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Most important Viking Treasure in 150 years found by metal detectorists in North Yorkshire

A major Viking hoard was discovered in the Harrogate area in January 2007 by metal-detectorists David and Andrew Whelan. The size and quality of the hoard is remarkable, making it the most important find of its type in Britain for over 150 years.

The father and son detecting team promptly reported the hoard to their local Finds Liaison Officer, and displayed exemplary behaviour in not unpacking all the objects from the bowl, but keeping the find intact. As a possible Treasure find, it was then transferred to the British Museum where conservators have carefully excavated each find to avoid damaging the individual objects or losing important contextual information.

The conservation work has revealed that like other Viking hoards of the period, it contains a mixture of different precious metal objects, including coins, complete ornaments, ingots (bars) and chopped-up fragments known as hack-silver. The hoard also shows the diversity of cultural contacts in the medieval world, with objects coming from as far apart as Afghanistan in the East and Ireland in the West, as well as Russia, Scandinavia and continental Europe.

The most spectacular single object is a gilt silver vessel, made in what is now France in the first half of the ninth century. It was apparently intended for use in church services, and was probably either looted from a monastery by Vikings, or given to them in tribute. Most of the smaller objects were hidden inside this vessel, which was itself protected by some form of lead container. As a result, the hoard was extremely well-preserved. Other star objects include a rare gold arm-ring, and over 600 coins, including several new or rare types. These provide valuable new information about the history of England in the early tenth century, as well as Yorkshire’s wider cultural contacts in the period. Interestingly, the hoard contains coins relating to Islam and to the pre-Christian religion of the Vikings, as well as to Christianity.

The hoard was probably buried for safety by a wealthy Viking leader during the unrest that followed the conquest of the Viking kingdom of Northumbria in AD 927 by the Anglo-Saxon king Athelstan (924-39).

The Harrogate hoard was declared to be Treasure under the terms of the Treasure Act (1996) by Mr Fell, HM Coroner for North Yorkshire, on 19 July 2007. The find is of global importance, as well as having huge significance for the history of North Yorkshire. York Museum Trust, Harrogate Borough Council's Museums & Arts Service and the British Museum are committed to working together to acquire, interpret and exhibit the hoard, and to making it accessible to the widest possible public, both in the region and elsewhere.

The next stage of the Treasure process is for the hoard to be valued for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport by the independent Treasure Valuation Committee. In the meantime the museums will continue to develop more detailed plans to raise money for the acquisition, and to exhibit the hoard once it is acquired.

Margaret Hodge, Culture Minister said: "Finds such as this are invaluable in teaching us about our history. This remarkable discovery highlights the contribution both the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme continue to make towards our knowledge of the past. I commend David and Andrew Whelan for their prompt and responsible reporting of this hugely significant find, which will enrich our understanding of the Vikings."

Mr Fell, Coroner, commented: 'Treasure cases are always interesting, but this is one of the most exciting cases that I have ever had to rule on. I'm delighted that such an important Viking hoard has been discovered in North Yorkshire. We are extremely proud of our Viking heritage in this area.

Mary Kershaw, Director of Collections at York, said:  ‘York’s new partnership with the British Museum has focused on sharing collections for display, such as the Warren Cup and Roman collections for the Constantine exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum.  It would be wonderful to work together on the joint purchase of such a stunning and important group of material.’

Gina Lane Director of Operations, Museums, Libraries and Archives Council said: “Thanks to the continuing responsible behaviour of metal detectorists, another fantastic find has been made available for everyone to enjoy, either online or in museums. This is also thanks to successful partnership working between the local museum services and the British Museum.”

For further information or images please contact Hannah Boulton at the British Museum on 020 7323 8522 or hboulton@britishmuseum.org

Notes to Editors

  • The hoard contains a total of 617 silver coins and 65 other objects, as well as a gold-arm-ring and the gilt silver vessel. Several fragments of lead found with the hoard appear to come from some sort of container.
  • The largest Viking hoard in western Europe was found at Cuerdale in Lancashire in 1840. Objects from the Cuerdale hoard are now on display in several museums around the UK, with the largest group housed in the British Museum. The Harrogate hoard is the largest Viking and most important hoard from Britain since the Cuerdale.
  • A Viking army conquered the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria in AD 869. The area remained under Viking control until it was conquered by Athelstan in 927. The area had another brief period of independence following Athelstan’s death in 939, which lasted until the death of the Viking ruler Eric Bloodaxe in 954.
  • The Vikings made a lasting impact in Britain, including place-names, sculpture and influence on the English language, as well as archaeological remains. Yorkshire is one of the areas which shows the strongest Viking influence. For more information see http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/explore/world_cultures/europe/vikings.aspx
  • The British Museum and the York Museums Trust work closely together as under the banner of Partnership UK, the strategic framework for the British Museum’s programme of engagement with audiences throughout the country.
  • All finders of gold and silver objects, and groups of coins from the same finds, over 300 years old, have a legal obligation to report such items under the Treasure Act 1996. Prehistoric base-metal assemblages found after 1st January 2003 also qualify as Treasure. Treasure finds must be reported by law to the local coroner, which is normally done through the finders local PAS Finds Liaison Officer. More information is available on www.culture.gov.uk/ or http://www.finds.org.uk
  • The Portable Antiquities Scheme has a national network of 36 Finds Liaison Officers who record all archaeological finds made by members of the public and assist with the reporting of potential Treasure finds, as required by the Treasure Act. The Scheme is run by the BM on behalf of MLA. The online database, http://www.finds.org.uk/, contains details over 175,000 objects