:40

What we may have here is that these elements of decoration

0:26:400:26:44

are the personalisation of a sword, the blade will be passed from one warrior to the other.

0:26:440:26:49

Their sword was their battle friend.

0:26:490:26:52

They gave names to their sword, we all know about Excalibur.

0:26:520:26:56

"My favourite sword, Excalibur."

0:26:560:26:58

These swords were symbolic of the power of a great warrior.

0:26:580:27:03

Absolutely exquisite, it's a work of art

0:27:030:27:06

-on a weapon for killing people. Quite incredible, really.

-Yes.

0:27:060:27:09

One of the country's leading Anglo-Saxon experts from the University of Cambridge

0:27:090:27:13

believes that looking at where the hoard was found, beside an ancient road close to Tamworth,

0:27:130:27:19

may help us to understand what it actually is.

0:27:190:27:23

To my mind as a historian, the most remarkable thing about the Staffordshire hoard

0:27:230:27:28

is the location of the find.

0:27:280:27:30

The hoard was found on the side of the Roman Road known as Watling Street,

0:27:300:27:35

now known as the A5,

0:27:350:27:37

and that is very close to some of the other known recorded centres

0:27:370:27:43

of Mercian power - Tamworth is very close by,

0:27:430:27:46

Lichfield, where the bishopric of the Mercians was established,

0:27:460:27:50

that also is very close.

0:27:500:27:52

So it's found in the heartland of the Kingdom of the Mercians,

0:27:520:27:57

but equally, it's found on the side of Watling Street,

0:27:570:28:01

which is the major road leading from the heart of the Kingdom of the Mercians

0:28:010:28:06

down into London, and onwards.

0:28:060:28:08

The fact that the hoard is sitting there on Watling Street

0:28:080:28:12

means, in effect, that it could have come from the south,

0:28:120:28:15

it could have come from East Anglia,

0:28:150:28:17

it could have come from almost any other part of Britain.

0:28:170:28:22

So one has then to look at the material itself,

0:28:220:28:26

and to see whether archaeologists,

0:28:260:28:31

and experts in seventh century metalwork and art history

0:28:310:28:34

are able to say more about the associations of the material

0:28:340:28:40

once it has all been properly cleaned, studied,

0:28:400:28:45

related to other surviving objects, and so on.

0:28:450:28:48

What it would be nice to know is more about the circumstances

0:28:480:28:52

by which the hoard got there -

0:28:520:28:54

is it some kind of ritual deposition,

0:28:540:28:57

somebody in a panic hiding it who never comes back for it?

0:28:570:29:00

If you knew that,

0:29:000:29:02

you would then have a better sense of the significance of the road in that.

0:29:020:29:06

The landscape where the hoard was found could explain why it was buried here.

0:29:070:29:12

For decades, modern traffic has passed by the site on what's now known as the A5.

0:29:120:29:17

But which then was an important route between London and the Midlands.

0:29:170:29:21

In the Anglo-Saxon times, this area would have been totally remote,

0:29:210:29:25

and almost silent,

0:29:250:29:27

quite unlike today, with Watling Street blasting past.

0:29:270:29:30

The Watling Street was there in Anglo-Saxon times,

0:29:300:29:34

but the rest of the area was wood pasture, it was woodland

0:29:340:29:39

and heathland, open woodland,

0:29:390:29:40

because it was used probably on the summer pasture by estates way to the west and east.

0:29:400:29:46

This area, too, was on a boundary, not an exact boundary,

0:29:460:29:50

but over to the West was the Pecsaetan tribe,

0:29:500:29:54

and to the east, the Tomsaete, two folk regions in Mercia.

0:29:540:29:58

Dr Della Hooke is a landscape specialist,

0:29:590:30:02

and she's come up with three major theories as to how and why the Staffordshire hoard

0:30:020:30:07

came to be buried in this Midlands field, close to Watling Street.

0:30:070:30:11

There are various suggestions that one could make about the hoard.

0:30:110:30:14

Firstly, the village over there is Hammerwich,

0:30:140:30:19

and the name means the hammer place, the hammer settlement,

0:30:190:30:23

which suggests metalworking, but on the other hand,

0:30:230:30:26

there's nothing else been found in Hammerwich parish to suggest metalworking on a great scale,

0:30:260:30:31

just one little pendant.

0:30:310:30:34

But the hoard was strange, because it was mostly gold,

0:30:340:30:37

so the second suggestion is that it was deliberately placed,

0:30:370:30:41

even below a barrow, but there was no body,

0:30:410:30:43

as a sort of votive offering in a way, when somebody died.

