Ancient Treasures

tut When I was working on the Unearthing Ancient Worlds series, I often thought how exciting it must have been “back then”—back in the days of amazing archaeological discoveries such as Pompeii, the tomb of King Tutankhamen, and Troy and Mycenae. It sometimes seems that now—as we focus our attention on the depths of the oceans and the outskirts of the solar system—the great days of archaeological finds must be over. There can’t still be astonishing stores of human artifacts to discover.

But, of course, that’s not true, as Terry Herbert demonstrated last summer. An amateur treasure hunter, Herbert was searching a friend’s farm near Lichfield, Staffordshire, England, in July 2009. His metal detector pinged on something buried in a recently plowed field. Digging the item up, Herbert was excited to see a gleam of gold. But it hardly ended there. The gold pieces Herbert found were part of a huge cache of seventh-century Anglo-Saxon treasure.

Map picture

Archaeologists quickly took over the excavation, unearthing about 1,500 gold and silver crosses, sword pommels, and other ornaments. Some of the artifacts bear inscriptions, and some are inlaid with precious stones and glass. The Staffordshire Hoard, as it came to be called, is the largest cache of Anglo-Saxon treasure ever found. Archaeologists believe it will change the way we think about the Dark Ages. One archaeologist compared the importance of Herbert’s find to Howard Carter’s 1922 discovery of King Tut’s tomb. That comparison, Herbert said, made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

With most of the treasure excavated, cleaned, catalogued, and studied, the story is back in the news. The National Geographic Channel will air a special, “Lost Gold of the Dark Ages,” on Sunday, April 18, 2010, at 8 pm (check your local listings). Nat Geo’s website also has a story overview, many photos, and links to information on Anglo-Saxon culture.

Archaeology fans, history buffs, fans of Beowulf, and adventure seekers should all find something to like in “Lost Gold of the Dark Ages.” And check out Lerner’s Unearthing Ancient Worlds for more exciting tales and amazing images of human treasure from ages past.