LONDON (AP) – One of the biggest Viking treasures ever found has been discovered on an English farm by a father-son team of treasure hunters, the British Museum announced Thursday.
The trove of coins and jewelry was buried more than 1,000 years ago – a collection of items from Ireland, France, Russia and Scandinavia that testified to the raiders’ international reach.
“It’s a fascinating find, it’s the largest find of its type of over 150 years,” said Gareth Williams, an expert at the British Museum who examined the items.
He said it was the largest such find in Britain since the 1840 discovery of the Cuerdale Hoard – a mass of 8,500 silver coins, chains, and amulets.
David Whelan, 60, and his 35-year-old son Andrew were trawling a through a farmer’s field near Harrogate, in northern England, on Jan. 6 when their metal detector squealed. The pair began digging, finding a silver bowl more than a foot beneath the soil. Under British law, such finds must be reported to authorities.
The pair turned the bowl over to archaeological experts, who discovered it was packed with coins and jewelry. The bowl, a 9th century gilt silver container probably seized by Vikings from a monastery, had been used as an improvised treasure chest before being buried.
“We thought it was marvelous,” David Whelan told The Associated Press. “But we didn’t know for nearly a month what was in it.”
In all, more than 600 coins and dozens of other objects, including a gold arm band, silver ingots and fragments of silver were found in and around the container.
The items were manufactured as far afield as Afghanistan, Russia and Scandinavia.
Some of the coins mixed Christian and pagan imagery, shedding light on the beliefs of newly Christianized Vikings, said Gareth Williams, a curator of early medieval coins at the British Museum.
The booty was likely accumulated through a combination of commerce and warfare, Williams said. Its quantity indicated that at least some of it was taken by force, perhaps in raids on northern Europe or Scandinavia, he added.
The Vikings raids were chronicled as early as the eighth century by Christian monks on the coasts of northern Europe. The raids spread throughout Europe, from modern day Spain to Turkey.
In some places, the raids grew into full-fledged invasions, and Viking kingdoms were established in Britain, Ireland, and Normandy, France, among other places.
The British Museum said the loot was hidden sometime after the fall of the Viking Kingdom of Northumbria in 927. Vikings often buried their wealth in times of trouble.
The museum said it hoped to buy at least some of the hoard from the Whelan family once its value was determined.
Whelan, for his part, said he and his son enjoyed their walks through the countryside and would keep hunting together on the weekends.
“If we hadn’t found it we would’ve still been going,” he said. “We just keep going, we enjoy it.”