0:30:430:30:48

You had to get rid, in Anglo-Saxon times, when gold was imbued with magic,

0:30:480:30:54

because ill-gotten gains had to be buried,

0:30:540:30:58

and it's just possible that it was buried there on this sort of frontier location

0:30:580:31:05

between the two folk groups, as a magical ritual,

0:31:050:31:09

like the one in Beowulf,

0:31:090:31:10

where the gold that Beowulf had taken was buried on his death.

0:31:100:31:15

The final scenario, which may be nearer to the truth,

0:31:150:31:19

isn't quite so exciting, but it could just have been pushed into a hole

0:31:190:31:23

near a hillock which could be recognised again, by someone fleeing along the Watling Street.

0:31:230:31:29

Remember, it was all a very small collection in one bag.

0:31:290:31:34

It would have been a heavy bag, too,

0:31:340:31:36

and if someone was chasing them, or they had stolen it from somewhere,

0:31:360:31:40

somebody's trophy collection,

0:31:400:31:42

they could have put it down there and just never been in a position to retrieve it.

0:31:420:31:46

Because it's very close, on this hill, to the Watling Street.

0:31:460:31:50

Some of these items have come from Northumbria, some of them have come from Kent,

0:31:500:31:55

some have probably come from Scandinavia, so that's an interesting element.

0:31:550:32:00

Were they looted as a result of battles by the Mercians?

0:32:000:32:05

Were they given to the Mercian king as tribute by his sub-peoples?

0:32:050:32:12

And we found them dismembered and bent.

0:32:120:32:15

Now, were they crammed into a box to be taken away?

0:32:150:32:18

And where they were located, right beside Watling Street,

0:32:180:32:22

the location is very prominent, but also hidden.

0:32:220:32:25

Was somebody trying to escape from a battle?

0:32:250:32:29

Were they trying to come away from the royal treasury at Tamworth

0:32:290:32:32

or coming from the settlement at Wall?

0:32:320:32:34

It looks most like some kind of treasure that has been recovered

0:32:340:32:40

from a battlefield,

0:32:400:32:43

I think the most telling thing to my mind about it

0:32:430:32:47

is not so much the sheer quantity, as the folded cross,

0:32:470:32:52

those other gold objects which speak volumes, I think,

0:32:520:32:58

for the context from which it came.

0:32:580:33:00

The Staffordshire hoard may also have something to teach us about trade,

0:33:020:33:06

those sparkling garnets which were discovered in their thousands in a muddy field

0:33:060:33:11

were the jewel of choice for Anglo-Saxon warriors,

0:33:110:33:14

but where did they originally come from?

0:33:140:33:17

Access to the sea allowed them to trade

0:33:170:33:20

and bring in luxury goods from far afield.

0:33:200:33:24

Bronze bowls from Egypt, lapis lazuli from a single mine in Afghanistan,

0:33:240:33:29

and amethyst pendants from India all found their way to these shores.

0:33:290:33:33

The Lindisfarne Gospels,

0:33:330:33:36

these richly decorated Christian manuscripts drawn on the island of Lindisfarne

0:33:360:33:40

further up the east coast in the late 7th or early 8th centuries,

0:33:400:33:44

use a colour red that can only be extracted from certain insects

0:33:440:33:49

living in trees next to the Mediterranean.

0:33:490:33:52

These garnets probably came from India or Sri Lanka,

0:33:520:33:58

and we can do research,

0:33:580:33:59

it's very likely that very early on in the period,

0:33:590:34:03

large garnets came from India and Sri Lanka.

0:34:030:34:05

Later, when the trade routes broke down,

0:34:050:34:07

they had smaller garnets coming from Portugal and Bohemia.

0:34:070:34:11

So you're looking at a remarkable international trade in this stuff.

0:34:110:34:17

-Globalisation?

-Globalisation.

0:34:170:34:19

Until the end of the mid to late-7th century,

0:34:190:34:23

you don't have any formal trading sites,

0:34:230:34:25

but they do start to emerge in this period.

0:34:250:34:29

The sites at London, Southampton and Ipswich,

0:34:290:34:32

they're engaged in very, very extensive trade networks

0:34:320:34:35

with Northern Europe and down into the Frankish kingdoms as well.

0:34:350:34:38

Throughout the 5th and 6th centuries, western Britain was engaged in trade

0:34:380:34:43

down the Atlantic coast routes as well.

0:34:430:34:45

So people conceptualise this period as the Dark Ages,

0:34:450:34:49

but actually, that's really not fair.

0:34:490:34:51

You know, it's a society that is thoroughly engaged

0:34:510:34:55

in all kinds of networks and contacts.

