Treasure Inquest: The Watlington Hoard

 

Today Mr Salter (Coroner for Oxfordshire) has held an inquest and the Watlington Viking Hoard has been declared Treasure.

Under the Treasure Act 1996 finds declared Treasure may be acquired by museums for public benefit. Now the Watlington Hoard has been declared Treasure it is hoped that the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, will acquire, with the support of Oxfordshire Museum Service and the British Museum. This partnership will ensure the academic and scientific study of the hoard and will enable the hoard to be displayed in museums across Oxfordshire for the benefit of the widest possible public. While this process is on-going a selection of objects from the hoard are on display in the British Museum's Citi Money Gallery. The display also includes a short video about the process of the discovery and excavation of the hoard.

The Hoard which includes rare coins of King Alfred ‘the Great’ of Wessex (r.871-99) and King Ceolwulf II of Mercia (874-79), as well as Viking arm-rings and silver ingots, and is said by archaeologists to be nationally significant. It was found near Watlington by James Mather, a metal-detectorist, and excavated by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). The find was block-lifted and brought to the British Museum where the soil-block was excavated, and the finds studied by experts from the British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum. The hoard consists of around 200 coins, 7 items of jewellery and 15 ingots.

The hoard was buried around the end of the 870s, in the period following Alfred’s decisive defeat of the Vikings at Edington in 878. Following their defeat, the Vikings moved north of the Thames and travelled to East Anglia through the kingdom of Mercia. It seems likely that the hoard was buried in the course of these events, although the precise circumstances will never be known.

Gareth Williams, Curator of Early Medieval Coinage, said “The hoard comes from a key moment in English history. At around the same time, Alfred of Wessex decisively defeated the Vikings, and Ceolwulf II, the last king of Mercia quietly disappeared from the historical record in uncertain circumstances. Alfred and his successors then forged a new kingdom of England by taking control of Mercia, before conquering the regions controlled by the Vikings. This hoard has the potential to provide important new information on relations between Mercia and Wessex at the beginning of that process.”

Professor Chris Howgego, Keeper of the Heberden Coin Room, Ashmolean Museum, said: “The Ashmolean Museum and Oxfordshire Museums Service will be working in partnership with each other, and with potential funders, to try to ensure that this important find can be saved and displayed for local people to learn about and enjoy. The hoard is of national importance as well as local, as it relates to the very moment of the foundation of England, so we will also be seeking opportunities to display it in appropriate places around the country.”

Oxfordshire Museum Service, said "We are excited by the prospect of working closely with colleagues from the Ashmolean to tell the fascinating story of this hoard to the people of Oxfordshire .".

As the Watlington Hoard has been declared Treasure it will be valued by an independent committee, known as the Treasure Valuation Committee. Based on this value the finder and landowner will be eligible for a reward, equal to the value of the find, which is normally shared 50/50: either party may waive all or part of the reward. The Ashmolean Museum, Oxfordshire Museums Service and the British Museum will be working in partnership with others, and potential funders, to try to ensure that this important find can be displayed for people to learn about and enjoy.

As part of that fundraising process a book about the hoard, The Watlington Viking Hoard by Gareth Williams and John Naylor’, is being published by the Ashmolean Museum.

Notes to Editors:

The Treasure Act 1996

Under the Treasure Act (finds. org.uk/treasure) finders have a legal obligation to report all finds of potential Treasure to the local coroner in the district in which the find was made. The success of the Act is only possible through the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, advising finders of their legal obligations, providing advice on the process and writing reports for coroners on Treasure finds.

The Act allows a national or local museum to acquire Treasure finds for public benefit. If this happens a reward is paid, which is (normally) shared equally between the finder and landowner. Interested parties may wish to waive their right to a reward, enabling museums to acquire finds at reduced or no cost. Rewards are fixed at the full market value of the finds, determined by the Secretary of State upon the advice of an independent panel of experts, known as the Treasure Valuation Committee.

The administration of the Treasure process is undertaken at the British Museum. This work involves the preparation of Treasure cases for coroners’ inquests, providing the secretariat for the Treasure Valuation Committee, and handling disclaimed cases and the payment of rewards.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme

Thousands of archaeological objects are discovered every year, many by members of the public, particularly by people while metal-detecting. If recorded, these finds have great potential to transform archaeological knowledge, helping archaeologists understand when, where and how people lived in the past.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (www.finds.org.uk) offers the only proactive mechanism for recording such finds, which are made publicly available on its online database. This data is an important educational and research resource.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is managed by the British Museum, and funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the British Museum and local partners. Its work is guided by the Portable Antiquities Advisory Group, whose membership includes leading archaeological, landowner and metal-detecting organisations.

The Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Founded in 1683, the Ashmolean Museum is the most significant museum of art and archaeology in the heart of Britain and the finest university museum in the world. Its collections are large, rich and unusually diverse, ranging from archaeology to fine and decorative arts, and from numismatics to casts of classical sculpture from the great museums of Europe. The Ashmolean is home to the best collection of Predynastic Egyptian material in Europe; the only great collection of Minoan antiquities outside Greece; the largest and most important group of Raphael drawings in the world; the greatest Anglo-Saxon collections outside the British Museum; a world-renowned collection of coins and medals; and outstanding holdings of Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Islamic art. The works and objects in these remarkable collections tell the story of civilisation and the aspirations of mankind from Nineveh and ancient Egypt, to the Renaissance, right up to the triumphs of twentieth century Europe. Admission to the Museum is free.

Further information

Please contact the Press Office on 020 7323 8394 / 8522 or communications@britishmuseum.org

High resolution images and caption sheet available here