U.K. Amateur Finds Massive Treasure Trove

An amateur treasure hunter in England has stumbled upon the largest Anglo-Saxon treasure ever discovered. Using a metal detector, 55-year-old Terry Herbert found silver, gold and gems in the English countryside. The find is being called the biggest Anglo-Saxon treasure trove discovered.

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

You know those people you see with metal detectors, scouring fields and beaches in their spare time, searching for who knows what? Well, it turns out that they do sometimes find stuff. An amateur treasure hunter in England has stumbled upon the largest Anglo-Saxon treasure ever discovered.

NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London.

ROB GIFFORD: It must be every treasure hunter's dream. One minute, you're picking through the mud and leaves in a wet field. The next, you're staring down at one of the most amazing archaeological finds in British history. Fifty-five-year-old Terry Herbert was using his 13-year-old metal detector on a friend's farm in the central English county of Staffordshire in July. When the machine started beeping, he started digging, and then his eyes started popping. The find, which has only now been made public, consists of more than 1,500 pieces of gold and silver, some inlaid with precious stones. Experts say the pieces probably belonged to Anglo-Saxon royalty in the seventh century.

Ken Leahy(ph) is an archeologist with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which records archaeological objects found by members of the public.

Mr. KEN LEAHY (Archaeologist, Portable Antiquities Scheme): All of the archaeologists who've looked at it have been awestruck. It's been actually quite scary working on this material to be, you know, in the presence of greatness. This metalwork was the best the Anglo-Saxons could do in the seventh century.

GIFFORD: Experts say the treasure will revolutionize understanding of the Anglo-Saxons who, before becoming part of the American ruling class, were a Germanic people who ruled England from the fifth century until the Norman Conquest in 1066.

Duncan Slarke is the local finds liaison officer in Staffordshire, the official who deals with such discoveries. He says he was speechless when he first saw the treasure.

Mr. DUNCAN SLARKE (Finds Liaison Officer, Staffordshire): What's quite interesting about this assemblage, it's basically warfare-related. It's male items. There are very few, if any, female items in there. So it's a very specific assemblage, and it's possibly suggesting something like trophies from a battle.

GIFFORD: The field where the treasure was found is being kept secret to deter looters. Part of the collection will go on display temporarily in Birmingham tomorrow. It will be valued and offered up for sale to a museum with a likely price tag in the millions. Proceeds will be split 50-50 between the man who owns the farm where it was found and Terry Herbert, the man who found it, allowing Mr. Herbert to perhaps invest in a new metal detector.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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Amateur Finds Treasure Trove In English Field

  • Metal detetor enthusiast Terry Herbert was prowling English farmland in Staffordshire in July when he stumbled upon the largest Anglo-Saxon treasure ever discovered. The Birmingham Museum in Birmingham, England put his discovery on display Thursday.
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    Metal detetor enthusiast Terry Herbert was prowling English farmland in Staffordshire in July when he stumbled upon the largest Anglo-Saxon treasure ever discovered. The Birmingham Museum in Birmingham, England put his discovery on display Thursday.
    Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
  • David Symons, curator of antiquities and nusmismatics at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, holds a cross Wednesday.
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    David Symons, curator of antiquities and nusmismatics at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, holds a cross Wednesday.
    Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
  • Along with the treasure, the museum display includes an artist's rendition of how each piece would have looked originally. The original, mangled cross (right) is part of the The Staffordshire Hoard.
    Hide caption
    Along with the treasure, the museum display includes an artist's rendition of how each piece would have looked originally. The original, mangled cross (right) is part of the The Staffordshire Hoard.
    Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
  • Along with gold and silver pieces, the treasure includes artifacts, such as this section from the cheek plate of a helmet.
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    Along with gold and silver pieces, the treasure includes artifacts, such as this section from the cheek plate of a helmet.
    Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
  • This strip of gold includes a biblical inscription.
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    This strip of gold includes a biblical inscription.
    Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
  • Curators think the mix of religious and military items found may provide new insight into the relationship of Christianity and warfare  in Anglo-Saxon society. Here, a sword pommel shows an intricate design.
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    Curators think the mix of religious and military items found may provide new insight into the relationship of Christianity and warfare in Anglo-Saxon society. Here, a sword pommel shows an intricate design.
    Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
  • Herbert found over 11 pounds of gold and over 1,300 pieces of gold and silver artifacts in the field in Staffordshire, suggesting that Medieval England was a wealthier place than previously believed. Here, an intricately carved gold artifact.
    Hide caption
    Herbert found over 11 pounds of gold and over 1,300 pieces of gold and silver artifacts in the field in Staffordshire, suggesting that Medieval England was a wealthier place than previously believed. Here, an intricately carved gold artifact.
    Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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A member of a British metal detecting club is being credited with finding the biggest cache of Anglo-Saxon relics ever discovered, experts in England revealed Thursday.

Terry Herbert, 55, stumbled upon more than 1,345 gold and silver artifacts as he walked across a freshly plowed field with his metal detector in Staffordshire in early July. Experts said the number of items could rise to 1,500 when more relics are extracted from 56 mounds of dirt that were also removed from the site.

Herbert told the British newspaper The Independent that finding the historic artifacts was more fun than winning the lottery.

"My mates at the [metal detecting] club always say if there is a gold coin in a field, I will be the one to find it. I dread to think what they'll say when they hear about this," he said.

Referred to as the "Staffordshire Hoard," the find consists mostly of items used in warfare, including 84 pommel caps and 71 sword hilt collars removed from swords and daggers, according to the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery. No sword or dagger blades were found. One expert said the treasures appear to have been a collection of war trophies.

At least two Christian crosses and parts of a helmet were also discovered. The gold items weighed about 11 pounds, and many were engraved with Bible verses or decorated with garnet stones.

Michelle Brown, a professor of medieval manuscript studies, said the style of lettering on many of the relics dates back to the 7th or 8th century, and they are likely to be valued in millions of dollars.

The relics are said to be among Britain's most valuable historic treasures. One expert said the treasure would revolutionize understanding of the Anglo-Saxons, a Germanic people who ruled England from the 5th century until the Norman conquest in 1066.

Leslie Webster, former keeper of the Department of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum, said he expects the discovery to provide archaeologists with new insights into a period when kingdoms with tribal loyalties were at almost constant war with one another.

Terry Herbert. i i

Terry Herbert unearthed the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found, archaeologists said Thursday. David Jones/AP hide caption

itoggle caption David Jones/AP
Terry Herbert.

Terry Herbert unearthed the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found, archaeologists said Thursday.

David Jones/AP

"This is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England," Webster said. He said the discovery is the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells — a reference to famous manuscripts produced around the same time.

The exact site where the relics were discovered is not being revealed, but experts said it is at the heart of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. The items are in storage at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Some of them are due to go on display Friday.

Experts said the treasure would likely be purchased by a British museum. The sale price will be split between Herbert and the owner of the farm, who has not been identified.

From reports by NPR staff and The Associated Press

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