0:34:550:34:58

Life keeps going, and it keeps going at a fairly good level.

0:34:580:35:01

Desire for wealth and riches led to battles.

0:35:030:35:05

And around the time when the hoard may have been hidden,

0:35:050:35:08

Mercia had its sights set on expansion.

0:35:080:35:11

It had become one of the most feared kingdoms of all.

0:35:110:35:14

Mercian kings, at this moment, were the winners.

0:35:150:35:19

And so you see little kingdoms to the west,

0:35:190:35:22

bigger kingdoms to the east, are sucked in and absorbed.

0:35:220:35:25

First of all, you roll Northumbria back,

0:35:250:35:28

then you take over lands towards Wales and the Welsh Marches.

0:35:280:35:33

Then, of course, the Mercians absorb Kent, absorb London,

0:35:330:35:39

they swing over into East Anglia.

0:35:390:35:41

So you're creating this huge middle kingdom.

0:35:410:35:45

It's a period of unbelievable turmoil, political and religious.

0:35:450:35:50

It's when England, remember, that isn't England at all,

0:35:500:35:54

England is yet to be invented, the word barely exists.

0:35:540:35:58

Instead, there are these rival warring Anglo-Saxon kingdoms,

0:35:580:36:03

that behave like the first, the worst kind of takeover bidders in the city.

0:36:030:36:07

They sort of decapitate each other, literally, it has to be said,

0:36:070:36:11

not metaphorically.

0:36:110:36:13

They aggregate, they come together, they take over, they destroy.

0:36:130:36:17

And kingdom after kingdom is swallowed up.

0:36:170:36:20

By the 8th, 9th century,

0:36:200:36:24

Mercia is certainly the largest kingdom geographically.

0:36:240:36:27

It covers the largest portion of the British Isles in that respect.

0:36:270:36:32

So what can the hoard tell us about the people who carved out

0:36:340:36:37

the kingdom of Mercia?

0:36:370:36:39

We have very few records,

0:36:390:36:41

and those we do have are written by outsiders.

0:36:410:36:43

We know precious little about the kingdom of the Mercians.

0:36:450:36:49

We know the major figures, we know that there was a figure

0:36:490:36:53

in the first half of the 7th century called Penda,

0:36:530:36:56

who emerges quite clearly

0:36:560:36:58

in the pages of Bede's Ecclesiastical History,

0:36:580:37:02

mainly as a fairly aggressive figure.

0:37:020:37:04

Someone who was active against the Northumbrians,

0:37:040:37:09

who was also active in the East,

0:37:090:37:11

and in particular against the East Angles.

0:37:110:37:13

And so we get the sense of Mercia as, effectively, a predatory power.

0:37:130:37:20

They're out to expand, perhaps,

0:37:200:37:24

but most of all, probably,

0:37:240:37:28

to raid, to acquire treasure,

0:37:280:37:31

to acquire resources that they don't have

0:37:310:37:34

in their own part of the country.

0:37:340:37:36

What many would like to believe

0:37:360:37:38

is that the hoard could have belonged to

0:37:380:37:40

one of the last great pagan kings, Penda.

0:37:400:37:43

A man with a formidable reputation,

0:37:430:37:46

who went on to father a line of famous Mercian leaders.

0:37:460:37:50

He held onto the old religion at the time when many around him

0:37:500:37:53

were turning to Christianity.

0:37:530:37:56

The timing might well be right.

0:37:560:37:58

Penda was a mighty overlord,

0:37:580:38:01

who ruled Mercia during its early rise to power.

0:38:010:38:04

Even by the standards of the time he was ruthless.

0:38:040:38:07

He deposed one king, he killed two others.

0:38:070:38:10

He dealt with one in a particularly grisly way.

0:38:100:38:12

Legend has it that after he defeated Oswald, King of Northumbria,

0:38:120:38:16

at the Battle of Maserfield,

0:38:160:38:18

he had his disembodied arms and head stuck on stakes in the ground.

0:38:180:38:23

THEY ALL ROAR AGGRESSIVELY

0:38:230:38:26

We all want it to be Penda, who was the famous King of Mercia.

0:38:280:38:34

Penda is the king in the early 7th century of Mercia,

0:38:340:38:39

and he's fighting a huge programme of expansion against Northumbria,

0:38:390:38:44

which had adopted Christianity quite early,

0:38:440:38:47

and to begin with, he's immensely successful.

0:38:470:38:50

He defeats and peculiarly unpleasantly disposes of,

0:38:500:38:53

presumably in ritual sacrifice, two Northumbrian kings.

0:38:530:38:56

And it would be lovely

0:38:560:38:58

if this really is the monument of one of those battles.

