The Huxley Hoard

Flattened arm-rings and small ingot from the Huxley Hoard

Discovered by a metal detectorist in November 2004, the Huxley Hoard is made up of 21 flattened, decorated silver arm-rings and a small cast ingot. Clearly Viking, the hoard has been dated to the first decade of the 9th century AD.

Steve Reynoldson was taking part in a metal detector rally, organised by the Lune Valley Metal Detecting Club at Huxley, when he came across pieces of lead sheeting lying about 30cm below the turf. As he investigated further, he came across the hoard. Although it was not immediately apparent that the metal objects were silver, the distinctive punch decoration signalled they were definitely Viking in origin. On hand was local archaeologist Dan Garner, who happened to be in the area while the rally was going ahead. Dan excavated the find spot but, aside from some 39 pieces of lead fragments, nothing else was found.

The arm-rings had been folded and flattened prior to burial and the bracelet flattened and twisted, possibly to make the artefacts easier to pack for burial. The lead fragments suggest that either the 1.5kg silver hoard was packed in a lead-lined wooden box and that the wood had since disintegrated leaving no trace; or that the lead sheeting had been wrapped around the bundle of silver.

But what do the items represent? Twenty of the arm bands are penannular, and one is a twisted bar with a stamped zig zag pattern. Sixteen of the arm-rings are decorated with intricate stamped designs using a distinctive type of punch work, most with a saltire (diagonal cross) design. One of the bands is only partially decorated, and looks to be the unfinished work of an apprentice — certainly the decoration is not of the standard of the other examples — and four are incomplete. It may be that the cache represents hacksilver, either intended to be melted down and reused, or to be traded as bullion rather than for the value of the ornaments.

This style of bracelet was produced by Norse settlers in Dublin during the late 9th and early 10th centuries. Bracelets of a similar style have been found in the Cuerdale Hoard (discovered in 1840 on the River Ribble near Preston in Lancashire) that is  believed to have been buried some time shortly after the Vikings were expelled from Dublin in AD 902. The Huxley Hoard dates from the same period and may have been buried for safekeeping by Viking refugees arriving from across the Irish Seas and settling in Cheshire and the Wirral. Or, as has been argued, the cache was the prize of a band of Viking raiders plundering this area of the coast, who buried it intending to retrieve it at a later stage.

The Huxley Hoard is one of a cluster of hoards concentrated in the area in and around Chester (one in nearby in Eccleston, a small hoard discovered in 2002 is entirely hacksilver; and four in Chester itself —the largest being that found at Castle Esplanade, dated to c.965 and containing 141 pieces of hacksilver and over 524 coins).  Whether buried for safe-keeping in times of crisis, or a raider’s booty, it, along with the others in the area, is certainly indicative both of the importance of Viking trade in the region and of the political upheaval of the time.