Anglo-Saxon warrior splendour: The "extremely significant" new finds from the Staffordshire Hoard

By Ben Miller | 29 May 2015

A reconstructed helmet and a “unique” sword pommel, found during new work on the Staffordshire Hoard, will tell archaeologists more about seventh century Anglo-Saxon England

A photo of various ancient bronze artefacts against a black background
© Birmingham Museums Trust
Partly carried out with a £400,000 grant from Historic England, Birmingham Museums Trust and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery say their new research on the famous Staffordshire Hoard is “like a giant jigsaw puzzle”, revealing two “extremely significant” objects.

“The Staffordshire Hoard links us with an age of warrior splendour,” says Chris Fern, the project archaeologist.

“The gold and silver war-gear was probably made in workshops controlled by some of England’s earliest kings, to reward warriors that served those rulers, when multiple kingdoms fought for supremacy.

A photo of a section of reconstructed ancient sword pommel against a black backdrop
© Birmingham Museums Trust
“The skill of the craftsmen is equally thrilling to behold, with many of the finds decorated with pagan and Christian art, designed to give spiritual protection in battle.

“The newly recognised pommel is truly exciting. It combines multiple different styles of ornament, much in the same way as the earliest 7th century illuminated manuscripts do, like the Book of Durrow.

“It suggests the coming together of Anglo-Saxon and British or Irish high cultures.”

Princely Warrior

A photo of various ancient bronze artefacts against a black background
© Birmingham Museums Trust
Archaeologists and a conservator worked for three days to begin to piece together the vast collection of 1,500 thin, fragile silver sheets, and strips, believed to come from a dismantled helmet.

Anglo-Saxon helmets are incredibly rare, and the hoard example is the fifth to be discovered. The painstaking job saw these fragments - many less than 10mm across and making up around a third of the Hoard in size - pieced together to reveal intricate, die-stamped designs.

The remarkable designs depict human warriors and male moustachioed faces, as well as birds, animals and mythical beasts, like others seen in the rest of the hoard.

A photo of a section of reconstructed ancient sword pommel against a black backdrop
© Birmingham Museums Trust
Some warrior figures themselves wear helmets. It’s possible these are ancestral or idealised warriors, intended to give spiritual support to the wearer.

The team has also pieced together the fragments of a ‘helmet-band’, thought to have run around the circumference of the helmet (and which held one of the warrior friezes). Many of the sheet friezes were gilded with gold.

In comparison, the helmet found at Sutton Hoo in 1939, in the royal ship-burial, was silver. This and the rarity of the object point to a princely or even kingly status for its owner.

Experts say there is still “so much more” to be discovered about this fascinating helmet.

Pommel

A photo of a section of ornate reconstructed ancient sword pommel
© Birmingham Museums Trust
There are more than 70 pommels - the part of the sword that fits at the end of a sword-grip - in the hoard, but this newly constructed one is exceptional, marking a completely unique type.

Conservation and research teams identified and reassembled it from 26 fragments. Although Anglo-Saxon in style, it also has British or Irish art influences.

Its central garnet and glass inlaid disc can be seen to form an early Christian cross and on the other side is a motif formed of three serpents – so both Christian and pagan beliefs may be represented.

A photo of a section of ornate reconstructed ancient sword pommel
© Birmingham Museums Trust
This incredible object was also decorated with gold filigree (fine wire ornament) and inlaid with niello – a black inlay formed from copper, silver, and lead sulphides.

The rounded hump on the pommel’s shoulder is most unusual. Known as a ‘sword-ring’, there would have been two originally – one on each shoulder.

Many swords from this period in England and Europe have such rings, but the hoard pommel is the first to have had two. This, with its lavish ornament, points to it possibly belonging to an individual of significant status.


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A photo of a section of reconstructed ancient sword pommel against a black backdrop
© Birmingham Museums Trust
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