0:38:580:39:01

Penda really doesn't get the recognition that he deserves in the texts.

0:39:010:39:05

Because most of the history at this point is written down

0:39:050:39:09

by the Venerable Bede, he's a Northumbrian and a Christian.

0:39:090:39:13

And therefore an enemy of this pagan Mercian king,

0:39:130:39:18

the last of the pagan Mercian kings.

0:39:180:39:20

Bede hates Penda,

0:39:200:39:22

because he defeats and does horrible things to Northumbrian kings.

0:39:220:39:26

And also, of course, he's the wrong side, he's a pagan.

0:39:260:39:29

And Bede is a very great historian,

0:39:290:39:32

but great historians are not impartial.

0:39:320:39:35

Bede is writing for a purpose.

0:39:350:39:37

The hoard has yet to give us any direct evidence of Penda.

0:39:380:39:42

But that's not to say the two aren't linked.

0:39:420:39:44

Penda was the one king who held out while everyone around him

0:39:440:39:48

was converting to Christianity.

0:39:480:39:51

In 655 when he died, fighting against his enemies,

0:39:510:39:54

Christianity consumed this final kingdom.

0:39:540:39:58

The conversion of Mercia, England's last great pagan kingdom,

0:39:580:40:02

marked the beginning of a new era in English history.

0:40:020:40:05

And the Staffordshire hoard has helped us shine a light

0:40:050:40:08

on exactly how and when this transformation occurred.

0:40:080:40:11

One of the most intriguing finds in the hoard was a piece of gold

0:40:140:40:18

with an inscription from the Bible that may help us date

0:40:180:40:21

a crucial turning point in our history.

0:40:210:40:23

CHOIR: # Lord have mercy on our souls... #

0:40:230:40:28

The conversion to Christianity changed the whole fabric of our society,

0:40:290:40:33

bringing with it the written word and the rule of law.

0:40:330:40:36

But despite its importance to British history,

0:40:360:40:39

no-one knows exactly how or when it came about.

0:40:390:40:42

Litchfield has been an important religious centre

0:40:440:40:47

since the early Christian days of Mercia.

0:40:470:40:49

And this book is the earliest documentary evidence

0:40:490:40:52

of the religion in the Midlands.

0:40:520:40:55

This is the Cathedral's greatest treasure,

0:40:560:40:58

and we call it the St Chad Gospels.

0:40:580:41:01

We think it was almost certainly created to adorn Chad's shrine.

0:41:010:41:07

So Chad died in 672.

0:41:070:41:09

So this book has been associated with this building for 1,300 years?

0:41:090:41:15

Something like 1,300 years.

0:41:150:41:17

The gospel and the hoard date from around the same time.

0:41:170:41:21

A crucial turning point in the religious history of Britain.

0:41:210:41:24

And in the hoard are a mixture of pagan and Christian symbols.

0:41:240:41:28

So were the Mercians who owned the hoard Christian converts,

0:41:280:41:32

or the last of the pagans? Or could the crumpled crosses

0:41:320:41:35

and Latin inscriptions be the looted possessions

0:41:350:41:39

of another defeated Christian enemy?

0:41:390:41:42

My hunch is that the hoard items

0:41:420:41:44

give us the last glimpse of pagan Mercia,

0:41:440:41:48

and a gospel book like this, the first glimpse of Christian Mercia.

0:41:480:41:51

Looking at some of the symmetrical and floral patterns,

0:41:510:41:54

some of the inlay on the hoard goods is not totally dissimilar...

0:41:540:41:59

Absolutely part of the same cultural family,

0:41:590:42:02

the interlacing, and also the zoomorphic creatures in the decoration,

0:42:020:42:07

very reminiscent of some of the hoard items.

0:42:070:42:10

There's lots of animals depicted in the hoard,

0:42:100:42:13

and on here as well, just beautiful.

0:42:130:42:15

We know that it was not uncommon for monks and bishops

0:42:180:42:22

to be on the battlefield, not necessarily as combatants,

0:42:220:42:27

more likely mostly as non-combatants,

0:42:270:42:30

but bringing with them, as it were,

0:42:300:42:32

the power in which their army believed.

0:42:320:42:36

This is interesting, cos this is a quote on here,

0:42:360:42:39

which actually refers to military activity.

0:42:390:42:43

Yes, it's a Latin text from the Bible, from the Book of Numbers,

0:42:430:42:47

chapter 10, verse 35.

0:42:470:42:50

And the translation of the text is, "Arise, O God,

0:42:500:42:53

"and let your enemies be scattered,

0:42:530:42:56

"let those who hate you flee before you."

