Metal detectorist discovers England’s largest Anglo-Saxon hoard

Over almost 30 years, a metal detectorist unearthed more than 130 gold coins from a field in Norfolk, England, in what was recently declared the largest hoard from the Anglo-Saxon period found in the U.K. country.

Between 1991 and 2020, the detectorist, who wishes to remain anonymous, sporadically found the coins and other objects while searching his land in Norfolk. The hoard is mostly comprised of Frankish tremisses (gold coins of Late Antiquity) dating from 580 AD-630 AD.

“The West Norfolk hoard is a really remarkable find, which will provide a fascinating counterpart to ‘Sutton Hoo’ at the other end of the kingdom of East Anglia,” said Helen Geake, the finds liaison officer with the Norfolk Coroner’s Service, referencing the site of two early medieval cemeteries recently dramatized in the Netflix movie The Dig.

The Sutton Hoo ship burial held more gold but fewer coins compared to the West Norfolk hoard, which is now believed to be the largest coin hoard of the Anglo-Saxon period known to date.

Buried shortly after 600 AD, the West Norfolk hoard contains 131 gold coins, most of which are Frankish tremisses. It includes nine gold solidi, a larger coin from the Byzantine empire worth three tremisses, plus four other gold objects, including a bracteate (a type of stamped pendant), a small bar and two other pieces believed to be parts of larger jewellery.

When the hoard was buried, England was still divided into several smaller Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the most important of which was East Angles, which included modern Norfolk and Suffolk. The region is also known for its metal-detected archaeological finds.

“It underlines the value of metal-detected evidence in helping reconstruct the earliest history of England but also shows how vulnerable these objects are to irresponsible collectors and the antiquities trade,” added Geake.

In addition to 131 gold coins, most of which are Frankish tremisses, the West Norfolk hoard includes four other gold objects, including a bracteate, a small bar and two other pieces believed to be jewellery.

HOARD REPORTED TO THE CORONER

The anonymous detectorist reported his findings to the Norfolk Coroner’s Service, which has since opened an inquest to determine if the hoard constitutes treasure, which would make it crown property under the U.K. Treasure Act.

Any two or more coins that are more than 300 years old and contain more than 10 per cent precious metal are typically defined as treasure.

The crown will often claim a find if an accredited museum plans to acquire it for public benefit and pay a reward equivalent to its full market value.

For the West Norfolk hoard, the Norwich Castle Museum hopes to acquire the hoard with the support of the British Museum.

“This is a hugely important find,” said Gareth Williams, the British Museum’s curator of early medieval coins. “It is close in date to the famous ship burial from Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, and although it doesn’t contain as much gold as the whole of the Sutton Hoo burial, it contains many more coins. In fact, it is the largest coin hoard of the period known to date. It must be seen alongside other recent finds from East Anglia and elsewhere and will help to transform our understanding of the economy of early Anglo-Saxon England.”

Tim Pestell, the senior curator of archaeology at the Norwich Castle Museum, echoed those comments about the West Norfolk hoard’s importance.

“This internationally significant find reflects the wealth and continental connections enjoyed by the early Kingdom of East Anglia. Study of the hoard and its findspot has the potential to unlock our understanding of early trade and exchange systems and the importance of West Norfolk to East Anglia’s ruling kings in the seventh century.”

CCN published a full review of the West Norfolk hoard in Vol. 59 #19.

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