Richard Lutz’s Blog
The Staffordshire Saxon hoard is pulling in the punters at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery – but what do they find after joining the queue. Richard Lutz investigates.
The elderly man, stooped, yellow-skinned with long gnarled hands was the first in the queue at the Birmingham Museum of Art.
‘I came at 9.03 this morning.’
Precise, I said.
‘Well, I used to run an engineering firm. I had to be precise.’
With a 10 am opening for the Anglo Saxon Hoard exhibition, he had a 57 minute wait (to be precise). But he was first in, holding on to his PG Wodehouse paperback and his umbrella.
He was first among 120 standing in front of the museum waiting to see the Staffordshire golden find. A week after its worldwide unveiling, the punters - like me - are still keen to see it.
Later, I caught up with him as he peered at an outsized poster on the wall explaining what all this treasure is about.
‘Too bad I forgot my glasses. Everything is so small.’
I left him squinting at the outsize print.
Yes, the gold items are small, if not miniscule. One golden piece needed a looking glass to examine its delicate carving of a bird of prey. But everything is a treasure and what holds interest for me, not being an Anglo Saxon maniac or an archaeology student, is that the experts (and boy did the experts even pounce on this hoard) really don’t know why the 1300 pieces of intricately tooled metalwork were buried. Best bet is they are booty from a battle.
More than 10,000 patiently waited this weekend to see the four small cabinets of gold and garnet items. ‘That’s four times what we usually get on a Saturday and Sunday.’ A museum guide told me. ‘Only Burne Jones and Turner did as well. Everyone’s keen to see the what’s here.’
So, I stood with everyone else for forty minutes behind the old man to wait my turn. Standing in the queue on Chamberlain Square at 9.30 AM is a quiet affair. No pushing or shoving like at an NIA concert or jamming together at the Leicester Square tube. Most visitors looked like retired teachers.- except, of course, for my genial and weak eyed retired engineer.
‘We live not three miles from the site.’ another man, George, told me. ‘I thought it was a Time Team dig before it hit the news.’ He thought for a minute: ‘Well, I guess it was in a way.’
The queue does get its stares from passersby, business people going to work, library users, the couples having a kiss and a chat on the library steps. And remarkably the library has no outdoor publicity.- only a giant poster celebrating a Matthew Boulton exhibit.- a display that has already closed, a guide confided to me.
Once inside you are met by tiny remnants and fittings that used to decorate swords, daggers and helmets. Don’t expect Excalibur or a fullblown Dark Age helmet.
Instead, you get knuckle sized golden pommels and hilt plates. Most are decorated by finely done filigree. Garnet seem to be the stone of choice to offset the gold.
The visitors, very suburban and …well..like retired teachers the world over were polite, intrigued and full of elbows to get a close look. You had to work hard to get a look-see at the hoard. These folks had spent time on an outdoor queue and no one was going to shunt them out of the way. It was fleeces, leisure trousers, sensible Clarks shoes and worn out knapsacks at ten paces if you wanted to get in close to one of the four cabinets.
As for the items themselves, experts don’t know why the hoard was buried, who buried it or when it was buried. Best guess for a date is around 700 AD, fitting snugly between the end of the Roman occupation and the Norman invasion. It may have been the Dark Ages but the golden remnants of a dead age shine a tracery of light on something that was lost 1300 years ago.
As Mike Pitts, the editor of the magazine British Archaeology , was quoted as saying: ‘Without question, this is the largest group of gold artefacts found in British soil.’It is open to everyone until 13th October and it’s free. The Staffordshire Hoard then travels to the British Museum where experts will examine it for two years before it resurfaces.
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