Jobless treasure hunter unearths greatest ever haul of Anglo-Saxon artefacts

It's amazing what you can discover in ancient England's soil.

When 55-year-old Terry Herbert searched for artefacts in a Staffordshire field, he wasn't optimistic of finding much.

But his £2.50 metal detector discovered what is the largest haul of Anglo-Saxon artefacts ever discovered.

The law states that the discoverer of treasure gets half the money and the owner of the land gets the other half.

This approximately 1,300-year-old treasure is expected to cost tens, or even hundreds, of millions of pounds, so Terry is to become a very rich man indeed.

It has now been dubbed the new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells.

What Terry found is absolutely breathtaking. Amongst the finds is a golden cross encrusted with precious jewels; several sword hilts; a figure of an animal, possibly from the crest of a helmet; an ornamental millefiori stud; and a strip of gold with a biblical inscription in Latin. It reads: 'Rise up, o Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face'.

The Anglo-Saxons came over from what is now northern Germany, Denmark and Holland to what is now England in the 400s AFTER the Romans left the British Isles (the Scots often mock the English over the fact that the Romans ruled what is now England but not what is now Scotland, but they often overlook the fact that the ancestors of the English weren't inhabiting the British Isles at the time, but the ancestors of the Welsh and Scots were).

When they arrived, they pushed the native Britons (Celts) into the far western and far northern extremities of the island, and the Anglo-Saxons ruled the rest. Nowadays, those western and northern extremities are Wales and Scotland, and the rest of the island is England.

For centuries, though, what is now England didn't exist. There were several rival Anglo-Saxon kingdoms which were often at war with one another. Each kingdom also had its own king or queen and royal family (monarchy really is the blood that flows through England's veins). These kingdoms including Mercia, Wessex, Kent and Northumbria.

England was formed in 927AD when the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms unified. The first king of England was Athelstan.

The Anglo-Saxons spoke a language called Old English, the ancestor of modern English, and they would have been just about intelligible to English people today (despite there also being a huge amount of words in English derived from Norman and Latin, the vast majority of all the most commonly-spoken words in English are Anglo-Saxon, including "the", and English is regarded as a Germanic language) .

Anglo-Saxon England coincided with a period of time known as the Dark Ages. This is because the Anglo-Saxons were largely illiterate and rarely wrote anything down, so there is little we know about the period. Though the Anglo-Saxons did produce some great pieces of literature, such as the epic poem Beowulf.

Anglo-Saxon rule in England came to an end in 1066 when the Normans invaded.

Today, the modern English people are mainly descended from the Anglo-Saxons and Normans.

The field of gold: How jobless treasure hunter unearthed greatest ever haul of Saxon artefacts with £2.50 metal detector

By David Derbyshire (external - login to view), Dalya Alberge (external - login to view) and James Tozer (external - login to view)
26th September 2009
Daily Mail

England's founding fathers: The Anglo-Saxons are the ancestors of the English people, and ruled what is now England from the 400s to 1066

It will revolutionise our understanding of the Dark Ages, bring delight to millions and make two men very rich indeed.

Archaeologists yesterday unveiled the largest and most valuable hoard of Saxon gold in history – 1,500 pieces of treasure unearthed from a farmer’s field by a man with a metal detector.

The haul includes beautiful gold sword hilts, jewels from Sri Lanka, exquisitely carved helmet decorations and early Christian crosses.

Historic haul: This beautifully intricate metalwork is part of an Anglo-Saxon helmet


'The Folded Cross' (top) which formed part of the find, and (bottom) an artist's impression of how it would have looked originally. The fact such a prominent Christian symbol was bent could be a sign it was buried by pagans

Enlarge Discovery of a lifetime: Metal detecting fan Terry Herbert found the amazing haul in a Staffordshire field

The 1,300-year-old treasure was discovered by unemployed Terry Herbert in July in a field owned by a friend in Staffordshire.

Within days, the 55-year-old former coffin factory worker from Walsall had filled 244 bags.

Outside the worlds of Indiana Jones and Channel Four’s Time Team, archaeologists are not usually known for their exuberance.


