The Plague of Justinian is Finally Plague!

A group of German biological anthropologists gave me a good 6th anniversary present for Heavenfield. There is now good confirmation that the Plague of Justinian was the Plague! I know that sounds a little anti-climatic but some have fought the diagnosis against the odds for years now. We still need more data from well dated cemeteries but some things are clear.

Plague was diagnosed in Bavaria beyond the Roman world where plague had never been documented. Two sites from Gaul have also produced plague protein  results and well documented symptoms from Gaul and the Mediterranean suggests that it was wide-spread in the Late Antique world. I’ve written about the details of this newest discovery on Contagions.

The cemetery is well dated archaeologically to the 6th century and radiocarbon dates support that date. There were no disordered mass graves. So the graves all looked reasonably normal except there were a greater than normal number of multiple graves, but still well-ordered 2-5 person graves. I would take these graves to be household size. From what little I know of sixth century Bavaria this fits a diffuse settlement patterns without large urban areas. So far no historian of Germanic territories has written about this discovery to help put it in better context. A full write-up of this cemetery should be illuminating. The first paper on this cemetery reported that the grave contained some high status and trade goods.

Now that plague genetics seems to be getting sorted out, hopefully I’ll be able to spend more time  on the first pandemic and related topics here on Heavenfield.

Heavenfield Round-up 7: June Links

I’m not sure where June went. I wish I had been more productive, but luckily some of my fellow bloggers have been  much busier.

Bamburgh Research Project has been out in the field for most of June. Various updates have been posted on their blog.

Curt Emanuel, the Medieval History Geek, has posts on late antique panegyrics and mixed feelings on studying human tragedies.

Guy Halsall, the Historian on the Edge, has posted a recent conference paper Feud, Vengeance, Politics and History in Early Medieval Europe.

Kristina Killgrove of Powered by Osteons has put her presentation from the Moving Romans conference in Holland on her blog: Etched in Bone: Uncovering information about immigrants to Rome.

Magistra et Mater writes about why medievalists write cultural history.

Jonathan Jarrett of A Corner of Tenth Century Europe wrote on medieval gender studies and Vandals and archaeology.

Tim Clarkson of Senchus wrote about the Aberlady Cross and Medieval Archaeology goes online. At Heart of the Kingdom, Tim provides some background for a short story on a queen of Strathclyde.

Diane McIlmoyle of Esmeralda’s Cumbrian History and Folklore writes about the 9th century Kingmoor Ring.

Carl Pyrdum of Got Medieval finds reason to call fundamentalists medieval, dragging poor Nessie and St Columba into the fray.

Andy Gaunt of Archaeology and History of Sherwood Forest has posts on the Sherwood Forest Nature Reserve and Bothamsall Castle.

Clas Merdin has a series of posts this month on the foundation legends of London as New Troy, London as Mallory’s Winchester, and the London Stone. A little background for the coming Olympics in London in July.

Karen Jolly of Revealing Words has been scouting her sites for her novel around Oakley and interpreting what a note about an Anglo-Saxon tent means.

Sally Wilde has posts on her research on the importance of male heirs, early Welsh research, on landscape research.

Here at Heavenfield, I have posts on secondary sources for the Britons and a review of Disney/Pixar’s Brave. Medievalist.net also reviewed my Kalamazoo talk Famine and Pestilence in the Irish Sea Region, 500-800 AD.  On Contagions, I also have a post on plague at the siege of Caffa in 1346 that is reported to have started the Black Death in Europe.

Looking Back at Kalamazoo 2012

This was a really good Congress. It was pretty laid back and things seem to go pretty smoothly. I met lots of new history of medicine folks that I hope to keep in touch with (and barely got to chat with a certain geek I saw a lot of, sniff). I had great luck in picking sessions. Just about every session I went to either had interesting info for my research or gave me ideas for blog posts (even the ones I picked just for general information). I’ll highlight only some of the presentations here.

