Metal detectorists have unearthed a gilded silver Anglo-Saxon object near Langham, Norfolk, in the East of England, characterized by experts as being “crafted by an individual with a keen appreciation for beauty.”
Dating back to the late 8th or early 9th Century, the 19.4mm (0.7in) diameter artifact boasts intricate designs depicting a stylized animal, possibly a horse, looking over its shoulder.
The enigmatic object, discovered by a metal detectorist, has left historians and archaeologists puzzled due to its small size and meticulous craftsmanship. Historian Helen Geake, also Norfolk’s finds liaison officer, said: “It’s a mysterious object and you can’t say what kind of thing it’s off at all. But it was made by someone with a real eye for loveliness.”
The artifact features a flat, circular top and short, straight sides forming a shallow, hollow cylinder. What sets it apart is a spiral pattern on the sides, reminiscent of designs found in the Lindisfarne Gospel and the Book of Kells, both renowned for their intricate illustrations.
The craftsmanship involved in creating this piece is remarkable, with the creator using a sophisticated gilding technique. Mercury, imported from Spain, was mixed with powdered gold to accentuate the design, showcasing the multi-talented skills of the Anglo-Saxon craftsman. Dr. Geake noted, “We do have evidence that gold and silversmiths were also doing illuminations in manuscripts at this time, for example.”
The spirals on the artifact, reminiscent of the Lindisfarne Gospel, suggest a possible religious significance, indicating that it may have been worn as jewelry. However, the item’s design and size challenge traditional assumptions about wearable artifacts. Gold and silver necklaces were rare and typically worn by women of high ranking, raising questions about the intended use of this finely crafted object.
Dr. Geake suggested one possibility that it might have been intended for the end of a staff, long since decayed. She added, “Whatever it was used for… a great deal of highly skilled work went into its creation.” Professor of medieval history and archaeology at the University of Oxford, John Blair, proposed that it could be “caps from the butt-ends of wooden knife handles, covering the hammered-over end of the blade tang.” This theory aligns with the object’s small size and ornate design.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding its purpose, the discovery adds to the list of significant archaeological finds in Norfolk. In 2022, official figures confirmed the county as the UK’s top location for treasure finds, with 98 discoveries declared legally treasure by the coroner’s office. Norwich Castle Museum intends to acquire the discovered artifact.