TERRY HERBERT who found the hoard:
'I was going to bed and in my sleep, I was seeing gold items. As soon as I closed my eyes, I saw gold patterns. I didn't think it was ever going to end.'

But yesterday the superlatives about the Staffordshire Hoard were flying.

Some spoke of the find as the new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells, which are intricately illuminated manuscripts of the four gospels from the 8th and 9th centuries.

Others described the treasure as ‘absolutely sensational’, ‘astonishing’ and ‘stunning’. All agreed it will shake up our understanding of Saxon Britain.

Ornate: A collection of what appear to be sword hilts and to the right, the folded cross

Intricate: Exquisite metalwork on this sword hilt depicts figures of animals

Preserved: A figure of an animal, possibly from the crest of a helmet (top) and (bottom), an ornamental millefiori stud

The gold objects alone weigh more than 5kg (11lb).


Treasure is defined by the law as any gold or silver objects, or coins, more than 300 years old which were deliberately hidden.

Under the 1996 Treasure Act, any treasure found in England and Wales belongs to the Crown.

Anyone who finds what they suspect may be treasure must report it to the local coroner within 14 days of discovery. If they don't, they risk a three-month jail sentence or a £5,000 fine.

If an inquest declares that a find is treasure, it is offered to the British Museum or a local museum who has it officially valued by an independent board of antiquities experts. If they want the find, they must pay the market value of the treasure to the finder and/or landowner. If they don't, the finder can keep it.

Normally, any treasure belongs to the landowner. However, a landowner can agree to split the reward with a metal detector enthusiast.

The collection is currently being held in secure storage at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, where a selection of items will be displayed from today until October 13.

After that a treasure valuation committee will value the find.

More than 1,000 years old: A strip of gold with a biblical inscription in Latin. It reads: 'Rise up, o Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face'

A gold sword fitting inlaid with garnet, top, as it was found in the field and, bottom, after it has been cleaned up

The pommel of a sword

A snake-like piece of jewellery

A piece of plate from a sword hilt

The gold objects alone weigh more than 5kg (11lb). The great Anglo-Saxon burial site at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, found in 1939, had a mere 1.66kg (3.5lb).

Mr Herbert, who bought an old metal detector for £2.50 18 years ago, said he was overwhelmed by the find – regarded as one of the most important in decades.

‘I have this phrase that I say sometimes – “spirits of yesteryear take me where the coins appear” – but on that day I changed coins to gold,’ he said.

‘I don’t know why I said it that day, but I think somebody was listening and directed me to it. Maybe it was meant to be, maybe the gold had my name on it all along.

‘I was going to bed and in my sleep I was seeing gold items.’

Mr Herbert, who lives separately from his girlfriend of 20 years, Vicki Hyden, is thought to have signed a written contract with landowner Fred Johnson agreeing to split any finds on his land.

He now plans to trade up from his rented maisonette to a bungalow.

But the extraordinary find has already sparked the inevitable tensions.

‘Me and Terry agreed to keep it all low key and I thought that would be the case,’ said Mr Johnson who owns the farm in Brownhills, Staffordshire.

‘It is not about the money for me, it’s an incredible find for the country and that’s what more important.

‘I’m not happy with Terry - I think its more about the money for him and I’m going to have to confront him about that.’

The hoard includes gold mounts inlaid with garnets, gold images of animals and reptiles – including horses and snakes, three crosses, including a large, processional one with enormous garnets, and dozens of gold fittings from swords.

Exposed: One of the finds on the surface of the field next to a 20p piece (top) and (bottom) archaeologists at work

There is also a gold strip with a Biblical inscription in Latin which reads: ‘Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be scattered and those who hate thee be driven from thy face’.

‘Everyone is completely knocked back,’ said Roger Bland, a senior antiquities curator at the British Museum.

‘These are absolutely unique objects.’ Of the total value he said: ‘I can’t say anything other than we expect it to be a seven-figure sum.’

The jewels are thought to have come from Sri Lanka - carried to Europe by traders.

The gold probably came from the Byzantine Empire, the eastern remnant of the Roman Empire based in what is now Istanbul.