The tone was set just right with the first session Thursday morning on “Medieval Environments I: Food Shortage and Subsistence Crises in Medieval Europe” sponsored by ENFORMA (Environmental History Network for the Middle Ages). All three of these papers were really good. Kathy Pearson’s “After the ‘Fall': Feeding Rome in the Early Middle Ages” discussed the changes in Rome over the 5-7th century or so. She reminded us how drastically Rome shrank over the late antique/early medieval period. Their food demands shrank likewise and could usually be met by the hinterland until or unless pilgrims swelled the population of the city. Pearson reminded us that the Roman estate system had broken down  before the seventh century; its trade network and food shipments even from Sicily much less the wider Mediterranean were lost by or before the seventh century. Tim Newfield’s “Shortages and Population Trends in Carolingian Europe, ca. 750-950″ was very interesting and closest to my own work. He presented a lot of hard data that I didn’t try to write down but will eagerly wait for publication (and I’ve already looked up his PhD thesis – maybe a future full post). For now I’ll only say that there were fairly regular food shortages throughout this period. Philip Slavin’s Alternative Consumption: Fodder and Fodder Resources in Late Medieval English Economy, ca. 1250-1450 reminded us how livestock compete with humans for food sources and what allocations of fodder can tell us about animal use. I think ENFORMA will be a group that I may want to follow-up on.

For my second session I hoped to learn more about the Goths but two of the presenters didn’t show up. Deanna Forsman’s Becoming Barbarian: An Examination of Stilicho in Fifth-Century Latin was an interesting exercise in ethnic identity and Roman citizenship delivered with a lot of energy!

The last session of Thursday was Medieval Environments III: Exploiting and Managing Animal Resources”. The two papers that really stuck with me are Cristina Arrigoni-Martelli’s The Prince, the Park, and the Prey: Hunting in and around Milan in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century and Kevin Ian Malloy’s Forgotten Landscape: An Environmental History Examination of Medieval Parks in Scotland. What really struck me was the degree of management of the landscape into virtual open range deer parks to the point in Milan of rearranging the agricultural landscape to create range tracks for hunting. While I accept that it happened and that it explains the animal diversity (or lack of it) in Europe, it’s still hard for me to imagine. Driving back from Kalamazoo to southern Illinois I passed five deer road kills in one day!

Thursday evening I went to the “Burn after Reading: Miniature Manifestos for a Post/medieval studies” that I guess was supposed to talk about adjusting to some of the realities facing ‘medieval studies’ and the humanities as a whole in the current funding and reshaping of the university landscapes. A few of the 13 speakers had constructive (if not entirely popular) suggestions.  Several of the mini-manifestos have appeared on blogs since linked by the Medieval History Geek. It was interesting to watch as an outsider to the field. I loved it when another independent scholar asked the panel what they do for fun and not one of them said anything medieval related. I think she asked it because they were all being so dismal. Angst is the word I would use to describe the session. Of course they all backtracked and eventually said they loved their field, couldn’t imagine doing anything else etc. I believe she said she asked it because she wanted to know where/how they got their enthusiasm refreshed. They said ‘coming to Kzoo’! :-) Perhaps part of the problem they had being put on the spot was perhaps that I find it can be hard for a researcher to separate what is work and what is fun. Field trips are fun, even if work related. I imagine going to London or Paris to look at manuscripts could be fun! It also makes me think of the growth in Tolkien related studies at Kzoo, which for a medievalist is a fun modern text. The same for discussions of medievalisms in modern film, tv, books etc.  Likewise, lots of science folks read science fiction or watch science fiction tv/movies for fun. Alas, no one said they blog for fun.

Back to regular sessions, the intriguing mix of science and medieval studies continued all day Friday. I started the morning with The Health and Lifestyle of Medieval Populations: A Bio-anthropological Perspective. Another case where people dropped out of the session but they scheduled four so it was still good. The two presenters came from the Global History of Health Project at Ohio State. This is a massive bioanthropology study of people around the world from prehistory to the 19th century.  (They are still looking for collaborators for Europe, especially south of the Alps for all time periods.) Richard Steckel’s Medieval Stature: The Human Skeletal Record of Life and Living, AD 800-1500  had some really interesting data on the long-term shifts of human height (related to nutrition and life stress) for about a thousand years. (If I recall correctly his data extended beyond 800-1500). I wish I had a print out of some of the charts showing the rolling changes in height across the medieval period and the differences in gender. For example in some periods, men got shorter and women got taller or the opposite. Other periods, there was  a general decline in height and the shortest of all was the industrial period (about 17-19th century). Our medieval ancestors were taller on average than the first factory workers. Kimberly Williams’ Growing Old in Medieval Europe: Osteoarthritic Ankles, Knees, and Toes (and Other Joints) covered arthritic changes observed and how they also changed over time and place. She also discussed the osteological paradox which states that bones that show signs of arthritis (or malnutrition) are the healthier individuals because they survived the stress. People of weaker constitutions would die before these signs of adaption appeared in the skeleton.

