Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Anglo-Saxon Hoard

In the summer of 2009, an amateur metal detector enthusiast made one of the greatest archeological finds of our time. Hidden under the dirt of a farm in central England was a hoard of gold that had been buried there some 1,600 years ago, during the Dark Ages. Valued at more than $5 million, the hoard is likely, over the next couple of decades, to contribute significantly to our understanding of life in that period after the fall of the Roman Empire, as the Anglo-Saxons generally left very little behind in terms of tangible evidence of their communities and ways of living.

For the next couple of months, items from the hoard are on display at the headquarters of National Geographic, down in DC. After checking out the exhibit, we all walked away much more in the know about the Anglo-Saxons and the hoard itself. (It's been a while since Mr. O'Connor's 9th-10th grade Western Civ class, where the year 1066 was forever ingrained in my head!)

One of the key lessons was how a cloisonne style was used to embed garnets (like those in the accompany picture) in metal pieces. These teeny-tiny garnets were crafted with incredible precision, so as to fit snuggly in sword hilts and other war-making items. All of this was done, it has to be emphasized, without the benefit of power tools! Anglo-Saxon scholars still are not quite sure how this craftsmanship was pulled off.

Speaking of pulling things off, it is absolutely crazy to think about ordinary folks uncovering such historically important treasures. Terry Herbert, whose metal detector happened to be in the right place. Those peasants who stumbled upon the Terra Cotta warriors while digging a well. Who needs National Treasure!?

~Steve

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