When Terry Herbert’s metal detector beeped in the middle of a field in Staffordshire, England, in 2009, he had no idea that more than 3,500 gold artifacts lay below the ground. A member of a local metal detector club, Herbert is credited with the discovery of the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found, called the Staffordshire Hoard. Pieces from the hoard are now traveling the world and can currently be viewed at the National Geographic Museum, the only American stop.
Much of the buried treasure of the Staffordshire Hoard dates to the 7th century and is comprised of military gear such as sword fittings and helmet plates from the aggressive Kingdom of Mercia. No feminine or domestic objects were found in the pile, and historians are not sure who buried the hoard, or why — whether it was the spoils of war, or an offering to the gods. The quality of craftsmanship for each item is impeccable, and the entire haul is valued at £3.3 million (about $5 million).
As for Herbert, he’s now a millionaire — as is the farmer, Fred Johnson, whose land contained the treasure. Herbert and Johnson received £1.6 million (about $2.5 million) each when the treasure, owned jointly by Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Birmingham City Council, was purchased for the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. The pair were later embroiled in a bitter name-calling feud in the papers when they received their payouts: Herbert said, “I think Fred wanted all of the money and is now resentful he has had to share it,” while Johnson said, “Sometimes I just wish one of the poor veterinary students had found it instead, because it would have set them up for life rather than me.”
The Staffordshire Hoard can be viewed at the National Geographic Museum through March 4, 2012.
This post previously omitted that the treasure is owned jointly by Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Birmingham City Council.