Next up where the two sessions I organized. I really couldn’t have been happier with how they turned out. The first session on Health and Healing in Early Medieval Britain and Ireland was packed; we had people sitting on the floor. I was up first and I think my talk went ok (and I’ve tried out parts of it on you all over the last year here at Heavenfield and on Contagions, so no rehashing that!). Mara Tesorieri’s Regional Patterns of Health in Early Ireland: Distributions of Non-specific Stress Indicators covered some of the same malnutrition topics I did but from a bioarchaeological perspective.  She had some interesting data contrasting Ireland with Britain and areas within Ireland. In general, there were more signs of stress in Ireland and it was not distributed evenly. She briefly discussed some early observations of stress indicators vs. political stability. I’ll be looking forward to hearing more about her project as it progresses. Julia Baolotina’s The Experience and Practice of Medicine by the Laity in Anglo-Saxon England discussed what evidence there is for lay medicine and how much medical care monasteries provided for their surrounding territory, which seems to have varied quite a bit based on excavated cemeteries. Silas Mallery’s By France, or By Spain? Possible Mediterranean Origins of Irish Holy Well Veneration covered a wide-ranging comparison between early holy wells in the Mediterranean, Roman Britain and their later appearance in Ireland, their use in medicine, and he also discussed the antiquity of general water offerings.

In the second session Medical Texts of the Early Medieval Mediterranean our second speaker withdrew the week of the Congress, but the remaining two more than made up for the space. Jayna Brett’s Animal-Derived Medicines in the Early Medieval Pharmacy discussed a 4-5th century Italian text and its influence. She gave us lots of examples of the types of animal parts used and what they were used for. The early medieval pharmacist must have been quite the odd fellow picking around butchered and exotic animals for their medicinal bits.  I mean really, who collects condor eyes for a future salve? As I commented then, it seemed more dangerous to acquire some of these medicinal bits from some wild and aggressive animals than the condition the medicine was used to treat. Glenn Cooper’s Book-Learning and Medicine in Medieval Byzantium: Theory and Practice of the Alexiad of Anna Comnena brought us the fascinating story of a woman author who wrote her father’s biography using a metaphorical system based on the human body and used her own book-learned medical knowledge to describe his condition and criticize his medical care. Confined to a monastery for a rebellion against her brother she gathered a “salon” of learned men around her that became her intellectual legacy. I want to thank everyone who came to both sessions and the lively discussion that followed both sessions was great! After such a busy day speaking and presiding, this introvert needed to recharge with a quiet night, a nice dinner and returning to the hotel early.

I had intended Saturday to be a mainly Anglo-Saxon day but I made some last-minute changes and it worked out really well. The first session was Bede: Friends and Enemies I that I got to late, so I missed most of the first speaker. Patrick McBrine’s Old Acquaintances: The Poetry of Bede’s Vita Cuthberti brought a welcome look at the influences of antique poets on Bede’s verse Life of Cuthbert. It is always nice to see even snippets of that life, which still lacks an English translation!! The third speaker was a no-show, sigh. The session wrapped up with Peter Darby’s Bede and the Image Question: Enemies and Friends in Constantinople. Darby argued that Bede was kept up to date on the latest Iconoclast controversy in Rome by his researcher Nothhelm and that Bede took part in the debate by producing his De Templo as a rebuttal to the Iconoclasts using the decoration of Soloman’s temple. Within De Templo, Bede comments that the commandment not to make craven images of things in heaven or earth did not apply to icons and church decorations because Soloman’s temple had many carved images of things both from heaven (cherebim) and on earth. It’s interesting that Bede sends De Templo to Albinus of Canterbury to be copied for distribution. Darby argued that Bede felt so strongly about this issue because of how important the icons/paintings that Benedict Biscop brought to Wearmouth and Jarrow from Rome were to the community. Recall that Bede spends a lot of time in the History of the Abbots describing the art work acquired by Benedict.

