Posted by: kshayes513 | September 24, 2009

Treasure from Beowulf’s Hoard

A few pieces from the Staffordshire Hoard. This and all photos by David Rowan, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

A few pieces from the Staffordshire Hoard. All photos by David Rowan, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; courtesy Staffordshire Hoard website.

Beowulf lives!  That was my reaction to the announcement today of a fabulous treasure find in England.

The Staffordshire Hoard is a collection of over 1500 gold and silver artifacts from the Dark Ages, circa 700 AD, found in a farmer’s field in July by an ordinary guy with a metal detector. It’s by far the largest Anglo-Saxon hoard ever found in Britain, and the richness of the objects is leading experts to believe that it may have belonged to a king.

Scabbard Boss, inlaid with garnets.

Scabbard Boss, inlaid with garnets.

Pictures of the few pieces they have put on display are astonishingly rich, detailed and exquisite, even in their battered state after being in the ground for over 1300 years. The Anglo-Saxons were master goldsmiths and jewelers.

Archaeologists are orgasmic with excitement, naturally enough, talking about all that the find will teach them about the period, which is mostly lost to history. (That’s why its called the Dark Ages, d’oh!)

And that’s the link to worldbuilding. The Saxons, the Vikings, the Huns and other invading peoples from that era are our cultural template for the “barbarian” warrior.  We still commonly think of this type of warrior culture as being made up of huge bearded guys in helmets trimmed with fur and the horns of a bull, whose clothing is roughly fashioned fur and leather, who wield big clunky swords and battleaxes, and rip roasted meat off a haunch with their teeth, when they’re not pillaging, raping and burning.

Sword Hilt fitting with garnets

Sword Hilt fitting with garnets

So when does that fur-clad barbarian find time or taste or skill to make something like this for his sword hilt?

What archaeologists learn from this hoard over the next months and years, about the ways of a long lost culture, could be as fascinating for worldbuilders as it is for historians.

Leslie Webster, former Keeper of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum, quoted on the Staffordshire Hoard’s Flickr page, says this:

… it will make historians and literary scholars review what their sources tell us, and archaeologists and art-historians rethink the chronology of metalwork and manuscripts; and it will make us all think again about rising (and failing) kingdoms and the expression of regional identities in this period, the complicated transition from paganism to Christianity, the conduct of battle and the nature of fine metalwork production – to name only a few of the many huge issues it raises.

Maybe we’ll even have to rethink that barbarian stereotype!


  1. Here’s one thing to rethink: what self-respecting warrior type would allow anything to stick out from his/her helmet, thus providing a perfect place for an opponent to hook a sword and de-helmet — if not decapitate — said warrior? 🙂

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