Leslie Webster, former keeper at the British Museum’s Department of Prehistory and Europe, said he believes the find offered a more dramatic insight into Saxon life than even Sutton Hoo.

‘This will change our understanding of the dates of early Christian manuscripts, our perceptions of seventh-century people and where power lay,’ he said.

The treasure dates from 675 to 725AD, the time of Beowulf – the great Anglo-Saxon poem.

Some of the objects were lying on top of the soil, others were just below the surface. So far, experts have examined 1,345.


Archaeologists kept its discovery quiet until yesterday – when they had removed every trace of gold. They were desperate to keep the location secret from ‘night hawkers’ – treasure seekers who raid archaeological sites in darkness using torches and metal detectors.

The treasure is so valuable it almost certainly belonged to a king or warlord.

At the time it was hidden, Staffordshire was the heartland of Mercia, an aggressive kingdom under Aethelred and other rulers.

The gold could have been collected during wars with the kingdoms of Northumbria and East Anglia. Some appears to have been deliberately removed from the objects to which they were attached.

Some of the items have been bent and twisted.

It may have been hurriedly buried when the owner was in danger. The fact it was never recovered suggests the owner was killed.

It may also have been buried by a victorious army as aform of humiliation to the defeated.

The future of the hoard, declared treasure yesterday and therefore Crown property, is undecided.

The collection will probably be divided between the Birmingham Museum, where some items will be unveiled to the public until October 13, and other museums.

Mr Herbert, meanwhile, is used to his hobby being mocked. ‘I’ve had people go past and go “beep beep, he’s after pennies”, he said.

‘Well no, we are out there to find this kind of stuff – and it is out there.’

What these gems reveal about the brutal men who made England

The Anglo-Saxons ruled England through the upheavals of the Viking age right up to the Norman conquest of 1066

From his high vantage point, the mighty Anglo-Saxon king Penda looked down on a sight of unimaginable brutality.

Below, on a battlefield strewn with bodies, his men fought with a lust for blood, filling the air with the roar of their shrieks, sword striking sword with the metallic clang of early warfare.

Later, in the glory of victory, Penda’s warriors dug a shallow hole.

They made a triumphal burial of their enemy’s weapons and battlefield spoils.

It was a custom of the day, a form of ritual humiliation of the foe, described in the great Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf: ‘Weapons of war and weeds (clothes) of battle, with breastplate and blade – a heaped hoard’.

Could it be that this was the scene that took place 1,400 years ago – and that such a hoard has now been discovered in Staffordshire? It seems more than possible.

King Penda would have been worthy of such treasure. He killed five kings in battles in the mid seventh century, becoming the most powerful Anglo-Saxon ruler of the age.

He was described by a contemporary as ‘a most warlike man of the royal race of the Mercians’. Later, he would be beheaded in battle. Truly it was a brutal era.

To say this magnificent find changes our understanding of the early Anglo-Saxons is an understatement on a massive scale for it changes so much we thought we knew about our warrior forebears.

It sheds new light on a period we have come to know as the Dark Ages – for unlike the Romans, who left us such a wealth of historical evidence, the Anglo-Saxons did not write anything down before they were converted to Christianity in the seventh century.

It is of course early days in terms of reconstructing how this treasure trove came to be buried.

But we certainly believe it to be a hoard of armaments taken from an enemy. Notably, there are no feminine objects such as dress fittings, brooches or pendants. Nor are there cooking utensils, nor domestic trappings – everything points to it being a trophy hoard taken in a war.

These warring Anglo Saxons were probably male soldiers in their teenage years and early twenties. The hoard shows that the soldiers were presumably wealthy enough to pay for beautifully wrought treasures, including gold and garnets, which might have come from as far away as India.

In the coming months and years, we will be analyzing each piece in minute detail and ascertaining what light these remains shed on our ancestors. The treasure was discovered in the heartland of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, in the English Midlands.

The Anglo-Saxons thought of themselves as the descendants of invading Germanic tribes who settled in the south and east of England at the end of Roman rule, in the early fifth century AD. They ruled England through the upheavals of the Viking age right up to the Norman conquest of 1066.

