"Significant" Viking hoard revealed at the British Museum for launch of Annual Treasure Report

By Richard Moss | 10 December 2015

A significant Viking hoard is the star find at the launch of the Annual Treasure Report

a photo of silver bangles and coins
The Watlington Viking Hoard© PAS
A Viking Hoard dating from the time of the ‘Last Kingdom’, when the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex were fighting for their survival against a ‘Great Heathen Army’ of Viking raiders has been revealed at the British Museum.

The valuable hoard, which was discovered by metal detectorist  James Mather in a field in Watlington, Oxfordshire and reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), headed up the launch of the PAS annual treasure report at the museum, which details the thousands of finds reported by detectorists and amateur archaeologists via a network of local museums.

It includes rare coins of King Alfred ‘the Great’ of Wessex (r.871-99) and King Ceolwulf II of  Mercia (874-79), as well as Viking arm-rings and silver ingots, and is said by archaeologists to be nationally significant.

a photo of a large block of earth wrapped in plastic
The Watlington Hoard asit arrived at the British Museum© PAS
Block lifted in a single slab of earth, the find was excavated at the British Museum. The 186 coins (some fragmentary), seven items of jewellery and 15 ingots were then examined by experts from the museum alongside colleagues from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. 

Experts believe the hoard was buried around the end of the 870s, in the period following Alfred’s decisive defeat of the Vikings at Edington in 878, a victory which lead to the unification of England.

Following their defeat, the Vikings moved north of the Thames and travelled to East Anglia through the kingdom of Mercia. It seems likely that the hoard was buried in the course of these events, although the precise circumstances will never be known.

Recalling the experience of finding the hoard and helping excavate it with archaeologists from the PAS, finder James Mather said it was the “icing on the cake of my 60th birthday”.

a photo of a man next to hole in a filed with a metal detector
James Mather at the find spot© PAS
“It highlights how responsible metal detecting, supportive landowners and the PAS contribute to national archaeological heritage,” he added. “I hope these amazing artefacts can be displayed by a local museum to be enjoyed by generations to come."

If the Watlington Hoard is declared Treasure, the Ashmolean Museum and Oxfordshire Museums Service will be working in partnership with others, and potential funders, to try to ensure it is displayed for local people to learn about and enjoy.

Since 1997, when the Treasure Act became law, the number of finds reported has increased fivefold from 201 cases in 1998 (the first full year of the Act) to 990 in 2013, and 1008 in 2014.

Of the finds reported as Treasure in 2013 (the last year for which figures are available), 363 were acquired by 91 local museums, so they can be displayed close to where the items were discovered.

a photo of a bangle with flints and coins embedded in it
Flint embedded in a bangle© PAS
This year’s annual report reveals that in addition to reported Treasure, a further 113,784 archaeological finds have been recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme in 2014.

All of them are recorded on the PAS database (finds.org.uk), where local people can learn about them and discover more about the archaeology and history of their local area.

Find out more about the PAS at www.finds.org.uk

A photo of a person kneeling by a hole
The Watlington excavation© PAS
More from Culture24's archaeology section:

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A gold medieval ring, a silver finger band and Roman soldiers' pay: The new archaeological treasures of Wales

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