British farm find yields Anglo-Saxon treasures

By John F. Burns
New York Times / September 25, 2009

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LONDON - For the jobless man living on welfare who made the find in an English farmer’s field two months ago, it was the stuff of dreams: a hoard of early Anglo-Saxon treasure, probably dating from the seventh century and including more than 1,500 pieces of intricately worked gold and silver whose craftsmanship and historical significance left archeologists awestruck.

When the discovery was announced yesterday, specialists described it as one of the most important in British archeological history. They said it surpassed the greatest previous discovery of its kind, a royal burial chamber unearthed in 1939 at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk that was fashioned from the hull of an ancient ship. That find shaped scholars’ understanding of the warring Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of 1,300 years ago that ended up as the unified kingdom of England.

The new trove includes items that one specialist in Anglo-Saxon artifacts said brought tears to her eyes: gold items weighing 11 pounds and 5.5 pounds of silver. Tentatively identified by some specialists as bounty from one of the wars that racked Middle England in the seventh and eighth centuries, the pieces included sword pommels and dagger hilts; scabbard bosses and helmet cheekpieces; Christian crosses; and figures of animals, eagles, and fish.

Archeologists initially estimate the value of the trove at about $1.6 million but say it could be many times that.

And they took a vicarious pleasure in noting that the discovery was not the outcome of a carefully planned archeological enterprise, but the product of a lone amateur stumbling about with a metal detector.

“People laugh at metal detectorists,’’ Terry Herbert, 55, who made the find, told the BBC yesterday at a news conference at the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, where the objects will go on display today for two weeks.

Herbert spent 18 years scouring fields and back lots without finding anything more valuable than a piece of an ancient Roman horse harness.

Now under British laws governing the discovery of ancient treasures, he stands to get half the value of the booty.