Enlarge Basic: An artist's impression of a Anglo-Saxon village

The early Anglo-Saxons founded England as we know it. They spoke Old English – and they would have been just about intelligible to us. They developed royal families, systems of justice and a currency, which has come down to us with only slight modifications. They lived in settlements of wooden houses, with fireplaces in the middle and few windows.

The names of their villages still exist – Reading, Henley, Fulham, Hastings and Middleton are all Anglo-Saxon words. By the time the Staffordshire hoard was assembled, about half of England was officially Christian and monasteries were beginning to appear.

Their homes would have been smoky, dark and primitive. All activities requiring good light had to take place outside, making the magnificent craftsmanship seen in this treasure even more amazing.

Their food would have been familiar to us, but much more restricted in variety. They would have eaten porridge and bread, butter and cheese, but not so much meat, and not very many vegetables.

They did however have leeks, garlic and onions, and relied heavily on herbs to flavour their food. Meat came from farmed animals and from hunting. Apples and other native fruit would have provided vitamins.

They loved to party, drinking mead – a brew fermented from honey – beer and ale. They sang and danced, and were wonderful storytellers – we know this from the little poetry they left behind.

But there are still many ‘known unknowns’ about the Anglo Saxons. The big mystery is where did they come from?

Did they arrive from Germany in family units? Or as immigrant men who had children with native British women? Or did just a few come from the continent and show the native British a way of life to adopt.

Our Anglo Saxon forebears remain something of an enigma but with these magnificent treasures, we come a step closer to knowing our early English ancestors.
  • Dr Helen Geake is National Finds Adviser (Early-Medieval Artefacts) at the Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge.
Some of the collection's highlights:

  • SWORD HILT FITTINGS: At least 84 pommel caps and 71 sword hilt collars have been identified so far. They would have adorned a sword or seax (short sword or knife). Their elaborate and expensive decoration - many are made of gold and inlaid with garnets - suggests the weapons were once the property of the highest echelons of nobility.
  • HELMETS: Experts are piecing together what they believe are parts from several splendidly decorated helmets, including what appears to be a cheek-piece with a frieze of running animals. It has a relatively low gold content and has been specially alloyed, probably to make it more functional and able to withstand blows. There are also fragments of silver edging and reeded strips that may have been helmet fittings and an animal figurine that was possibly the crest of a helmet.
  • BIBLICAL INSCRIPTIONS: A strip of gold bearing a biblical inscription in Latin is one of the most significant and controversial finds. One expert believes that the style of lettering indicates it is from the seventh or early eighth centuries, while another dates it to the eighth or ninth centuries. The warlike inscription, mis-spelt in places, is thought to be from the Book of Numbers, Chapter 10 verse 35. The translation reads: 'Rise up, o Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face.'
  • FOLDED CROSSES: The largest of two or three crosses in the hoard may have been an altar or processional cross. It has been folded, possibly to make it fit into a small space prior to burial. The apparent lack of respect shown to this Christian symbol may point to the hoard being buried by pagans.

The Book of Kells is another great cultural icon of the medieval West and regarded as a shining example of the Celtic art form. It was made from calfskin leaves decorated with elaborate illustrations and Latin calligraphy in around 800 AD by Columban monks in the monastery of Iona, off the Scottish coast.

It is thought it would have taken a team of illustrators up to 30 years to finish. Fear of Viking attacks meant it was moved to another monastery in Kells, County Meath, in Ireland in the 9th century. It remained there for almost 700 years, bar one incident when it was stolen and found weeks later without its golden, jewelled cover and with some pages missing. It came to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1661, and is still on display there today.


The Lindisfarne Gospels is an illuminated Latin manuscript of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John produced in Lindisfarne, in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, in the late seventh or early eighth century. Like most medieval Christian manuscripts, it was written in Latin but in around 970 during its time in Chester-Le-Street an Anglo-Saxon translation was written in red ink underneath the Latin. This makes it the oldest surviving version of the gospels in any form of English.