0:42:560:42:59

And you can quite see why a kingdom, a Christian kingdom

0:42:590:43:03

going into battle, particularly against a pagan neighbour,

0:43:030:43:06

might want to inscribe exactly that text onto a cross

0:43:060:43:10

that was being perhaps led...to lead the Christian warriors into battle.

0:43:100:43:17

It's a very personal piece, you can imagine someone clutching it...

0:43:170:43:20

-Yes, you can.

-..as they go into battle.

0:43:200:43:22

The fact that it ends up in a hole in the middle of Mercia

0:43:220:43:25

means that perhaps the owner didn't have God on his side that day.

0:43:250:43:29

Absolutely. You've got to feel that the owner of that was on the losing side that day.

0:43:290:43:35

Here, the hoard throws up more questions than it answers.

0:43:370:43:40

This was a religious turning point, but whose?

0:43:400:43:43

And rather than being the last pagans in a largely Christian world,

0:43:430:43:47

were the Mercians a bit of both,

0:43:470:43:48

subscribing to two religions at the same time, just to make sure?

0:43:480:43:53

I think definitely, we find in a number of Anglo-Saxon objects,

0:43:530:43:58

this idea of hedging your bets.

0:43:580:44:00

That we are talking about a transitional moment.

0:44:000:44:04

A spiritual transitional moment, but also a cultural one.

0:44:040:44:07

So, you have the protective talisman of the processional cross.

0:44:070:44:13

That idea of carrying Christ into battle, being protected by him.

0:44:130:44:17

And then you have these talismans, these serpents,

0:44:170:44:20

these traditional Anglo-Saxon battle beasts.

0:44:200:44:24

It's no peace-loving text, this isn't love thy neighbour,

0:44:240:44:28

turn the other cheek, thou shalt not kill, it's none of that.

0:44:280:44:31

It's surge domine, rise up, oh, Lord,

0:44:310:44:36

and let thine enemies be scattered.

0:44:360:44:37

Let those who hate thee be driven from thy face.

0:44:370:44:41

This is the church militant and warlike.

0:44:410:44:43

Of course Christianity adapting itself to context,

0:44:430:44:47

if you try and plant Christianity in a warrior culture,

0:44:470:44:50

it's got to assume the elements of a warrior culture.

0:44:500:44:54

So here you have warlike pagans fighting warlike Christians.

0:44:540:44:58

We shouldn't underestimate just how important the hoard is when it comes

0:44:580:45:02

to telling the story of Britain's conversion to Christianity.

0:45:020:45:07

It's a story that was also sketched out in the Peak District

0:45:070:45:10

by an amateur enthusiast in the 1800s.

0:45:100:45:13

Before the hoard was dug up,

0:45:140:45:16

probably the most important Anglo-Saxon find ever made within

0:45:160:45:20

the old Kingdom of Mercia, were made by this man here, Thomas Bateman,

0:45:200:45:24

whose tomb today sits surrounded by his beloved Peak District landscape.

0:45:240:45:29

Now, in the Victorian period, this man was known as the Barrow Knight.

0:45:290:45:33

He dug up around 200, some say even more, barrows or burial mounds,

0:45:330:45:36

and the site of his most important discovery is a few miles that way.

0:45:360:45:41

The Anglo-Saxons often reused prehistoric barrows

0:45:460:45:49

to bury their most important dead.

0:45:490:45:50

And it was in a grave that probably belonged to an earl or prince

0:45:500:45:54

that Bateman uncovered one of the few helmets ever to be discovered,

0:45:540:45:58

opening a new chapter in the military history of a warlike people.

0:45:580:46:02

This replica of the helmet is in a Sheffield Museum,

0:46:040:46:07

along with the original finds, which archaeologists now believe

0:46:070:46:10

come from the same period as the Staffordshire hoard,

0:46:100:46:13

and show a country on the cusp of moving from paganism to Christianity.

0:46:130:46:18

Well, this is it, this is where it was found.

0:46:180:46:22

You can see the round ditch and arrangement in the middle.

0:46:220:46:25

Absolutely.

0:46:250:46:26

He found the remains of a helmet which had a boar on the crest

0:46:260:46:31

and a silver cross set into the nose piece.

0:46:310:46:33

The remains of a leather cup that had two silver crosses on that.

0:46:330:46:37

Also, some iron chain and some disks that were from a large,

0:46:370:46:43

bronze hanging bowl which would have been used for some ritual purpose,

0:46:430:46:47

whether for drinking or hand washing, we're not sure.

0:46:470:46:49

And do you think that all signifies this is a man of some stature?

0:46:490:46:53

Oh, yes, we call this a princely burial.

