Most of the hoard is comprised of sword hilts – a hugely symbolic item in the Anglo Saxon period, representing wealth and, more importantly, status. Taking an enemy’s sword hilt would have been a highly prized trophy, and it is the hilt, rather than the blade, that would have been retained and displayed by the triumphant victor.
Fragments from these hilts include pommels, 68 of which are gold, 11 silver and five are copper aloy or base silver; some of the hilt plates were decorated with cabochon garnets.
There are a number of gold plates, some of which are from scabbards, but some are believed to be from helmets, including a possible cheek piece covered with intricate carvings of twisted and intertwined beasts. The best known example of a helmet from this period is the reconstructed helmet from the famous Sutton Hoo boat burial, discovered 70 years ago. But there is much controversy as to how they actually looked – even the Sutton Hoo example now on show is the second version, the first having been painstakingly taken apart before being reconstructed again. Archaeololgists believe these new finds will add greatly to our understanding of helmets from the Anglo Saxon period.
This comes from Current Archaeology 236, which contains the definitive guide to the Staffordshire Hoard, out on the 1st October. Subscribe now to reserve your copy