The Cuerdale Hoard - Viking Age Neck RingsBy Cat
The Cuerdale hoard was found in 1840 during work to the banks of the River Ribble in Lancashire. The initial find weighed approximately 42.5kg and contained over 7,500 coins.[i] Thanks to the high number of coins, the hoard can be dated quite accurately, being deposited around 905-910 A.D.
The hoard is one of the largest found to date, though the British Museum does not hold the complete collection. After an inquisition in Preston in August 1840, the hoard was ‘seized into the Hands of Her Majesty in right of Her Duchy and County Palatine of Lancaster.’ Nearly 150 individuals were gifted coins and other trinkets from the hoard, and the whereabouts of all of these is not certain in 2018. James Graham-Campbell, who tried to track down the missing pieces, also theorised in his 2011 book that a number of the rarer coins went missing before the hoard made it to the inquisition, taken by the coin experts who were called in to initially assess the hoard.
The hoard contained lots of hack silver and ingots, but it also contained complete bracelets, neck rings, and rings. This week we’re going to take a quick look at the neck rings.
Neck rings from the hoard were made from twin strands of silver wire twisted together, paired with 2 or 3 more of the same, and then twisted around each other once more. These rods were then joined to the smooth rods that formed the terminals. There are other types found in the UK, but this is the most common, and makes up the majority of the Cuerdale pieces. The examples from Cuerdale tend to fasten with a simple hook and a loop, and this way of fastening is also the most common type found in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark[i].The hook and loop fastening, instead of two hooks, is clustered in the south of Norway, the east of Denmark, and the U.K. An example of the two hook fastening method was found at Halton Moor.
The complete neck ring examples from the Cuerdale hoard weigh 173g, and 188g, which is just under a mark’s worth of silver (200g).The hoard also contains a number of fragments that were originally part of complete neck rings.
There are no gold neck rings in the hoard. In fact, the only example of a gold neck ring in the UK and Ireland was found in Midlothian, Scotland, and has since vanished[ii]
Neck rings were not an easy item to make, so it is interesting to see that there are fragments of neckrings in the collection that have been cut down into smaller values of silver. Neck rings may not have been the first piece of silver a Viking would use for a financial transaction, but the evidence of portions of neck rings tells us that these pieces of jewellery were still cold, hard, bullion at the end of the day. We can draw a parallel with the long standing tradition of people pawning their jewellery to pay bills and debts.
Here’s a very condensed look at how neck rings are constructed. It’s a long and laborious process that would have taken considerably longer in the Viking period, as they would not have access to wire like we have. The first step for a silver smith would have been to draw out the wire.
We have plenty more research to undertake on the bullion economy of the Viking age, and hopefully we can talk more about that over the coming weeks. Next week we’re looking at the sagas again, and a story about Thor.
[i]The Cuerdale Hoard & related Viking-Age silver and gold from Britain & Ireland in the British Museum – James Graham-Campbell& others 2011.
[ii]Silver in the Viking-Age. A regional economic study – Brigitta Hardh 1996.