Rare Viking hoard from time of the‘Last Kingdom’ found in Oxfordshire


At the launch of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and Treasure annual reports in the Citi Money Gallery, Ed Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture, announced the discovery of a significant Viking Hoard. Uncovered near Watlington, Oxfordshire in October, the hoard dates from the time of the ‘Last Kingdom’, when the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex were fighting for their survival from the threat of a ‘Great Heathen Army’, a fight which was to lead to the unification of England.

The find 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. The hoard was found near Watlington by James Mather, a metal-detectorist, and excavated by the Portable Antiquities Scheme. 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 186 coins (some fragmentary), 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.

James Mather, the finder of the hoard, said "Discovering this exceptional hoard has been a really great experience and helping excavate it with archaeologists from the PAS on my 60th birthday was the icing on the cake! It highlights how responsible metal detecting, supportive landowners and the PAS contribute to national archaeological heritage. I hope these amazing artefacts can be displayed by a local museum to be enjoyed by generations to come."

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.”

Ed Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, said "Fascinating finds like this Viking hoard are a great example of the 1 million discoveries that have been unearthed by the public since 1997. Sharing these archaeological treasures with the country means protecting them for future generations to learn more about our nation’s rich and complex past."

If the Watlington Hoard is declared Treasure, the Ashmolean Museum and Oxfordshire Museums Service will be working in partnership with others, and potential funders, to try to ensure that this important find can be displayed for local people to learn about and enjoy.

Funding support for museum acquisitions of Treasure in 2013 and 2014 have been made available through the generous support of the Art Fund, the Headley Trust, The Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, as well as the V&A Purchase Grant fund.

Under the Treasure Act 1996 there is a legal obligation for finders to report such finds. Since 1997, when the Act became law the number of finds reported has increased fivefold from 201 cases in 1998 (the first full year of the Act) to 990 in 2013, and 1008 in 2014. If declared Treasure such finds may be acquired by museums, with preference going to the local museum. Of the finds reported Treasure in 2013 (the last year for which figures are available), 363 were acquired by 91 local museums, so they can be displayed close to where the items were discovered.

This year’s annual reports reveal that in addition to reported Treasure, a further 113,784 archaeological finds have been recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme in 2014. These are making an important contribution to our understanding of the past, and also enable archaeologists and museum curators to tell fascinating stories about past people and the places where they once lived. All such finds are recorded on the PAS database (finds.org.uk), where local people can learn about them and discover more about the archaeology and history of their local area.

Across the UK the British Museum works hand in hand with museums to share collections and expertise in ways chosen by partners. It has a long-standing and inclusive UK programme, supporting hundreds of museum partners each year. Last year, over three million people in the UK saw British Museum objects at venues outside of London – in addition to two million people from across the UK who visited us in Bloomsbury. In 2014-15 the British Museum loaned over 2,800 objects to 170 UK venues. The PAS forms an integral part of the British Museum’s work with regional galleries and museums

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, said “The publication of the latest Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure annual reports highlight the ongoing contribution of finds discovered by the public to our understanding of Britain’s past. Supported by the British Museum and its national and local partners, many of the most important finds from England and Wales have been acquired by local museums and displayed for people to learn about and enjoy through the Portable Antiquities Scheme. I would like to thank the Dorset Foundation who have not only renewed their support of the British Museum’s National Programmes, but who will now also provide support for the acquisition of finds for regional museums through the PAS.”

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 that can be used by anyone interested in learning more.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is managed by the British Museum, and funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport through a grant, 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.

Hoards: the hidden history of ancient Britain
3 Dec 2015 – 22 May 2016
Room 69a

This exhibition takes a look at the stories behind the headlines of buried treasure, focusing on prehistoric and Romano-British hoards from across the United Kingdom. It explores the reasons why ancient people have placed precious objects underwater and in the ground since the Bronze Age. It will showcase recent discoveries of hoards reported by finders and archaeologists through the Treasure Act and studied at the British Museum. The exhibition traces the story of hoarding from Bronze weapons discovered in the river Thames and the first Iron Age coin hoards, through to the Hoxne and Oxborough hoards, buried after the collapse of Roman rule in Britain. The exhibition’s centrepiece will be the enormous Frome hoard pot, which held a discovery of 52,503 Roman coins, the largest to be found in a single container.
Supported by Stephen and Julie Fitzgerald.

The Citi Money Gallery
The Citi Money Gallery displays the history of money from around the world over 4,000 years. Throughout history, currency has taken many different forms, from coins to banknotes, shells to mobile phones. From the earliest evidence, to the latest developments in digital technology, money has always been an important part of human societies. The Citi Money Gallery enables visitors to look at the history of money as a way to understanding the history of the world. The Gallery is supported by Citi.

The Dorset Foundation
The Dorset Foundation, established in memory of Harry M Weinrebe, has been the principal supporter of the Museum’s national programme since 2002. Their unwavering encouragement has underpinned the Museum’s achievements in our UK partnership work, and has enabled a broad range of activity across the entire country during this period. We are so grateful that the Foundation has recently renewed their support for a further three years – this will allow us to strengthen our relationship with partners to share skills and knowledge, and to deliver even more exhibitions, loans, and partnership galleries. The Foundation’s support will also, for the first time, include provision for the acquisition of finds for regional museums through the PAS.

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