Dark Age Discovery tells the story of hoards at Stoke's Potteries Museum and Art Gallery

By Ben Miller | 20 July 2012
A photo of a circular gold sculpture with dark red gems around it, resembling a giant eye
An eye-shaped gold and garnet plaque is about to take prominence in the Potteries© Courtesy Stoke-on-Trent City Council
Exhibition: Dark Age Discovery, The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, until September 1 2013

If you’re going to put on a show of glittering Anglo-Saxon finds, you might wisely introduce a nine-foot tall Saxon warrior, adorned by 17 precious pieces and a sword pommel, to guard it.

Towering over the foyer in a work by local artist Andy Edwards, the giant heralds 226 ancient artefacts going on display in a huge exhibition unleashing twice as many items as we’ve ever seen at The Potteries Museum.

They include eight cases of hoard items and three boxes of Anglo-Saxon artefacts from the archives, with a hilt from a sword and five other pieces from the 3,500-item vault pieced together for the first time.

Weaponry, as you might gather, is a theme. Replicas of Anglo-Saxon martian air-swipers – a reconstructed sword, shield and helmet – show how these conduits of combat were worn by ancient worriers, all against a swishly-designed black, red and gold backdrop and a timeline spanning 300 AD to 1066.

But the more modern finds of a region prolific at digging up the goods are also vital, and ongoing conservation work, Christian and Pagan symbolism and the minutiae of reconstruction all play their part in giving the hoards real meaning to a 21st century audience.

“A massive research project is underway at the same time as the exhibition,” explains Mark Meredith, of Stoke City Council, discussing the Staffordshire Hoard treasures unearthed in 2009.

“It will piece together why the hoard was buried in a Staffordshire field and what it was used for.”

A £276,000 English Heritage grant is helping to fund investigations. “We will look to provide updates as part of the exhibition when new discoveries are made.

“This is completely unique – it puts visitors to our museum at the very forefront of the latest breakthroughs and knowledge about this ancient treasure.”

The council jointly owns the Hoard with Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, where conservationists are continuing to work on the partnership.

For now, after nine months of planning, this display is showcasing treasures from history with the most modern of methods: eight iPads around the gallery are packed with interpretation, as well as high-resolution images allowing everyone to take a closer look.

“This is a fantastic, not-to-be-missed opportunity to see the treasure as it has never been seen before,” adds Meredith.

“It is simply the biggest and most detailed exhibition of the Staffordshire Hoard yet.

“It is the most ambitious exhibition we have ever staged in terms of its use of technology and the number of items on display from this unparalleled treasure.”

  • Open 10am-5pm (2pm-5pm Sunday). Admission free.
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