Saving the Silverdale Hoard

 

The Silverdale Hoard excavation in 2011 undertaken by Minerva Heritage Ltd.

The Silverdale Hoard excavation in 2011 undertaken by Minerva Heritage Ltd.

The news that the Silverdale Viking hoard has been bought for the nation and will go on permanent display in Lancashire is the culmination of the work of many organisations. This positive outcome is particularly cheering for me since CBA North West had an important role to play. The initial discovery of 201 pieces of silver and jewellery in a field in northern Lancashire by a metal detecting enthusiast was made in September 2011. Soon after, in November 2011, a small excavation was undertaken for the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Lancashire Archaeology Service by Minerva Heritage on the site of the find, partially grant-funded by CBA North West. This work demonstrated that the items had been buried in a metal container in a shallow pit, with no evidence for any other activity nearby.

Further work has shown that the items were buried in the period AD 900-910 and included 27 coins, fourteen ingots, ten complete arm rings, six bossed brooch fragments, two finger rings, a fine wire braid, and 141 fragments of chopped-up arm rings and ingots, known as hacksilver. This represents the third largest Viking hoard known from England, after the Cuerdale Hoard of more than 6000 objects (also from Lancashire), and the Vale of York hoard with around 600 items. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the hoard is that it contains coins bearing the name of a previously-unknown Viking ruler of northern England – Airedconut. The design of these coins is similar to those of the Viking kings Siefredus and Cnut who ruled Northumbria around AD 900. Other coins included Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, and Islamic types from around the same period demonstrating the international links of the find.

The only wistful aspect of the find, from my perspective, is that the North West’s greatest modern scholar of the Viking period, Ben Edwards, died a few months before the discovery. His knowledge and enthusiasm would have greatly helped the interpretation and understanding of the context of the Silverdale hoard, and also the Furness Viking hoard which was found a few months later in southern Cumbria. As a past Chair of CBA North West and Lancashire’s, and indeed England’s, first county archaeologist in the early 1960s, he would also have appreciated how rare this kind of discovery is, especially in northern Lancashire and southern Cumbria where there is little previous archaeological material from Viking activity. The securing of the Silverdale hoard is thus, to my mind, a fitting tribute to Ben’s decades of scholarship.

The objects were declared treasure by Lancashire deputy coroner Simon Jones in December 2011 and Lancashire County Council secured donations from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, and the Victoria and Albert Purchase Grant Fund to buy the hoard in October 2013. The hoard will now go on display at Lancaster City Museum from 25 October, before moving to its permanent home at the Museum of Lancashire in Preston in February 2014. If you do visit, why not make a day of it and drive further north to Cumbria, where the Furness hoard is on display in the dock museum?

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