0:46:530:46:55

This is someone of really high status in this region.

0:46:550:46:58

How important is what was found here?

0:46:580:47:01

When it was found in the middle of the 19th century,

0:47:010:47:03

it was incredibly important because it gave us,

0:47:030:47:06

really, our first insight into the Anglo-Saxons

0:47:060:47:09

and Germanic culture in the Peak District.

0:47:090:47:11

It showed us the ways in which the Mercian Kingdom

0:47:110:47:14

expanded into this region.

0:47:140:47:17

I don't think at the time,

0:47:170:47:19

the find was as widely publicised as it might have been.

0:47:190:47:22

It sort of disappeared into a provincial museum where it perhaps

0:47:220:47:25

hasn't attracted the attention that it should have had.

0:47:250:47:28

But it's retained incredible importance even in the light of the discovery of the hoard.

0:47:280:47:32

It's interesting little clues, the boar and the cross,

0:47:320:47:35

what do you think they signify?

0:47:350:47:37

Primarily, the boar signals strength, courage, aggression.

0:47:370:47:43

These are the kind of images that a warrior would want to portray

0:47:430:47:46

themselves as possessing in the seventh century.

0:47:460:47:49

The cross is obviously self-evidently a Christian symbol.

0:47:490:47:52

I don't think it is a case of hedging your bets between paganism and

0:47:520:47:56

Christianity, I think it is a perfectly appropriate way for a Christian,

0:47:560:48:01

seventh century Anglo-Saxon Prince to project his image.

0:48:010:48:05

And besides, conversion wasn't necessarily a permanent thing in Anglo-Saxon England.

0:48:060:48:13

It's almost like an ebbing tide, it comes into an area

0:48:130:48:16

and then it might go away again.

0:48:160:48:19

In the seventh century, conversion was very much a political act.

0:48:190:48:24

So, if you are trying to convert an area,

0:48:240:48:26

you went straight to the top, you went to the king, you try to get

0:48:260:48:29

the king to convert, so that's what you see in Kent and East Anglia.

0:48:290:48:33

And sometimes, it would suit those kings to convert

0:48:330:48:36

and so they would, but then 20 years down the line,

0:48:360:48:39

it didn't suit them any more, and so they would revert.

0:48:390:48:41

So, you do see some of these areas

0:48:410:48:43

flip-flopping between Christianity and paganism.

0:48:430:48:46

It's not really until the end of the seventh century

0:48:460:48:49

that most areas of the country are consistently Christian.

0:48:490:48:53

So, whoever buried the hoard has left us

0:48:540:48:58

with a snapshot of a moment in time when England changed for ever.

0:48:580:49:01

But what other secrets might it still hold?

0:49:030:49:05

The painstaking process of cleaning, examining

0:49:050:49:08

and testing the hoard will continue for decades.

0:49:080:49:10

As archaeologists and scientists try to turn speculation into facts.

0:49:100:49:16

There's still an awful lot of analysis to do.

0:49:160:49:19

You can do lots and lots of technical analysis,

0:49:190:49:21

you can analyse the composition of the gold and the garnets

0:49:210:49:24

and you might be able to get some dating out of that.

0:49:240:49:26

You can do much more with the inscriptions,

0:49:260:49:28

looking for parallels for those.

0:49:280:49:31

And just analysing the composition of the hoard itself.

0:49:310:49:34

We don't quite know what that hoard represents.

0:49:340:49:38

We don't know whether it's the aftermath of a battle.

0:49:380:49:42

We don't know whether it's the Kings Treasury that's been

0:49:420:49:46

taken captive on the road and buried in secret.

0:49:460:49:49

So we don't know why it got there. We don't know when it got there.

0:49:490:49:53

It might tell us something very different if we know it was

0:49:530:49:56

buried in 650, compared to if we knew it was buried in 750.

0:49:560:50:00

So, that dating of it is really going to be quite key

0:50:000:50:03

in terms of understanding its significance.

0:50:030:50:06

Kevin Leahy, the National Finds Adviser from the

0:50:080:50:11

Portable Antiquities Scheme has been responsible for cataloguing the hoard.

0:50:110:50:16

What an extraordinary collection, but the other thing is,

0:50:160:50:19

they're very diverse. There are so many different objects, some

0:50:190:50:22

-I don't know what they are.

-I must admit, neither do we in some cases.

0:50:220:50:25

This is part of the great, great fun.

0:50:250:50:27

We've moved into new ground in this material.

0:50:270:50:30

Things we've not seen before.

0:50:300:50:32

We almost find that it is not the objects you identify straight away

0:50:320:50:37

that are going to give us the story.

