The Huxley Hoard - The lost treasure of Viking Refugees from Dublin?By Cat
The Huxley Hoard
The lost treasure of Viking Refugees from Dublin?
This well preserved silver hoard was unearthed in 2004 in the small village of Huxley near Chester. It was found by chance by metal detectorists during a weekend rally organised by a local club. First to be uncovered, only a foot beneath the surface, were the fragments of lead that wrapped around the hoard. Under these were the 22 pieces of silver. Due to the style of the bracelets, and the designs on them, it was immediately apparent that the pieces of jewellery were from the Viking period, and they had just uncovered a hoard.
As luck would have it, archaeologist Dan Garner from the University of Chester was at the site, and he swiftly and carefully excavated the area around the find. There was nothing else to be found in the vicinity besides more lead fragments, which were probably part of the vessel originally containing the hoard. The archaeologists think it could have been made of wood, which has long since rotted away.
All the bracelets in the hoard have been flattened so that they take up less space. The original owner seemed to be trying to reduce the size of the silver as much as possible to fit it in the original container. The bracelets are similar in style and design to those of the Cuerdale hoard from Lancashire, some of which have also been folded up.
It seems that no matter how pretty an object, in the Viking period, silver meant wealth. An arm ring with a lovely pattern stamped on it could be chopped up to pay for goods or flattened beyond wear to be stored easily. It was not cherished, because of its looks, but cherished because of the value it had; it appears that the decorations are almost an afterthought.
The Huxley hoard is one of four from the Chester area that date to the Viking period. The other three are mostly made up of coins. The largest of these was found in 1950[i], and contained a whopping 547 coins, 27 ingots, and 120 pieces of hacksilver (cut up jewellery or mounts).The 1950 hoard is dated to around 965-970 AD, however, the Huxley hoard is dated even earlier. Experts at the British Museum date it to around 900-910 AD.
The museum believes[ii] that these types of stamped bracelets were also being produced at the same time by the Vikings in Dublin. The Viking settlers were forcibly removed from Dublin in 902 A.D. by the Irish, giving rise to the theory that this hoard may have belonged to Norse refugees from city. They also speculate that these bracelets could have belonged to raiders who were frequent visitors to the area, sailing up the River Gowy from the Mersey estuary. Unfortunately, we’ll never know the exact reason why the silver was buried.
Of the 22 pieces of silver found in the hoard, 20 were of the cuff style bracelets. There was also one crude ingot, and a length of square section bar with a stamped design on it. Unlike the other Chester hoards, there were no coins in this find. Coins are always very useful, as they can help in dating a hoard. Coins are struck for kings, so if we know the date of a reign, then we can date the coin. Therefore, hoards can not have been put in the ground before that date.
Of the 20 cuff bracelets, 4 were plain, and 16 had designs stamped on them. The designs are made up of lines and geometric shapes – predominantly triangles with a dot or dots inside them. These simple designs are found on numerous bracelets across the Viking world, and on lots of other metalwork from the period.
This reproduction was a commission piece for a customer. Whilst the original bracelets were probably hammered from an ingot, we have the luxury of sheet silver to work with. That aside, the rest of the process probably wouldn’t differ much from that of the originals.
The entire hoard weighed in the region of 1.5kg. One question we are frequently asked by the public on our travels is what was silver worth? Obviously, we know how much a pound of silver costs today, and what we could expect to buy for it, though we’d have to convert that silver to cash, as we no longer use bullion as a form of currency. But in Viking times, what did items cost? What could the Huxley hoard have bought someone in 900 A.D.? In short, we aren’t exactly sure. Ring money bracelets from the period weighed around an ounce, and these bigger and heavier bracelets are around four ounces, half a mark. Some of the sagas touch on money very briefly, but not to the degree of talking about the costs of everyday items. There are records of the values due if a court agreed a weargeld (compensation) for killing someone, but that still doesn’t help us determine the cost of living. This is rather frustrating, and we’ll certainly be coming back to this topic another time.