I switched from my planned Bede sessions to Early Medieval Europe II and it really paid off. It opened with Louis Schwartz’s What Rome Owes to the Lombards: Devotion to Saint Michael in Early Medieval Italy and the Riddle of Castel Sant’ Angelo. This is one of those plague legends that I think I will devote a separate post to, so hang on for more on this one.  Erica Buchberger’s Gothic Identity in Spain before and after the Arab Conquest brought more examples of the fluidity of ethnic identity, both self-identity and reported identity both others. Helen Foxhall Forbes’ Suicides and the Damned in Anglo-Saxon England discussed what limited information and attitudes toward suicide. Acknowlegment of a suicide is rare in the records because it meant burial in unconsecrated ground. As Forbes said, a lot of people die ‘falling’ off buildings. The suicides implied in the record are also all from falling from great heights. She was also representing The Impact of Diasporas on the Making of England project at the University of Leicester, a multidisciplinary project involving history, archeology, genetics, linguistics, etc. Check it out!

For my last regular session, I thought I would try to learn something about Herbals so I went to the Herbs and Healing, from the Ancient Medieterranean through the Medieval West: Papers in Honor of John Riddle II. I’m afraid I didn’t get too much out of the first two papers because I’m really not a manuscript person. Unfortunately they were more interested in reconstructing textual transmission than with the content of the manuscript. However, the last talk was Wendy Turner’s Mental Incompetency as a Foundation for Suit in Medieval English Land Disputes had some good data that covered up through late medieval England. I’ll have to keep an eye  out for her work for post-Black Death guardianships etc. Handling issues like care for children and the disabled is part of disaster response (even if it’s not called that) that can go on for years after the event.

My Congress ended with a pretty typical routine: one last stroll through the book exhibits, pick up dinner, and then go to the Pseudo-Society Saturday evening. The book exhibits were disappointing this year. Fewer publishers and book sellers came, and those that came brought fewer books to exhibit and fewer copies of what they did exhibit. I rarely go to Sunday morning sessions with such a long drive home. So after a quick run through the big book sale Sunday morning, I hit the road early and got home in time watch Sherlock Sunday evening. Overall, a very good Congress with lots to think about and a rejuvenated feeling that are exciting things going on that I might be able to contribute to!

Heavenfield Round-up 4: A Golden Hoard of Links

Cross of the Trumpington 'princess', c. 650-680

The news of the last week or so has certainly been the announcement of the discovery of the 7th century Anglo-Saxon “Trumpington Princess” and the blogs have been all over it. Here is a mini round-up of the coverage:

  • I think I may have been the first blog on the story (based on the earliest news reports) here :-)
  • Antiquarian’s Attic was also fast off the block with her story.
  • Nicola Griffith of Gemæcca has a post on Hild and the princess.
  • Past Horizons has a nice, complete post on the discovery.
  • Anthropologist Rosemary Joyce of Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives writes about nuns and princesses with a different focus on the finds at Trumpington.
  • Katy Meyers of Bones Don’t Lie writes about Anglo-Saxon bed burials.

I also posted a presentation I did a couple years ago on St Æthelthryth and the Virgin Mary.

Tim Clarkson wrote about Govan and the kings of Strathcldye on his new blog Heart of the Kingdom. Tim writes about his visit to the Anglo-Saxon monastery of Dacre in Cumbria and its stonework on his blog Senchus.

Karen Jolly of Revealing Words explores the early medieval history of Workington in Cumbria.

Gold plaque, Bamburgh. Found summer 2011.

Esmeralda’s Cumbrian History and Folklore writes about Loki the Trickster and the Norse who brought him to  Cumbria.

Bamburgh Research Project updates us on the analysis of their gold fragment from last year’s excavation. The photo of Dr Whitfield with the fragment really puts its size in perspective.