Around 1,300 years old, it is considered one of the world's greatest historic books and symbols of faith and is also one of the UK's greatest religious treasures. The manuscript was created by a monk at Lindisfarne Priory in Northumbria and kept safe during raids by the Vikings and then the Normans. In 1104, they were moved to Durham Cathedral but during the dissolution of the monastries under Henry VIII they were seized by the king's commissioners. They were held in the Tower of London for a time before coming to Sir Robert Cotton in the early 17th century. His heirs later gave the book to the nation.


The historic find in Staffordshire is comparable with some of the most significant hauls in Britain. Experts at the British Library have previously identified the UK's 10 top treasures

THE HOXNE HOARD: The Hoxne, pronounced Hoxon, hoard found near Ipswich consists of more than 15,000 gold and silver coins, gold jewellery and numerous small items of silver tableware, including pepper pots, ladles and spoons. It was discovered in 1992.

by Roald Dahl's children's story, this haul is one of the most important collections of silver tableware of the late Roman Empire. The objects were found during ploughing near Mildenhall in Suffolk in 1942 but were not declared a Treasure Trove until 1946.

THE FISHPOOL HOARD: The hoard, found in Ravenshead, Nottinghamshire, comprises 1,237 coins, four rings, four pieces of jewellery and two lengths of chain. It was probably deposited some time between winter 1463 and summer 1464, during a rebellion against the Yorkist king Edward IV on behalf of the Lancastrian Henry VI, in the first decade of the Wars of the Roses (1455-85).

THE CUERDALE HOARD: A silver treasure consisting of more than 8,500 objects buried in a lead-lined chest. It was found by workmen in the bank of the River Ribble, Lancashire, in 1840. Experts speculate that it was buried by Vikings after they were expelled from Dublin in AD 902.

THE RILLATON GOLD CUP: Workmen engaged in construction work in 1837 plundered a burial cairn for stone on part of Bodmin Moor, at Rillaton. It contained the decayed remains of a human skeleton accompanied by a gold cup, a bronze dagger and other objects that have not survived - a decorated pottery vessel, a "metallic rivet", "some pieces of ivory" and "a few glass beads".

THE MOLD GOLD CAPE: This gold item of unparalleled significance was discovered by workmen quarrying for stone in an ancient burial mound in 1833. The mound lay in a field at Mold, Flintshire, named Bryn yr Ellyllon (the Fairies' or Goblins' Hill). At the centre was a stone-lined grave with the crushed gold cape around the fragmentary remains of a skeleton. Strips of bronze and quantities of amber beads were also recovered, but only one of the beads ever reached the British Museum.

THE SNETTISHAM HOARD: At least 11 hoards of torcs, ingots and coins have been found at Snettisham, Norfolk, since 1948, when three hoards were ploughed to the surface. In August 1990 a huge deposit of broken torcs, bracelets, ingots and coins was discovered, prompting the British Museum to organise an archaeological excavation. Most of the hoards were buried in about 70 BC, and the entire collection is the largest deposit of gold and silver from Iron Age Europe, weighing in at around 20kg of silver and 15kg of gold.

THE VINDOLANDA TABLETS: Vindolanda was one of the main military posts on the northern frontier of Britain before the building of Hadrian's Wall. Exacavations there in 1973 uncovered writing tablets which had been preserved in waterlogged conditions in rubbish deposits in and around the commanding officer's residence. These, and hundreds of other fragments which have come to light in subsequent excavations, are the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain. They give remarkable insight into the working and private lives of the Roman garrison.

THE SUTTON HOO SHIP BURIAL: In 1938, archaeologist Basil Brown was asked to investigate 18 low mounds by a local land owner, Edith Pretty, near Ipswich. Buried deep beneath lay the ghost of a 30m-long oak ship. At its centre was a ruined burial chamber the size of a small room. In it lay weapons, armour, gold coins, gold and garnet fittings, silver vessels and silver-mounted drinking horns and cups, and clothes, piled in heaps, ranging from fine linen overshirts to shaggy woollen cloaks and caps trimmed with fur.

The Anglo-Saxon ceremonial helmet found at Sutton Hoo

THE LEWIS CHESSMEN: The chess pieces unearthed near Stornoway consist of elaborately worked walrus ivory and whales' teeth in the forms of seated kings and queens, mitred bishops, knights on their mounts, standing warders and pawns in the shape of obelisks. They were found in the vicinity of Uig on the Isle of Lewis in mysterious circumstances.

