Experts are beginning a research project to unlock the secrets of the largest and most valuable Anglo-Saxon hoard ever discovered, after a £276,000 grant.
A small project team, based at the Stoke-on-Trent City Council-run Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, has started an 18-month programme to robustly catalogue the seventh and eighth century treasure. The work follows a grant from conservation body English Heritage.
Independent Anglo-Saxon finds cataloguer Chris Fern, and specialist artefact photographer and archivist Guy Evans will carry out the work.
The research will include preliminary catalogue entries, x-radiography, the creation of high quality images of all the hoard’s 3,500 items, and the results of the analyses of the metals and other materials. A database to capture all of this information will also be created.
The Mercian Trail partnership, which comprises Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Birmingham Museums, Lichfield District Council, Staffordshire County Council and Tamworth Borough Council, has also contributed £68,000 to the research programme.
Councillor Mark Meredith, cabinet member for economic development, said:
“It is the first time such a comprehensive analysis of all the thousands of hoard artefacts will have been recorded. This work is necessary to help our understanding of these unparalleled treasures. As the research progresses, it will lead to new discoveries into how the beautifully intricate artefacts were put together, and help unlock secrets as to why they came to be buried in a Staffordshire field. We hope the work will also give us insights into how our ancestors lived.
“We’re delighted to have such high calibre experts leading this very exciting and significant work, which puts our city at the centre of helping to understand the darkest age of our country’s history.”
Chris Fern specialises in the art and archaeology of the early Anglo-Saxon period. He has published on aspects of the Sutton Hoo cemetery, on early medieval horse ritual and equestrianism in England, and is a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
Guy Evans has a 14-year relationship with The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, in which he has promoted, documented and archived museum collections and artefacts.
During the research programme, conservation work on the artefacts will continue at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which jointly owns the treasure with Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
The first stage of the research is expected to be completed by October 2013. The second stage of work will involve a book and extensive digital resource which will be freely available via the Archaeology Data Service. It will focus on studies that will place the hoard in context both at the time it was buried and now.
Councillor Meredith said:
“The body of work now being undertaken is really exciting, and pioneering. It couldn’t take place without the funding from English Heritage, and I’d like to thank them on behalf of the joint owners of the treasure for their support.
“Some of the stunning new photography from this research will be on display for the first time at our new summer exhibition of the treasure, which starts on 21 July. It will be the largest exhibition of the Staffordshire Hoard yet, and we are committed to sharing our research on the treasure, wherever possible, during the exhibition and beyond, so it promises to be a show not to miss.”
Barney Sloane who oversees strategic research at English Heritage, said:
"The beauty and sheer size of the hoard have astonished the world, but the real excitement starts now with the unravelling of its significance.
“This research will ensure that public displays are informed by the highest possible level of scholarship and will answer some important questions about the hoard itself and also about Anglo Saxon England and the Kingdom of Mercia, the latter often described as ‘shrouded in the mists of time’. There is so much to study and we are very delighted that our local partners have put in place such a professional and dedicated team."
The new Potteries Museum and Art Gallery exhibition on the treasure will open next month. ‘Staffordshire Hoard: Dark Age Discovery’ runs from 21 July 2012 to 1 September 2013. For more information call 01782 232502, or visit www.stokemuseums.org.uk.