Curators appeal for help to save "Sutton Hoo Age" gold ring, Roman coins and treasures

By Ben Miller | 07 November 2013

An urgent public fundraising appeal to save five precious archaeological treasures at Saffron Walden Museum, including a large gold ring from the age of the famous Sutton Hoo finds, engraved with pagan and Christian symbols, needs a “final push” to reach its target.

A photo of three pieces of gold archaeological jewellery
© Portable Antiquities Scheme
Found in Uttlesford since 2011, the gleaming collection includes a mysterious silver mount of glass-eyed animals, a 9th century tag showing four creatures cavorting, a Gallo-Belgic coin and a ring from the Tudor or Jacobean period. The Museum Society, which expects to largely meet the £60,000 asking price through grants, still needs to raise £5,000 in public donations.

A close up photo of an ancient piece of gold jewellery engraved with religious imagery
The central gold ring contains a bird of prey bearing a cross© Saffron Walden Museum
“This is an unprecedented opportunity to enrich the archaeology displays,” said Tony Watson, the Chair of the Society.

“With the Anglo-Saxon gold ring, we have the chance to bring a really special object of regional and national significance home to north-west Essex, where it was found.

“It is the most amazing find and has much to tell us about the royal authority and the adoption of Christianity in a formative period of England’s history.”

A naked, belted figure and birds of prey are engraved on the ring, which has a high level of decoration suggesting it may have been owned by royalty. Experts have dated its symbols, combining late Roman-Christian and pagan north-European images, to around 580-650 AD, when the rise of the early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms saw a gradual spread of Christianity during a time when Kent, Sussex and East Anglia existed under separate rulers.

Carolyn Wingfield, the curator of the museum, said the other ring – containing symbols of Christ’s passion, described as a “discrete statement of personal faith” by a Catholic during the upheaval of the Reformation – was likely to be purchased with a grant from a local trust.

An image of a gleaming ancient gold ring against a white background
The later ring dates from the Tudor or Jacobean period© Portable Antiquities Scheme
“The main effort is evidently for the Anglo-Saxon gold ring,” she said.

“Thanks to great support from national grant-giving organisations and local efforts we are nearly there.

“The other three [artefacts] are all at different stages of the treasure valuation and acquisition process, but we need to continue local fundraising towards these after we have resolved the immediate cases of the rings.”

A small hoard of ancient gold coins, from northern France, has been dated to a century before the Roman invasion of 43 AD, while the silver hooked tag is thought to have been used to fasten clothing.

An image of a piece of nooked archaeological artefact
An unusual silver mount comes from north-west Essex© Saffron Walden Museum
“Thanks to the excellent support we’ve received in grants and local donations, the Society is well on the way to reaching its target,” added Watson.

“Now we need one final push to secure these treasures for Uttlesford, for everyone to enjoy.”

The finds have all been made by metal detectorists.

  • Telephone the museum on 01799 510333 to donate or for further information. Follow the museum on Twitter @UttlesfordDC and Facebook.

The treasures:

The outstanding find is a large gold ring engraved with a human figure holding a cross and birds of prey in a style characteristic of the early 7th century – the ‘Age of Sutton Hoo’.

The shoulders and hoop are covered with relief decoration of abstract patters, birds with crossed wings and interlace. It is clearly a very high status piece, possibly royal.

An image of a grey stone archaeological piece with engravings inside it
The silver tag comes from Thaxted© Portable Antiquities Scheme
Curators say its “unique combination” of late Roman-Christian and pagan north-European imagery gives “a fascinating insight" into this formative period of English history, when the emergent Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were coming under the influence of Christian missions and Continental politics.

An unusual silver mount from North-West Essex and a silver tag, from Thaxted, both date to around the 9th century – narrowly pre-dating the Viking incursions.

They are good examples of the artistic care lavished on small, personal items of this period, but the mount is in a ‘northern’ style more at home in places such as Coppergate, York or Carlisle.

Curators are keen to deduce how the 24mm-tag ended up in Essex and the scene it decorated.

An image of a circular gold piece of archaeological jewellery bearing various engravings
Gallo-Belgic staters© Portable Antiquities Scheme
The mount is 48 mm long. Each end has an animal head with beady glass eyes and oval ears.

A much later gold ring from the 16th to early 17th century (Tudor-Jacobean period), found in the Canfields area, provides insight into the wearer’s religious persuasions during the troubled times of the Reformation and its aftermath.

The band is engraved with the symbols of Christ’s passion, which suggests the owner may have been Catholic – at the time, open declaration of Catholic sympathies could have been dangerous.

A small group of gold coins include some of the earliest ever found in the district, in the Stansted area.

These ‘Gallo-Belgic staters’ were issued by the pre-Roman Iron Age Ambiani tribe of northern France (Gaul), dating from the mid-1st century BC, about 100 years before Caesar’s expeditions to Britain. Only a handful of similar staters are known from south-east Britain.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

An exhibition, Re-Imagining Egypt, runs at the museum from November 16 2013 – February 23 2014.

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Latest comment: >Make a comment
Greed? Why is it "greed" to get the monies agreed to be paid to you? Would you rather that finders of these relics simply sold them on the black market, or, worse, melted them down for their precious metal content? Face it,that is the alternative. Suck up the relatively paltry money you need to pay so that these treasures can continue to be found, displayed, and shown to everyone!
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