Do your bit to save the Staffordshire Hoard

Roger Bland, head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme at The British Museum, examining Hoard items.

Roger Bland, head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme at The British Museum, examining Hoard items.

The huge, wood-panelled doors opened and we were led down a long corridor flanked with hundreds of books in glass cases.

Our footsteps echoed off the marble floor as we walked.

We halted at a set of electronically-locked doors. Phone calls were made and, after several minutes, they eventually buzzed open.

The room was what you would expect from the bowels of the British Museum.

It was like the library of some stately home in an Agatha Christie novel, or the setting for some vital plot line in a Dan Brown page-turner.

There were wall-to-wall books on two levels and the feng shui of a room devoted to scholarly pursuits was only disrupted by a large, beige, metal cupboard with a chunky electronic lock.

Out of it were carried half a dozen plastic boxes full of smaller plastic boxes. Each one was numbered with a raffle ticket – strange, but completely logical given the number and variety of objects they contained.

The treasure keeper, Ian, took the lid off the first box – and that’s when I got my first glimpse of the Staffordshire Hoard.

It is genuinely breathtaking to be up close and personal to something so old, so valuable and so very rare.

It didn’t matter that some of the objects were tiny or broken.

I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest by the fact that many were still crusted with the earth from which they had been plundered.

In a way, that clinging dirt was symbolic of Staffordshire not wanting to give up one of the most remarkable archaeological treasures ever found in this country.

One by one I viewed the items – some no bigger than your little finger – from every angle.

There were sword pyramids, pommel pieces, tiny golden snake clasps and eye-piece adornments believed to have come from a warrior’s helmet.

None of it has yet been viewed by the public, that is until these items arrive at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Hanley later this week.

All this stuff, the booty of battle or a king’s treasury, was buried about 1,300 years ago by people who took its location to their graves.

History doesn’t come much more raw than this.

As one archaeologist put it: “You know the warriors from Beowulf, or the Riders of Rohan in Lord of the Rings? Those are the kind of people we are talking about when we refer to the Staffordshire Hoard.”

She had me at Beowulf…

“They placed in the barrow that precious booty,
the rounds and the rings they had reft erewhile,
hardy heroes, from hoard in cave,
trusting the ground with treasure of earls,
gold in the earth, where ever it lies…”

Although these 1,600 gold and silver items were found in the most remarkable circumstances in a field just south of Lichfield, they are as important to the people of Stoke-on-Trent as they are to our friends in Tamworth, Lichfield, Stafford and Birmingham.

For, not only is The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery the recognised repository for all archaeology found in Staffordshire, but we are also at the heart of the ancient kingdom of Mercia from where these precious artifacts come.

So what can you expect?

Well, for starters, prepare to be surprised. The wonders of modern photography show up the shiny brilliance of each golden fragment in wondrous detail.

These images are used large in the media and on posters and display boards to enhance the experience for viewers and visitors.

In reality, most of the pieces are tiny – no bigger than a couple of centimetres – fragile and still caked in soil.

Even so, together with the larger mangled cross, helmet cheek piece, and a chunk of gold bearing a latin inscription from the Bible, they are all, in their own way, magnificent.

The craftsmanship is truly astonishing.

However, in order to ensure these windows to our past remain in the West Midlands, £3.3 million must be raised to purchase the Staffordshire Hoard.

But, as well as putting your hand in your pocket, it is equally important that we support the campaign by voting with our feet – as the people of Birmingham did.

Archaeologists, historians, politicians and celebrities all want the bid to succeed.

Now it is up to the people of the Potteries to demonstrate just how much our history means to us.

Please play your part.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s