Watlington Hoard Update: Nationally significant, say experts and archaeologists
by John Howland
Ed Vaizey, the UK’s Minister of State for Culture, announced the discovery of the highly significant Viking Hoard near Watlington, Oxfordshire, the contents of which date from when the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia, and Wessex, were fighting for their survival against the Vikings; a fight which led to the unification of England. “The British Museum now runs the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which puts online lovely images of thousands s of people’s discoveries,” adding reassuringly, “The future of the past has never been healthier.”
The hoard of rare silver coins of King Alfred ‘The Great’ of Wessex (871-99) and King Ceolwulf II of Mercia (874-79) also contained Viking silver bracelets and silver ingots. The hoard was excavated by an expert team from the UK’s world renowned Portable Antiquities Scheme, in response to a report by the finder, James Mather. The team lifted the cache in its entirety which was then taken for expert analysis at the British Museum where the soil-block was examined under laboratory conditions and the hoard’s contents – 186 coins (some fragmentary) seven items of jewellery and fifteen ingots – were studied by leading specialists from the Ashmolean and British Museums.
The PAS reckons, “The hoard was buried around the end of the 870s, in the period following Alfred’s decisive defeat of the Vikings at Edington in 878. Following their defeat, the Vikings moved north of the Thames and travelled to East Anglia through the kingdom of Mercia. It seems likely that the hoard was buried in the course of these events, although the precise circumstances will never be known.”
Detectorist, James Mather’s discovery of the cache dubbed the ‘Watlington Hoard’, said of his find:
“Discovering this exceptional hoard has been a really great experience and helping excavate it with archaeologists from the PAS on my 60th birthday was the icing on the cake! It highlights how responsible metal detecting, supportive landowners and the PAS contribute to national archaeological heritage. I hope these amazing artefacts can be displayed by a local museum to be enjoyed by generations to come.” The Treasure Trove reward which will be equally shared between the landowner and the finder could run to a six figure sum.
Gareth Williams, The British Museum’s Curator of Early Medieval Coinage is equally excited by the discovery:
“The hoard comes from a key moment in English history. At around the same time, Alfred of Wessex decisively defeated the Vikings, and Ceolwulf II, the last king of Mercia quietly disappeared from the historical record in uncertain circumstances. Alfred and his successors then forged a new kingdom of England by taking control of Mercia, before conquering the regions controlled by the Vikings. This hoard has the potential to provide important new information on relations between Mercia and Wessex at the beginning of that process.”
The PAS reports that since the introduction of the 1996 Treasure Act under which finders of ‘treasure’ have a legal obligation to report such finds, treasure reports (overwhelmingly by metal detectorists) have rocketed from 201 in 1998 – the first full year of the Act – to 1008 in 2014.
If the hoard is declared ‘Treasure’ as defined under the 1996 Act reports the PAS, the world famous Ashmolean Museum in Oxford along with the Oxfordshire Museums Service will be working in partnership with others, and potential funders, to try to ensure that this important find can be displayed for local people to learn about and enjoy.
Crucially, the significant words are “[…]…This hoard has the potential to provide important new information […]” and is yet another awe-inspiring find made by detectorist with a passionate interest in history.
Your Heritage Needs YOU! (And your metal detector)
Would you like to help add to our knowledge of how people lived in the past through the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)? You do? Then the PAS will be very happy to hear from you!
You can support their valuable work in two main ways: by reporting any archaeological objects (over 300 years old) you have found, or by volunteering to help record finds.
To report your finds get in touch with your local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO). They will identify and record your finds onto the database for you and others to see and researchers to study.
This is a five-year project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to enhance the PAS’s volunteer programme. Under PASt Explorers, volunteers operate as Community Finds Recording Teams (CFRTs) based around their local Finds Liaison Officer and the teams are organised into ten regional training areas. Volunteers receive training in order to identify and record archaeological finds from their local area, increasing the number of objects recorded onto the PAS database. The teams also promote the activities of the PAS to new audiences in their areas, and recruit others to volunteer with the PAS and engage with the history and archaeology of their local areas. As part of the project, two Project Officers, an Outreach Officer and an ICT Officer have been appointed to help support and coordinate volunteers.
If you are a detectorist with a passion for local history, or are concerned about the proper recording of your heritage, why sign up to this ground-breaking initiative. Britain’s metal detecting community are making enormous strides and contributions as the Watlington Hoard amply demonstrates. Contact the PAS for further details.