Viking Burial Sensation - "I'd Never Dreamed Of Anything Like This!"

By David Prudames | 07 September 2004
photo shows two men holding metal detectors - Peter Adams made the find with his friend, George Robinson.

Peter Adams (left) photographed at the site of his remarkable discovery alongside his friend and fellow detectorist George Robinson. Courtesy Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Metal detectorist Peter Adams has been describing his delight at unearthing one of the most significant Viking burial finds in recent times.

Speaking to the 24 Hour Museum as the news of his find received almost blanket media coverage, Peter explained how relieved he was to finally be able to talk about it.

"It has been hard to keep it all in because I’ve wanted to shout it from the rooftops!" he said.

Peter had been out metal detecting in a Cumbrian field, with friend and fellow detectorist George Robinson, in March this year when he unearthed a brooch.

His find led to the discovery of six Viking graves containing a wealth of goods including weaponry, fire-making materials, spurs, a possible bridle, jewellery and what is thought to be the remains of a drinking horn. But, in order to keep the site secure, its location has been kept secret until now.

photo shows an artists impression of one of the graves. A dressed figure lies on a strip of linen, his posessions arranged around him.

A reconstruction of what one of the graves might have looked like. © Dom Andrews/ Portable Antiquities Scheme.

During the last couple of days, experts have been describing the burials as "a unique discovery" and for Peter they have certainly proved the find of a lifetime.

"There’s nothing to compare," he said. "The stuff I’ve got before is just little trinkets, nothing like it. I’d never dreamed of anything like this. It’s just phenomenal."

A metal detectorist for 10 years, Peter told the 24 Hour Museum how he had stepped up his interest in history and archaeology over the last two years and had specifically selected a farm in Cumbria.

"The week before I’d approached the farmer and asked if I could search on his land," he said explaining how, surrounded by medieval field layouts, he thought the area would have plenty of hidden archaeological material.

However, after a full day’s detecting and nothing more than a Victorian sixpence between them, George went for a snooze. Peter, meanwhile, decided to give it another half an hour.

A very weak signal on the crest of a hill set him off digging and about 14 inches down he found an object: "When I saw it in the ground, I thought it was an indicator off a tractor or something," he said.

photo shows two copper alloy brooches that were found by the two friends. Both are higly ornate, with swirling, interlocking motifs cast into the flat, slightly teardrop-shaped greeny yellow coloured pieces.

The two brooches that led to one of the most significant Viking burials to be found in recent years. Courtesy Portable Antiquities Scheme.

When he dug it up he realised it was some kind of ornamental brooch but thought it was probably Victorian. That evening at Kendal Metal Detecting club he found a similar object in a book on the Vikings.

Realising that it might be something important, Peter spoke to Faye Simpson the local Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officer. A Viking expert also tipped him off that with such brooches, where you find one, there’s usually another.

Accompanied by Faye, he returned to the site near Cumwhitton and between them they quickly turned up the other brooch. As they carried on digging it soon became apparent that although there was very little organic material, this was a grave.

But it was when Peter detected a sword hilt just a few yards away the idea that this could be an extremely rare Viking burial began to dawn on him.

"To find the one grave was fantastic, but once I realised there could be a burial ground there… there’s just no precedent."

photo shows clearly the outline of a viking sword in the ground, with other finds visible in the soil too.

A sword and beads are clearly visible in this photograph of one of the graves. Courtesy Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Realising the scale of the discovery, it was time to call in the experts. Working alongside Faye Simpson, a team from Oxford Archaeology North and English Heritage was drafted in to finish the job.

All the material from the graves has now been removed from the site and is undergoing what will probably be a lengthy process of conservation.

Finds will be sorted, cleaned, analysed and preserved to enable the greatest amount of information to be derived from them as possible.

And as far as Peter is concerned, the knowledge that he’s uncovered is everything: "It’s probably the most important event of my life outside my family," he said. "It’s not very valuable, but it is valuable for the knowledge we’ve all got from it."

"There’s no value you could put on it," he added. "It’s priceless, it really is."

Oxford Archaeology have put together a fascinating mini-website with more details about the discovery (Opens in a new window).

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