I don’t usually cover pre-Roman Celtic society but there have been a couple interesting posts in the last few weeks. Past Horizons has a post on the virtual reconstruction of the Celtic village of the Remi in pre-Roman Gaul. Katy Meyers of Bones Don’t Lie examines the diet and health of the Britons of Dorset during the late Iron Age and early Roman periods.

Moving on from Roman Britain, we have the Arthurian bloggers. Clas Merdin has an interesting post discussing the legends behind the standing stones named after the Sons of Arthur. Yes, its only in the post-Geoffrey world of Romance that Arthur is childless. Clas Merdin also has a second post teasing out the 40 tasks of Culhwch in the oldest Arthurian tale, How Culhwch won Olwen.

Mak Wilson of Badonicus continues his series exploring Arthurian lore with part IV on Arthur the Giant or Giant Slayer, part V on Arthur the Soldier, and part VI on the three types of Arthur in British lore – the giant, the superhero, and the soldier. Mak had an explosion of posts taking this series up to part 12! Just keep following the next post from the above links.

This time we have a little Beowulf to counterbalance Arthur. Michael Drout of Wormtalk and Slugspeak asks if Grendel can speak, how does he curse their weapons? I didn’t know there was a ‘current monster theory’… I learn something new all the time. In a second post, he muses some on the size and shape of the dragon in Beowulf.

Jonathan Jarrett of A Corner of the Tenth Century has returned to his blog with a review of the Treasures of Heaven exhibit at the British Museum, and on an unfortunately misnamed boundary tree, and a couple more seminars written up.

Guy Halsall of Historian on the Edge writes about the historical assumptions expressed in a 19th century painting of Late Antiquity.

Andy Gaunt of the Archaeology and History of Sherwood Forest writes about Queen Joan’s tenure as the keeper of Sherwood and about a case of trespass and pig rustling from Bestwood Park in 1440.

Carl Pyrdum of Got Medieval brings us Cake month to replace pi day.

Whew! and that’s it for this round-up.

7th century English ‘Princess’ Grave Revealed

Multiple news sites (Independent, NewsObserver, ) are reporting that the remains of a seventh century ‘princess’ has been found in a field near Cambridge. The approximately 16 year old woman was found laying on a bed with iron fittings; the fittings are all that remain of the bed. She was buried fully dressed with an iron knife, belt buckle, and a chained purse with glass beads, and most fabulously a 3 cm wide garnet pectoral cross around her neck. Unlike other recently found garnet jewelry and fittings, this cross is solid gold. The grave has been dated to c. 650 to 680, although carbon dates are not available yet.

Apparently the University of Cambridge released the photos popping up online in the stories linked above, so I’ll collect them here. Strangely, I can’t find anything on the University of Cambridge’s website yet.  The picture to the right strikes me, seeing the cross still around her neck. There are many objects visible in the cutting of the grave shown below. So far the only description that I have seen is that they are iron fittings.

English teenager found near Cambridge. Photo: University of Cambridge.

According to the Independent there were two other female graves found nearby and a third of indeterminate gender. No grave goods were mentioned for the others. David Keys’ (The Independent) conjecture that this was a convent and that they all died of plague seems a bit of a stretch. I certainly would like to see them all tested for plague, but I think the nunnery is pretty unlikely. This is not a monastic grave with the funeral bed and burial with a knife.

I also don’t particularly see this grave as a mixed religious tradition. There is nothing particularly pagan about the grave. There is no sign of grave offerings; bowls of food or signs of pagan rites. Burial on a funeral bed is not necessarily more elaborate or expensive than a stone or lead coffin. Secular elites who were not buried in church yards may not have been buried as sparingly as monastic burials. Several rich graves have been found in the last five years that were Christian, like the Essex prince, but still buried with some goods and a bed in particular. Unlike the Essex ‘prince’ this grave is not fitted out for the afterlife with tools and favorite objects. If the objects are limited to apparel, objects worn on the body, this seems normal to me. She appears to have been dressed as she might for  a special occasion like a feast.  Christians today may choose special clothes (a suit or military uniform) and sometimes still leave goods in coffins, like leaving on wedding bands, military insignia, rosaries, or putting special pillows in the coffin. We know that high status clergy like Cuthbert were buried clothed and with jewelry. What do you think about the mixed nature of this grave?