A map of Anglo-Saxon England. The find was made in what would then have been known as Mercia


We're following this find with great interest here in Canada. I am particularly intrigued as a teacher, and as a mother whose son just returned from England, where he spent the greater part of a year in Stratfordshire. He left just 2 weeks before the find was announced. You can bet he'll be following any information as it comes up.
- Kally Zwolak, Niagara Falls, Canada,

Congratulations to the finder whose attitude towards his find has been, as far as I can see, exemplary, as well as to the archaeological community in the UK who welcome and work with conscientious metal-detectors.
I shall walk into my first Old English class of the year knowing that after seeing the pictures of this material my students will not ask why they are studying Old English literature.
I must find some fault with your portrayal of the Anglo-Saxons vis-a-vis literary culture. When they took to it, they took to it with a vengeance. Scarcely two generations after Augustine's mission to Canterbury, England produces its first great scholar of Latin literature, Aldhelm, a pupil of Theodore of Tarsus who taught both Latin and Greek at Canterbury and that Aldhelm's younger contemporary was Bede, perhaps the greatest European mind of his generation.
Congratulations on excellent reporting of an incredible find.
- Dr. Helen Conrad O'Briain, Dublin, Ireland

Brilliant. Absolutely Brilliant.
Please lets get lots of photos and background. Lead me to a website where I can view all.
I hope this instills interest in young people to investigate and learn about the facinating history of England.
My education was in the uk and the history of Great Britain remains a facination to me still.
- Dawn, south coast nsw. Australia

Wow how exciting! I can hardly wait until the historians start putting together all the facts of what, where, who, how and of what can only be left to one's imagination together. I was at Sutton Hoo last week and the atmosphere surrounding the history of the place is just astounding. Well done to Mr. Herbert and I just hope security is high around the area.
- Julie, Shoebury ESSEX

Thank goodness Mr Herbert informed the relevat authorities about this historic find.

The chap who discovered the famous Mildenhall Roman Silver hoard i believe told no one about it for some years and due to his ignorance of its significance or downright dishonesty in not informing the government his financial reward for its discovery was considerably reduced had he come clean about its discovery.

Good luck to both Mr Herbert and his farming friend they richly deserve their handsome crown payment because the world can now see artifacts from our distant past that are bound to shed light on our pre history.

Now there is great interest by everyone from the British Museum down is there any possibility of the BBC releasing Michael Woods remarkable early 1980ies BBC series titled " In Search of the Dark Ages".

It was a series almostas impressive as these newly discovered treasures but two letters to the BBc have always received a replie that they may get round to it sometime.
- Peter Lewis, Llandudno Conwy North Wales

I unearthed a Manchester City FC programme from when they last won a trophy, whilst digging for oil in my garden. Surely this is older? Whom should I contact about this find?
- Terry C, Didsbury Manchester

In 613 Ad Ethelfrieth, the fiercs Anglo-Saxon King of Northumbria, waged war against Brocmael King of Powys under the walls of Chester. Ethelfrieth's army slaughtered 1,200 British priests and monks, including some from the monastery of Bangor Iscoed. It is believed that this slaughter related to Augustine's meeting with the British priests near Bristol when the Priests refused to conform to the rule of Rome. The British Church pre dating it.
The place of slaughter is known by the British/Welsh as 'The Field of Tears'.
British Priests and monk married and had children. We know from Boudicca's rebellion that they accompanied the men to war and the women fought as well as the men. Many of the British monks came from a royal ackground..hence King Arthur and his foster brother Cai. The church of St Cai/Kai is in Street.
- andrea m preston, glastonbury uk,
Last edited by Blackleaf; Sep 27th, 2009 at 11:31 AM..

Blackleaf/aka great Briton,your still the king of cut n pastes

Here in Canada most stuff you find belongs to the crown,thats why you dont see many discoveries.
I know a few guys that have fossilized T-rex skeletons in their quonsets.
Nice post-thank you

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