It will revolutionise our understanding of the Dark Ages, bring delight to millions and make two men very rich indeed.

Archaeologists yesterday unveiled the largest and most valuable hoard of Saxon gold in history – 1,500 pieces of treasure unearthed from a farmer’s field by a man with a metal detector.

The haul includes beautiful gold sword hilts, jewels from Sri Lanka, exquisitely carved helmet decorations and early Christian crosses.

Historic haul: This beautifully intricate metalwork is part of an Anglo-Saxon helmet

‘The Folded Cross’ (l) which formed part of the find, and (r) an artist’s impression of how it would have looked originally. The fact such a prominent Christian symbol was bent could be a sign it was buried by pagans

Discovery of a lifetime: Metal detecting fan Terry Herbert found the amazing haul in a Staffordshire field

The 1,300-year-old treasure was discovered by unemployed Terry Herbert in July in a field owned by a friend in Staffordshire.

Within days, the 55-year-old former coffin factory worker from Walsall had filled 244 bags.

Outside the worlds of Indiana Jones and Channel Four’s Time Team, archaeologists are not usually known for their exuberance.

But yesterday the superlatives about the Staffordshire Hoard were flying.

Some spoke of the find as the new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells, which are intricately illuminated manuscripts of the four gospels from the 8th and 9th centuries.

Others described the treasure as ‘absolutely sensational’, ‘astonishing’ and ‘stunning’. All agreed it will shake up our understanding of Saxon Britain.

Ornate: A collection of what appear to be sword hilts and to the right, the folded cross

Intricate: Exquisite metalwork on this sword hilt depicts figures of animals

Preserved: A figure of an animal, possible from the crest of a helmet (l) and (r), an ornamental millefiori stud

The gold objects alone weigh more than 5kg (11lb).

The great Anglo-Saxon burial site at IT will revolutionise our understanding of the Dark Ages, bring delight to millions and make two men very rich indeed.

Archaeologists yesterday unveiled the largest and most valuable hoard of Saxon gold in history – 500 pieces of treasure unearthed from a farmer’s field by a man with a metal detector.

The haul includes beautiful gold sword hilts, jewels from Sri Lanka, exquisitely carved helmet decorations and early Christian crosses.

The 1,300-year-old treasure was discovered by unemployed Terry Herbert in July in a field owned by a friend in Staffordshire.

Within days, the 55-year-old former coffin factory worker from Walsall had filled 244 bags.

Outside the worlds of Indiana Jones and Channel Four’s Time Team, archaeologists are not usually known for their exuberance.

But yesterday the superlatives about the Staffordshire Hoard were flying.

Some spoke of the find as the new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells.

They are intricately illuminated manuscripts of the four gospels from the 8th and 9th centuries.

Others described the treasure as ‘absolutely sensational’, ‘astonishing’ and ‘stunning’.

All agreed it will shake up our understanding of Saxon Britain.

More than 1,000 years old: A strip of gold with a biblical inscription in Latin. It reads: ‘Rise up, o Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face’

A gold sword fitting inlaid with garnet, left, as it was found in the field and, right, after it has been cleaned up

The pommel of a sword

A snake-like piece of jewellery

A piece of plate from a sword hilt

The gold objects alone weigh more than 5kg (11lb). The great Anglo-Saxon burial site at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, found in 1939, had a mere 1.66kg (3.5lb).

Mr Herbert, who bought an old metal detector for £2.50 18 years ago, said he was overwhelmed by the find – regarded as one of the most important in decades.

‘I have this phrase that I say sometimes – “spirits of yesteryear take me where the coins appear” – but on that day I changed coins to gold,’ he said.

‘I don’t know why I said it that day, but I think somebody was listening and directed me to it. Maybe it was meant to be, maybe the gold had my name on it all along.

‘I was going to bed and in my sleep I was seeing gold items.’

Mr Herbert, who lives separately from his girlfriend of 20 years, Vicki Hyden, is thought to have signed a written contract with landowner Fred Johnson agreeing to split any finds on his land.

He now plans to trade up from his rented maisonette to a bungalow.

 

But the extraordinary find has already sparked the inevitable tensions.

‘Me and Terry agreed to keep it all low key and I thought that would be the case,’ said Mr Johnson who owns the farm in Brownhills, Staffordshire.

‘It is not about the money for me, it’s an incredible find for the country and that’s what more important.

‘I’m not happy with Terry – I think its more about the money for him and I’m going to have to confront him about that.’

The hoard includes gold mounts inlaid with garnets, gold images of animals and reptiles – including horses and snakes, three crosses, including a large, processional one with enormous garnets, and dozens of gold fittings from swords.

Exposed: One of the finds on the surface of the field next to a 20p piece (l) and (r) archaeologists at work

There is also a gold strip with a Biblical inscription in Latin which reads: ‘Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be scattered and those who hate thee be driven from thy face’.

‘Everyone is completely knocked back,’ said Roger Bland, a senior antiquities curator at the British Museum.

‘These are absolutely unique objects.’ Of the total value he said: ‘I can’t say anything other than we expect it to be a seven-figure sum.’

The jewels are thought to have come from Sri Lanka – carried to Europe by traders.

The gold probably came from the Byzantine Empire, the eastern remnant of the Roman Empire based in what is now Istanbul.

Leslie Webster, former keeper at the British Museum’s Department of Prehistory and Europe, said he believes the find offered a more dramatic insight into Saxon life than even Sutton Hoo.

‘This will change our understanding of the dates of early Christian manuscripts, our perceptions of seventh-century people and where power lay,’ he said.

The treasure dates from 675 and 725AD, the time of Beowulf – the great Anglo-Saxon poem.

Some of the objects were lying on top of the soil, others were just below the surface. So far, experts have examined 1,345.

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Archaeologists kept its discovery quiet until yesterday – when they had removed every trace of gold. They were desperate to keep the location secret from ‘night hawkers’ – treasure seekers who raid archaeological sites in darkness using torches and metal detectors.

The treasure is so valuable it almost certainly belonged to a king or warlord.

At the time it was hidden, Staffordshire was the heartland of Mercia, an aggressive kingdom under Aethelred and other rulers.

The gold could have been collected during wars with the kingdoms of Northumbria and East Anglia. Some appears to have been deliberately removed from the objects to which they were attached.

Some of the items have been bent and twisted.

It may have been hurriedly buried when the owner was in danger. The fact it was never recovered suggests the owner was killed.

It may also have been buried by a victorious army as aform of humiliation to the defeated.

The future of the hoard, declared treasure yesterday and therefore Crown property, is undecided.

The collection will probably be divided between the Birmingham Museum, where some items will be unveiled to the public until October 13, and other museums.

Mr Herbert, meanwhile, is used to his hobby being mocked. ‘I’ve had people go past and go “beep beep, he’s after pennies”, he said.

‘Well no, we are out there to find this kind of stuff – and it is out there.’

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