0:50:370:50:39

It's the things that we don't know what they are.

0:50:390:50:41

There's this piece over here. It's truly remarkable.

0:50:410:50:46

Beautifully decorated with garnets on three faces.

0:50:460:50:51

And that's a groove there.

0:50:510:50:52

-Perhaps something would have gone in there.

-Yes.

0:50:520:50:56

I have speculated that it's the edging from a book.

0:50:560:50:59

So that's why this could be all bent and shattered, somebody

0:50:590:51:02

ripped apart this jewelled book cover and it became someone's swag?

0:51:020:51:06

Yes, it's torn off the cover, but while a lot of the material is

0:51:060:51:11

bent and broken, there's been no systematic attempts to trash it.

0:51:110:51:15

Row upon row of amazing artefacts give us

0:51:160:51:19

a new understanding of the ways in which our ancestors lived.

0:51:190:51:22

I particularly like this material

0:51:230:51:27

because of the strange scenes shown on it.

0:51:270:51:30

They're made out of silver foil.

0:51:300:51:34

It's a technique that we call "pressblech" -

0:51:340:51:36

a German word - for want of a better name in English.

0:51:360:51:41

Um, they show scenes of processions of warriors.

0:51:410:51:45

-You can see the round shield...

-Yeah, I can see.

-..and the spears.

0:51:450:51:48

Um, these probably came from a helmet.

0:51:480:51:53

They were used in panels along the sides of a helmet.

0:51:530:51:56

We get that at Sutton Hoo.

0:51:560:51:58

Amazing going into battle with these extraordinary images

0:51:580:52:01

on your helmet. It's incredible.

0:52:010:52:03

'And then, there's this.'

0:52:030:52:05

A lovely thing.

0:52:050:52:07

This hung at the side of an Anglo-Saxon warrior

0:52:070:52:10

who must have habitually rested his left hand on his sword.

0:52:100:52:14

And look at the polish on the top of that,

0:52:140:52:17

where the man's hand was resting on his most treasured possession -

0:52:170:52:22

the hilt of his sword.

0:52:220:52:24

This all meant something to someone. It's not art for art's sake.

0:52:240:52:28

There are stories and things in here.

0:52:280:52:31

'What the hoard has laid bare here

0:52:320:52:35

'is the existence of a rich ruling class.

0:52:350:52:38

These weren't ignorant savages, they were people

0:52:380:52:41

with incredible wealth and skill, who pride great beauty.

0:52:410:52:45

They would spend a lot of time in the company of their weaponry

0:52:450:52:48

and so meditating and ruminating on the imagery,

0:52:480:52:51

and how the piece works and how one beast begins

0:52:510:52:54

and another ends,

0:52:540:52:55

that's part of the beauty of them for their original audience as well.

0:52:550:53:00

The thing that strikes you as you look at them

0:53:000:53:02

I think is twofold, apart from the engineering.

0:53:020:53:05

It's first of all

0:53:050:53:06

the amazing linear sense. It's like Art Deco.

0:53:060:53:10

Either Art Deco or perhaps Art Nouveau.

0:53:100:53:14

These wonderful, sinuous, curling animal, tree, plant -

0:53:140:53:19

particularly animal.

0:53:190:53:21

Fighting lions, fish entwined, they love serpents,

0:53:210:53:25

warlike serpents chewing each other,

0:53:250:53:27

winding themselves round each other's tails.

0:53:270:53:30

So there's this immensely powerful linear sense.

0:53:300:53:33

And you also have the craftsmanship in terms of

0:53:330:53:37

the matching of gold and jewels,

0:53:370:53:39

which, I think, you've got to get to Faberge

0:53:390:53:43

before you've anything as good.

0:53:430:53:45

I suppose the plain truth is - isn't it, really? -

0:53:450:53:48

that the Anglo-Saxons are German.

0:53:480:53:51

So this is the origin. It's a kind of BMW style of engineering

0:53:510:53:55

which we, unfortunately, have grown out of but they still have.

0:53:550:53:59

It's amazing. Under the microscope you see even more detail, don't you?

0:53:590:54:03

It's absolutely incredible.

0:54:030:54:07

We're now seeing this in greater detail

0:54:070:54:09

than the person who owned it ever saw it.

0:54:090:54:12

It's phenomenal. You've got carefully cut garnets,

0:54:120:54:16

laid into intricate cells,

0:54:160:54:19

each stone carefully shaped.

0:54:190:54:21

And garnet's a tricky material to work,

0:54:210:54:24

it's not a particularly rare stone

0:54:240:54:26

but it can't be just sheared off like a slate.

