A selection of the Staffordshire Hoard will be shown in Leeds as part of the Royal Armouries ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ temporary exhibition, running from the 27th May until the 2nd October 2016. Here, Programme Coordinator Jenni Butterworth talks about her involvement in the project so far and her favourite elements of the hoard. Discover more at our exhibition conference day, Saturday 11th June, find more details on our micro-site http://warrior-treasures.uk/
I am the Programme Coordinator for the Staffordshire Hoard- I help the two museums that look after it with administration of the collection. I’ve done this job for over three years, but I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with the hoard on and off since it was discovered- I worked on the very first television programme made about it in 2010. It was a real privilege to interview the people who had been involved in the discovery- the farmer and the finder, and the archaeologists who were called in to deal with this extraordinary treasure. For everyone involved, it was a once in a lifetime event- tremendously exciting, but a huge responsibility as well.
I can still remember the very first time I saw the hoard in 2010- it was a few months after it had been discovered, and it was laid out so a number of experts could view it. The objects were still muddy and gathered together in bags and boxes. It was mind-boggling, the sheer number of items as much as the incredible craftsmanship and the gold and garnets. I remember thinking that the hoard was a bit like a comet. There were some fabulous, bright and shining objects at the front- the ones I’d seen pictures of in the newspapers. But there was also a very long ‘tail’- thousands of broken bits and small items that were much less glamorous but just as interesting. I wondered then how it would ever be sorted out!
Today, the ‘tail’ is a lot smaller than it was in 2010- lots of those broken fragments have been reassembled into larger objects- thanks to the amazing work of the conservation team and the archaeologists. The damage to the objects happened before they were buried and the way they are broken gives us vital information about the hoard- so every broken fragment is carefully recorded by the scientists and the conservation team before it is rejoined.
There are still a lot of small objects remaining, and my particular favourites are the rivets, pins and nails. There are quite a lot of objects which still have their pins and nails attached, and you can see them on some of the mounts and pommels in the Warrior Treasures exhibition if you look carefully.
The way the pins are bent has prevented them from falling out of their housing. Maybe they were bent when the pommel was levered off the sword hilt.
But there are many gold and silver nails for which we’ll probably never know which object they came from originally- because lots of objects have similar pins, it would be hard to be sure which pin came from which object exactly. Kayleigh has a ‘rivet box’ in which they all reside. I’m not sure she’s as fond of it as I am…
These tiny pins and rivets really remind me that the objects we have in the hoard only tell us part of the story. Originally, the objects were all attached to other, bigger composite items like swords, and these pins help us understand how they were all fixed together. There are astonishing range of pins of all shapes and sizes, each presumably to do a very specific task.
A selection of pins and nails (x3). The scales show how small some of these objects are.
A gold nail isn’t a very functional object though- gold is so soft that striking it with a hammer wouldn’t work- the craftsmen must have drilled a tiny hole into the bone or horn fitting first to hold the gold nail. We know from scientific analysis that various glues and cement-type fillers were used in the assembly of the objects, so maybe they were used to help hold the pins in place. The pins and nails also show us the attention to detail shown by the smiths who crafted the objects too- many are tiny works of art in themselves. The Saxon craftsmen were lavishing their skills on making the right nails and pins for the objects, just as much as on the fine filigree and garnet decoration.
All images © Birmingham Museums Trust unless otherwise indicated.
To find out more about the Royal Armouries upcoming exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ please visit our exhibition microsite http://warrior-treasures.uk/
Join our Warrior Treasures exhibition conference Saturday 11th June to hear from leading experts in the field, who will explore the many aspects of this remarkable Anglo-Saxon find and explain how it is adding to our understanding of the people that made, used and buried this magnificent hoard. Please see full details and purchase tickets via this link https://www.royalarmouries.org/events/events-at-leeds/calendar/2016-06-11/warrior-treasures-conference-1