Two amateur treasure hunters are in line for a pay-out of up to Â£500,000 after a small pot they found buried in a field turned out to contain the most important hoard of Viking silver and gold found in this country for 150 years.
Packed inside the ornately carved 8th century silver gilt pot, experts at the British Museum found 617 coins, jewellery and ingots from as far afield as Samarkand, Afghanistan, Russia, France, and Ireland. The pot had been buried in a field near Harrogate in Yorkshire, probably in the year 927.
“This really is the world in a vessel,” said Jonathan Williams, the keeper of European pre-history at the British Museum, where the treasure was put on display yesterday. “It is a quite incredible find and a very special moment for us at the museum.”
The discovery was made in January – but kept secret until yesterday – by father and son David and Andrew Whelan, from Leeds. They had spent hundreds of hours over the past three years scouring local fields with metal detectors without finding anything of value.
After the North Yorkshire coroner yesterday declared the find to be treasure – entitling the Whelans to half its value and the farmer on whose land it was discovered to the other half – David Whelan, 51, described his moment of triumph as “a thing of dreams”.
Once cleaned, the pot was found to be silver gilt, possibly an ecclesiastical vessel plundered from northern France. It is carved with vines, leaves and six hunting scenes showing lions, stags and a horse.
The value of the hoard is to be determined by an independent tribunal, but yesterday it was conservatively put at Â£750,000, although some suggested that it might be worth more than Â£1 million.
Mr Whelan, of Leeds, who spends his weekends metal detecting with his son Andrew, 35, a surveyor, added: “It’s a thing of dreams to find something like this. If we had found one coin we would have been over the moon.”
Unveiled at the British Museum, the ‘Harrogate hoard’ includes a decorated gilt and silver cup, 617 silver coins, a solid gold arm ring, brooch pins and various lumps of unworked silver.
Experts said the five-inch cup – which is decorated with animal motifs – was made in northern France in the 9th Century and was probably used in church services.
The coins date from the 10th Century and come from all over Anglo-Saxon England as well as from parts of Asia.
The necklaces, one of which is made of solid gold, are evidence that the hoard belonged to a Viking noble.
Barry Ager, curator of European objects at the British Museum, said: “It is an extremely exciting find, not just because it is the biggest and best for 150 years. The fact that the items come from all over the world shows the huge extent of the Vikings’ commercial links.”
Mr Ager said the haul would have either been amassed through trade or may have been looted.
He said it is likely that its owner would have buried it for safekeeping in 927 when the Anglo-Saxons under King Athelstan drove the Vikings out of northern England.
My guess is that the “150 year” reference is to the Lewis chessmen found circa 1831.
Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.