Heavenfield Round-up 1: Long Live the King (in the Blogosphere)

I tried for a while to do round-ups on my history of medicine blog that included medieval links, but I’m back to thinking that they need to be separate. Putting King Arthur and Norwalk Virus in the same round-up just seems wrong. Not all of my readers have as diverse taste in blogs as I do!

Thinking of good ole Arthur, he has been in the blogs for the last several weeks.

Carl Pyrdum of Got Medieval continues his Thesis Thursday feature with John Milton’s struggles to write on Arthur , on the legend that is Geoffrey Arthur of Monmouth, and on the actual topic of his thesis Uther Pendragon.

The Bamburgh Research Project Blog addresses the relationship between Bamburgh,  Arthur and ‘Joyous Garde’.

Tim Clarkson of Senchus writes about the latest theory placing Arthur in Scotland. Tim also has s a new blog named Heart of the Kingdom on the early medieval cultural center of Govan in the kingdom of Strathclyde. He has several posts up on some of the Govan sculpture like the sun stone , an introduction to the Govan school of stones, and on a 19th century engraving of the Govan sarcophagus.

Diane Mclimoyle of Esmeralda’s Cumbrian History and Folklore writes about the 6th century Cumbrian lullaby Dinogad’s Smock and on the funky Cumbrian Crosby Garret Roman helmet.

Curt Emanuel the Medieval History Geek shares a few thoughts on Ambrose of Milan and on learning that sometimes stuff we think we should like bores us to death.

Jonathan Jarrett of A Corner of the Tenth Century Europe is practicing for his next career as medieval tour guide, in Naples this time. It’s always good to have a fall back option. :-) Yes, he did eventually get to conference but I’ve decided not to put conference and seminar posts in round-ups anymore.

Magistra et Mater tells us about her new job at The Making of Charlemagne’s Europe project and the utility of creating a massive charter database.

Andy Gaunt of the Archaeology and History of Medieval Sherwood Forest writes about traveling from  Newstead Priory to King John’s palace.

Antiquarian’s Attic brings us a discovery of a 9th-10th century man killed by an arrow near Newcastle, Galway Co Ireland. and of a Roman brothel coin found in London.

A Hoard of Gold Scrap

The Staffordshire Hoard is easily the biggest Anglo-Saxon news of the last two years, if not decade. Not only spectacular bling, but also intriguing mystery. National Geographic recently aired two documentaries on the hoard of which “Secrets of the Lost Gold” (Nat. Geo., Nov. 2011) was the most interesting because they reveal some of the analysis of the hoard to date.

It is a hoard of scrap. Everything in the hoard is broken, bent or otherwise damaged. Surprising to the analysts many of the 3500 pieces of precious metal and gems to emerge from the dirt so far show signs of recycling. Gold is not mined in England so it must have come from elsewhere. All of the gold is the equivalent of 18 caret with a variety of impurities from the recycling process. Analysts believe that the bulk of gold came from Byzantium, probably coming to England as Byzantine coins. These coins were the universal currency of Late Antiquity because of their gold content. Britain did not have a coin based economy so that these coins were valued only for their gold content. They estimate that the gold in the hoard represents about 3000 Byzantine solidus. Chemical composition of the garnets indicate that some garnets came from Bohemia in the Czech republic (small garnets) and India (large cabochons from the crosses and pendants).  They suggest that the large cabochons had been obtained from India by Rome and recycled by the Saxons.  All of the garnets were specifically hand cut and polished for each piece. Some of the inlay, especially brilliant blues in the garnet cloisonné are made of Roman glass and some were repaired with amber instead of garnet. The style and design suggest that weapons date from 550 AD to early 8th century, a span of about 150 years. Interestingly this is about the amount of time that Bede claimed had passed from the Saxon arrival in Britain to his time in the early 8th century; then again, perhaps this influenced the analysts’ dates.

