And silver for that matter… in North West Britain. This was the subject of a talk given by Professor James Graham-Campbell on Weds evening last, (13th May 2015) at the Museum in Uppermill. The talk was a joint endeavour by Friends of Castleshaw Roman Forts and Saddleworth Historical Society, and was very well attended.
Professor Graham-Campbell began with the Gold ring that was found in Saddleworth by Herbert Horsfall of Springhead. This was in Feb 1914 and the ring was subsequently given to the British Museum in 1915 where it has remained ever since.
Mr Horsfall found it whilst out rambling in Chew Valley and in his letter of donation he says it was in the river bed at Chew Brook, today of course this find-spot is well under much water. But here’s an old photo of pre-reservoir days…
Here’s the ring…
It’s a single rod of gold, twisted round into a double layer and then closed off by being twisted round the coils several times. The exposed surface of the two layers are then stamped with an hourglass motif – according to Prof G-C this is one of the most diagnostic symbols of the Viking period, c 9th C.
He said finds of coiled Viking rings are really quite rare. Rings tended to have little cut marks in them though – this was a value test firstly to ensure that it wasn’t other metal just coated with gold, and secondly to check the hardness of the gold. They could be designed as miniatures of neck rings, but are strikingly different from Anglo-Saxon rings… two Royal finger rings are shown here. They would be for presentation to others, but the one on the left is of Aethelwulf (King Alfred’s father) and the one on the right is of Ealhswith, (King Alfred’s wife).
You’ll see the difference, they are flat and finely decorated, carrying Christian symbols of salvation and Eternal life.
In fact Anglo-Saxon gold and silver are frequently found in Viking hoards unearthed now, perhaps because of trade, but also because the Vikings looted them. Hoards such as the one found in Cuerdale, Lancs and pictured below, are predominantly silver but also contain gold items.
The silver is often chopped up, ‘hacked silver’, and ingots of silver are also commonly found in hoards. In contrast to the Anglo-Saxons who had established a coin economy, the hacked silver and ingots would be used for trade etc: a ‘bullion economy’, on its way to being a coin economy.
Prof G-C talked about two kinds of Viking find then – individual items such as the Saddleworth ring, and hoards. He discussed several Northern Britain discoveries of hoards, and of the beauty of items, particularly those that had been traded/looted from other cultures, pins from Ireland, cups from the Carolingian empire, and gold from the Anglo-Saxons. Appreciative thanks to Professor Graham-Campbell for a great talk.
It seems that there is a new hoard about to hit the press, pretty spectacular and that he was having to keep secret for the moment – the Galloway Hoard. Watch out for this one!
Next blog coming soon…