'Awesome' Treasure Find Could Be England's First Viking Boat Burial

By David Prudames | 16 February 2004
Shows a close-up photograph of two large rusty nails being held by a man, who's face can be seen blurred in the background.

Photo: Yorkshire Finds Liaison Officer Simon Holmes holding the nails that could be part of the first Viking boat burial to be discovered in England. Photo: Kippa Matthews. Courtesy York Museums Trust.

Archaeologists in York believe a hoard of treasure recently found by metal detectorists could lead to the first discovery of a Viking boat burial in England.

Simon Holmes, Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Yorkshire, told the 24 Hour Museum that certain artefacts suggest this "awesome" find could be one of the most significant discoveries in the British Isles.

"Some of the finds are boats nails," he said. "95% of me is happy that we’ve got a boat burial. There is a very, very strong possibility that England has a first!"

The hoard of weapons and personal items was found by metal detectorists in December last year and has gone on display for the first time at Yorkshire Museum in York.

Dating from the late ninth century AD, the hoard includes silver coins, fragments of two swords, weights, a belt buckle, strap ends as well as the boat nails.

Also among the 130 artefacts is a complete set of folding scales with round lead weights suggesting that the individual buried alongside it was once a tradesmen.

Shows a close up photograph of a man's hand in which there are a number of artefacts: three silver coins, what appears to be a large pin, a small jewel and a large rusty nail.

Photo: among the items found in the hoard are silver coins as well as a set of scales. Photo: Kippa Matthews. Courtesy York Museums Trust.

This theory is also supported by the various coins found, which include silver Alfred the Great pennies and another coin, which may originate from Baghdad.

However, it is the existence of the nails that has caused the greatest excitement and has led experts to believe they might have found a Viking boat burial.

Such ceremonies, in which people were buried in a boat with possessions to take with them to the afterlife, are known to have taken place in both Viking and Anglo-Saxon societies.

Plans are now underway for a full archaeological excavation of the area where the hoard was found. Once complete, archaeologists will be able to confirm for certain whether it is a boat burial or not.

Despite previous discoveries of Viking boat burials in Scotland and Ireland this would, in Simon’s opinion, still be "one of the most significant Viking discoveries in the British Isles."

"The other exciting thing about this is the fact that normally Viking finds relate to the period before this discovery or after it," he added.

Shows a close-up photograph of a large rusty nail being held between fingers and thumb by a man, who's face can be seen blurred in the background.

Photo: Photo: Kippa Matthews. Courtesy York Museums Trust.

He explained that most artefacts we find tend to come from either the era when Vikings were stereotypical marauders, or after they had begun to settle in Britain and Jorvik is flourishing.

This hoard, he said, is from "exactly the time when the great Scandinavian army invades to conquer Britain. The nation as a whole is going to benefit tenfold because this is going to enhance our knowledge of that particular period in Viking history."

The metal detectorists, who wish to remain anonymous, contacted Simon through the Portable Antiquities Scheme, a voluntary recording scheme for archaeological objects found by members of the public.

On show at Yorkshire Museum until the end of February, the finds will then go off to The British Museum for further study.

With a selection of silver items, the hoard is likely to qualify as treasure under the Treasure Act 1996. Once valued it will be offered to local museums and the fee split between the finders and the owner of the land on which it was found.

While Simon couldn't predict how much the hoard might be worth, "from an archaeological point of view they are priceless," he said. And as for how thrilled he was at the discovery, "more than words," was the verdict.

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