A few random thoughts on the hoard

First, I don’t think it should be so surprising that it is a hoard of scrap. Every hoard I can think of found in Britain, like silver hoards in Pictland, was made up of objects to be recycled. They were not all military objects, but most were broken, bent or obviously intended for recycling. I think it must also depend on what types of objects that were primarily given precious metals. For the Romans it may have been dinnerware and religious objects, but for the Saxons it may have mostly been weapons.

Is it so surprising that this hoard is scrap considering the amount of recycling evidenced in the hoard itself? Could there have been a scrap market where smiths got their materials?  If so then why no women’s ware or church material? It makes me wonder if war gear was not more likely to be recycled as an insult to the enemy. New young warriors would want designs especially for them and so recycling is necessary. Indeed, kings who commission weapons for their warriors would need to recycle captured goods to meet their gifting needs.There might be specific instances where the gifting of an enemy weapon would be symbolically significant but most of the time, it may have been more important to give newly fashioned weapons with the king’s symbols (rather than the enemies symbols). The onus of obtaining the precious metal and gems for new creations may have fallen on the patron rather than the creator, so the need for raw materials would have driven a recycling mania.

Heirlooms are only heirlooms if they are from your family. The age rage reflected in the hoard does suggest that many of the weapons were old when they were stripped, so may have been heirlooms until lost, eventually broken beyond repair, or the family died out. Destruction of  a processional cross carried before an army could have been common as a way of showing power over the conquered. An object like a processional cross may have been irreparably attached to the people whom it was made for.  The Dream of the Rood, Ruthwell Cross, and indeed the Heavenfield cross, suggest that crosses in particular could continue to do God’s work for their intended purpose or people. Perhaps this personification of objects, as seen in the Dream of the Rood, would make the use of an enemies weapons potentially dangerous to the bearer, as if the weapon could betray its new owner. This would make it far easier to strip a beautiful weapon or shield.

I have to say of the reconstructed weapons I’ve seen I think the sæx was the most impressive. It looks a little like a short machete or Bowie knife. In archaeological contexts, usually only the blade survives but not the handle. Luckily conservationists have been able to put together a complete sæx handle among the metal scrap and it was no simple cleaver handle. One of the few clips of the “Secrets of the Lost Gold” I’ve found online is this one on the construction of a sæx pattern-welded blade.

Sourcing the Materials

Soiidus of Justinian II, 705-711 (Classical Numismatic Group, Inc; Wikipedia Commons))

The materials came from far-flung sites. Given that this hoard must represent a tiny amount of the gold, silver and gems that once existed, it begs the question of where they got it from since Britain does not have gold or gem mines. This one hoard is believed to represent the equivalent of about 3000 Byzantine solidus. What were they trading for Byzantine coins? Granted Byzantine gold coins were the universal currency because of their gold content so they need not have been trading directly with Byzantium. Still, the Anglo-Saxons didn’t have a coin based economy so barter would have been the usual type of trade. The only thing I can think of off-hand is slaves. What else could they have been exporting that would be exchanged for gold?

Most of the garnets came from Bohemia and there are a lot of garnets in all Anglo-Saxon metalwork. It’s hard to imagine what they would have been trading for them either. This is trade by royalty only because without a coin based economy smaller merchants would not have been trading in gold and gems. Or, would smaller merchants have traded in scrap like this hoard?  Not exactly raw materials, but sources of gold and gems nevertheless. There must have been some trade in small found objects missed on the battlefield or found in Roman ruins. The larger stones from India would likewise have come to Britain probably in objects to be recycled.

The Roman colored glass is more easy to understand. There must have been a lot of glass and mosaic tiles left in Britain that could have been recycled. It is surprising that more of it is not found in objects and graves. It is possible that a lot of it was recycled into stained glass windows for churches once the technology was reintroduced into Britain in the seventh century.

The conservation of the hoard is still not nearly done so there will be more revelations yet to come. The story of the Staffordshire hoard is still far from complete. There are many questions yet to be answered. Why so many garnets? Why isn’t there more amber or other stones? No jet even as an accent? No pearls or mother-of-pearl, though these may be more common in jewelry. Are we sure this is all Anglo-Saxon metalwork, not British, Pictish or Frankish? And then there will the effect of the hoard on dating metalwork in Britain. It is so much larger than all the other finds that it will force reassessment of all of the smaller finds.