Review: The Staffordshire Hoard @ Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

The queue to see the Hoard stretches back to the Gas Hall

The queue to see the Hoard stretches back to the Gas Hall

The discovery of buried treasure by Mr Terry Herbert while metal detecting in a field near Lichfield has certainly captured the public imagination. Examples from the hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold – dating from around 700 AD – are currently on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (until Oct 13th), and the exhibition feels like a real event, with something like 1,000 visitors on the first day, and there’s still roughly a two-hour wait to reach the exhibition space.

The exhibition itself comprises four small cases  of key artifacts – some complete and some fragmented – but what strikes you immediately is the skill of the workmanship. Gold strips – perhaps from the hilts of swords – are decorated with a filigree pattern; elsewhere the gold is covered in carefully wrought herringbone patterns, some interlaced with the figures of animals. Many of the objects contain garnets. Given the crudeness of the tools available, it’s a surprise to find items of such exquisite delicacy.

Not all of the gold is complete enough to identify its purpose, however. The final display of gold and garnet fragments are currently a mystery – the experts suggest that one u-shaped strip could have been a book binding, or perhaps from a scabbard. But the highlights are the complete items, such as the sheet-gold plaque of two birds of prey gripping a fish between them, which it’s thought would have adorned the shield of a king or nobleman. Elsewhere is a tiny gold buckle; a small gold snake; a gold and glass stud and several fittings from swords and daggers: objects that bring the whole period vividly to life.

Work on the Hoard continues – x-rays from some blocks of soil have revealed many more small metal objects that have yet to be excavated – and crucially, its fate is still to be decided. Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, and Staffordshire County Council are hoping to acquire the Hoard jointly so that it can be kept in the Midlands, and it would certainly be a shame if this couldn’t be achieved. What’s certain is that this collection is one of the most important finds of many decades, and the chance to see its fine workmanship and exquisite beauty is well worth the wait.

A media and communications professional with ten years’ experience on Metro newspaper and a passion for web development and social media.


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  2. m.Wydall

    21st October, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    The display…. are…. The hoard are….. Get your grammar right!

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