Major Viking Treasure Hoard Revealed At British Museum

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 19 July 2007
a photograph of a silver bowl with a hoard of coins and other items

The Harrogate Hoard was found by a father and son metal detecting team in January 2007. © British Museum

A major Viking hoard, discovered intact within a gilt silver bowl near Harrogate by metal detectorists in January 2007, has been unveiled by the British Museum.

Experts say the remarkable size and quality of the hoard makes it the most important find of its type in Britain since the Cuerdale Hoard was discovered in Lancashire in 1840.

The Harrogate Hoard, which was promptly reported by the finders David and Andrew Whelan to their local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO), contains a mixture of different precious metal objects, including coins, complete ornaments, ingots (bars) and chopped-up fragments known as hack-silver.

It also reveals a remarkable diversity of cultural contacts in the medieval world, with objects coming from as far apart as Afghanistan in the East and Ireland in the West, as well as Russia, Scandinavia and continental Europe.

"Finds such as this are invaluable in teaching us about our history,” said Margaret Hodge, Culture Minister. “This remarkable discovery highlights the contribution both the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme continue to make towards our knowledge of the past.”

The finders kept the find intact and promptly reported it to their local FLO. As a possible Treasure find, it was then transferred to the British Museum where conservators have been carefully excavating each individual object to avoid damaging them or losing important contextual information.

a photograph of a round metal pot with a decoration on it

The pot was delivered to the British Museum with its valuable hoard intact inside © British Museum

“I commend David and Andrew Whelan for their prompt and responsible reporting of this hugely significant find, which will enrich our understanding of the Vikings," added the Minister.

The most spectacular single object is the gilt silver vessel, made in what is now France in the first half of the ninth century. It was apparently intended for use in church services, and was probably either looted from a monastery by Vikings, or given to them in tribute.

Most of the smaller objects, consisting of 617 silver coins and 65 other items, were hidden inside this vessel, which was itself protected by some form of lead container. As a result, the hoard was extremely well-preserved.

Other star objects include a rare gold arm-ring, whilst many of the coins are new or rare types that will provide valuable new information about the history of England in the early tenth century, as well as Yorkshire’s wider cultural contacts in the period.

Interestingly, the hoard contains coins relating to Islam and to the pre-Christian religion of the Vikings, as well as to Christianity.

It is thought that the hoard was probably buried for safety by a wealthy Viking leader during the unrest that followed the conquest of the Viking kingdom of Northumbria in AD 927 by the Anglo-Saxon king Athelstan (924-39).

a photograph of a metal pin with a chain attached to it

The pot contained a total of 617 silver coins and 65 other objects. © British Museum

Vikings had first dominated the area when an army conquered the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria in AD 869. The area had another brief period of Viking rule following Athelstan’s death in 939, which lasted until the death of the Viking King of Jorvik, Eric Bloodaxe in 954.

As well as having huge significance for the Viking rich history of North Yorkshire, the Harrogate Hoard is being hailed as a find of global importance.

York Museum Trust, Harrogate Borough Council's Museums & Arts Service and the British Museum say they are now committed to working together to acquire, interpret and exhibit the hoard, and to making it accessible to the widest possible audience, both in the region and elsewhere.

“York’s new partnership with the British Museum has focused on sharing collections for display, such as the Warren Cup and Roman collections for the Constantine exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum,” said Mary Kershaw, Director of Collections at York Museums Trust. “It would be wonderful to work together on the joint purchase of such a stunning and important group of material.”

The next stage of the Treasure process is for the hoard to be valued for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport by the independent Treasure Valuation Committee. In the meantime the museums will continue to develop more detailed plans to raise money for the acquisition, and to exhibit the hoard once it is acquired.

a photograph of a round metal pot with a decoration on it

© British Museum

The Portable Antiquities Scheme has a national network of 36 Finds Liaison Officers who record all archaeological finds made by members of the public and assist with the reporting of potential Treasure finds, as required by the Treasure Act.

The Scheme is run by the British Museum on behalf of the Museums Libraries and Archives Council. The online database, www.finds.org.uk, contains details of over 175,000 objects reported by members of the public.

Find out more about the history of the Vikings on the British Museum website

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