It was July of 2009 and a guy named Terry was in a field near the town of Hammerwitch on a farm owned by a guy named Fred. Terry headed out to a low ridge and turned on his metal detector. And it started to buzz. In fact, it wouldn't stop buzzing. Terry fished around in the friable soil and pulled out a thin piece of metal with what looked like a pin attached, and a strip of folded metal with a Latin inscription, and a pyramid-shaped gizmo with inlaid red stone of some sort. And coins. And buckles. And a folded cross. And much, much more.
These metal items were gold and they had not seen the light of day for about 1,300 years. When all 3,500 items were retrieved the collection was called The Staffordshire Hoard, a treasure the value of which was shared by Terry and Fred. The Anglo-Saxon artifacts, which were invaluable, really, made their way to various museums and photos of them to a book, Lost Gold of the Dark Ages: War, Treasure, and the Mystery of the Saxons by Caroline Alexander.
The book made its way to my house from the library because I've been reading about the Saxons. And the Angles, the Britons, the Picts, the Celts, the Jutes, and the Vikings. All were wandering about, many of them wreaking havoc on the others, in the years between the retreat of the Romans and the arrival of the Normans. I've only recently become interested in (not to say obsessed by) the Anglo-Saxons and their period in English history.
It's astonishing how much we know about these pagan people who arrived in Britain from what is now Denmark some time in the 5th century and flourished until William the Conquerer arrived, bringing French-flavored culture and language. It was not a time of wide-spread literacy. Rather it was a period of warfare with constant raids by the Vikings and a certain amount of conflict within Britain, with the kings of Wessex and Sussex and Mercia and Northumberland fighting to retain their lands and to conquer those of the others. It was during this period that Beowulf was written. Nonetheless we have a enough documents and artifacts (see the Sutton Hoo Hoard) to piece together life in Anglo-Saxon England.
So I have been reading a biography of AEthelstan, the first king of all England (including the Danes in what was the Danelaw.) And a book about the waves of armies sweeping about in England. A heavily illustrated history of the period. And this wonderful book, with its dozens of color photos and a text that is readable and informative.