WASHINGTON (Oct. 18, 2011)—On July 5, 2009, Terry Herbert turned on his metal detector in a farmer’s field in Staffordshire, England. Fifteen minutes later, the detector beeped. Herbert dug in the soft soil and uncovered a thin, twisted piece of metal, which glittered in the sunlight. He had discovered the first piece of what eventually was found to be a 3,490-piece treasure trove: a hoard of gold, silver and garnet-encrusted objects of the highest-quality workmanship from early Anglo-Saxon times. The treasure, the largest and most valuable collection of Anglo-Saxon artifacts ever discovered, had been buried for 1,300 years.
The story of the hoard, one of the greatest archaeological finds of the century, is told by New York Times bestselling author Caroline Alexander in a new book from National Geographic, LOST GOLD OF THE DARK AGES: War, Treasure, and the Mystery of the Saxons (National Geographic Books; ISBN 978-1-4262-0814; on-sale date Oct. 18, 2011; $35 hardcover). The introduction is penned by Kevin Leahy, national adviser for the Portable Antiquities Scheme at the British Museum, who specializes in medieval metalwork and is the expert who has been studying the hoard.
In an effort to shed light on the mystery of who the hoard belonged to and why it was buried in a field — in Anglo-Saxon times likely an unpopulated area of woodlands and coarse heath — Alexander provides the first in-depth revelations about the find. She takes readers on a fascinating journey that traverses the ruined landscape of Rome’s occupation of Britain and the settlements of the earliest Anglo-Saxon immigrants, through misty lore, dragons, King Arthur and the ancient kingdom of Mercia, to “Beowulf” and the magnificent English language, to warrior graves and sword rituals, and ending with such revelatory technologies as DNA samplings and stable-isotope analysis.
News of the hoard’s discovery electrified not only the general public but also the community of Anglo-Saxon scholars and specialists. No one had seen anything like it. The Staffordshire Hoard was remarkable not only for what was in it, but also for what was not. There were no domestic or feminine objects; almost everything that could be identified was military in character. There were sword pommel fittings and saddle pieces, scabbard mounts and strap buckles, hilt ornaments and helmet fittings. The only items that appeared to be clearly nonmartial were two gold crosses and a strip of gold inscribed with a biblical verse. Also remarkable was that many objects bore evidence of deliberate mutilation, of having been wrenched apart and bent and folded with determined effort.
The hoard, then, was a pile of expensive, broken military hardware — possibly war plunder and possibly belonging to a nobleman’s troop of retainers judging by the material value of the objects and the extraordinarily fine workmanship — deposited for unknown reasons around A.D. 650 in a politically and militarily turbulent region in turbulent times. Why would such elite equipment be broken and buried in the ground? Thrilling and historic, the Staffordshire Hoard is, above all, enigmatic.
Richly illustrated, LOST GOLD OF THE DARK AGES includes exclusive photographs of parts of the treasure not yet seen by the general public.
The Staffordshire trove is the focus of a major National Geographic cross-divisional effort in the coming months. From Oct. 29, 2011, to March 4, 2011, the National Geographic Museum will host the exhibition “Anglo-Saxon Hoard: Gold from England’s Dark Ages,” featuring pieces from the Staffordshire Hoard. This is the first time part of the collection will be displayed in the United States.
In addition to the museum exhibition, National Geographic Channel will feature the hoard in the television special “Secrets of the Lost Gold,” premiering Monday, Nov. 7, 2011, at 9 p.m. ET/PT during the network’s “Expedition Week.” Additional information is available at www.natgeotv.com. The hoard also will be the cover story of the November 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine and will be a feature in the November 2011 issue of National Geographic Kids magazine.
On Tuesday, Nov. 1, Alexander, who also wrote the National Geographic magazine article, will moderate a National Geographic Live panel discussion that will begin with a screening of the television special “Secrets of the Lost Gold” at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C. Tickets can be purchased by calling (202) 857-7700 or online at www.nglive.org.
About the Author
Caroline Alexander is the bestselling author of “The Endurance” and “The Bounty” and is widely recognized for her nonfiction writing. She is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, Granta, Conde Nast Traveler and National Geographic magazines.