0:54:260:54:31

If you want thin garnets, you've got to cut them thin. And then...

0:54:310:54:35

Millimetre perfect, aren't they?

0:54:350:54:38

They've all got to be cut into these special shapes

0:54:380:54:40

and they've all got to be absolutely perfect.

0:54:400:54:43

'Modern-day jewellers say we would need four times magnification

0:54:430:54:48

'to do the detailed work seen on the hoard.'

0:54:480:54:52

There's the animal's head, the two little ring-like eyes.

0:54:520:54:57

You have to pinch yourself to remind yourself

0:54:570:54:59

how small it is. I mean, how did they cut these shapes

0:54:590:55:02

to fit so perfectly within the gold?

0:55:020:55:04

-It's incredibly intricate, this piece here.

-It's mind-blowing.

0:55:040:55:09

The more you look at it, the more incredible it becomes.

0:55:090:55:13

That pattern of cells fitted together.

0:55:130:55:16

Even more startling -

0:55:160:55:19

under each garnet you've got a small piece of waffle patterned gold foil.

0:55:190:55:25

It's to scatter the light back so that it glitters.

0:55:250:55:29

Just like the reflectors on a motorcar.

0:55:290:55:32

-That's what we're seeing here?

-Yes.

0:55:320:55:34

When you get the measurements up on the screen, it shows just how small that is.

0:55:340:55:38

Each one of those is 0.03 of a millimetre across.

0:55:380:55:41

It's absolutely incredible.

0:55:410:55:43

Something like this could have been worn by royalty itself. I mean,

0:55:430:55:47

Penda, the great Mercian king,

0:55:470:55:49

it could easily have been attached to him or his family, I guess.

0:55:490:55:52

Yes, or one of the people that he sent into the next world.

0:55:520:55:57

This is material that belonged to the losers,

0:55:570:56:00

not the winners and this could have been taken from

0:56:000:56:04

Oswald of Northumbria or Edwin of Northumbria, or Sigabert of Kent.

0:56:040:56:09

We don't know.

0:56:090:56:10

It's dangerous to try and attach names to material like this

0:56:100:56:14

but it's great fun.

0:56:140:56:16

'The discovery of warrior treasure has put a splash of colour

0:56:180:56:21

'into our black-and-white view of 1,400 years ago.'

0:56:210:56:24

The traditional view is that life in the Dark Ages was nasty,

0:56:260:56:30

brutish and short.

0:56:300:56:31

And it's this idea that everyone lived in huts and hovels,

0:56:310:56:34

and really didn't have much quality of life.

0:56:340:56:38

And that's why we get this term "Dark Age" associated with it.

0:56:380:56:41

But that's so far from the truth.

0:56:410:56:44

'As I've travelled across the old kingdom of Mercia,

0:56:460:56:49

'it's become clear to me

0:56:490:56:51

'just how important the discovery of the hoard really has been.

0:56:510:56:55

'It's shone a light into the Midlands of the Dark Ages,

0:56:550:56:58

'revealing a powerful, wealthy

0:56:580:57:00

'and sophisticated people who were a force to be reckoned with in the Anglo-Saxon world.'

0:57:000:57:04

England, remember, isn't England at all.

0:57:040:57:07

England is yet to be invented.

0:57:070:57:09

Instead, there are these rival warring Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

0:57:090:57:14

They decapitate each other, literally it has to be said,

0:57:140:57:16

not metaphorically.

0:57:160:57:18

They aggregate, they come together, they take over, they destroy.

0:57:180:57:23

And kingdom after kingdom is swallowed up.

0:57:230:57:26

'In an amazing stroke of luck, it's also captured a moment,

0:57:280:57:32

'a turning point in our history,

0:57:320:57:34

'when Britain became a Christian land.'

0:57:340:57:37

My hunch is that the hoard items give us

0:57:370:57:41

the last glimpse of pagan Mercia. And a gospel book like this,

0:57:410:57:45

the first glimpse of Christian Mercia.

0:57:450:57:48

'As we've found, the discovery also raises as many fresh questions,

0:57:480:57:53

'questions that scientists and historians

0:57:530:57:56

'will spend years trying to answer.'

0:57:560:57:59

The hoard will have many more surprises for us

0:58:010:58:03

and it may yet force us to re-evaluate

0:58:030:58:06

everything we think we know.

0:58:060:58:08

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:280:58:32

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:320:58:35

TV historian Dan Snow travels across the old Kingdom of Mercia unravelling the secrets of one of Britian's most significant discoveries - the Staffordshire Hoard. The Hoard offers 1500 new clues into the Dark Ages and Dan pieces together the lives of the people living in these long-forgotten kingdoms.


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