The Ashmolean Museum has raised the £1.35 million required to purchase the hoard of King Alfred the Great discovered in Watlington, Oxfordshire, in 2015. More than 700 members of the public contributed to the appeal. Lead support was provided by the National Lottery through a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant of £1.05 million to acquire the hoard and fund a range of educational and outreach activities. With a further £150,000 from Art Fund and contributions from private individuals and the Friends and Patrons of the Ashmolean, the Museum reached its fundraising target within days of the deadline.
Dr Xa Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean, says: ‘The Watlington Hoard is one of the most exciting and important acquisitions we have ever made, particularly significant because it was found in Oxfordshire. To be able to keep the hoard in the county and put it on display with the Ashmolean’s Anglo-Saxon collections, which include the world-famous Alfred Jewel, was an opportunity we could not miss. I am therefore profoundly grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund and National Lottery players; to Art Fund; to our Friends and Patrons; and to the members of the public and the people of Oxfordshire who have been so generous in their support.’ Once formally acquired, the Museum will launch an HLF funded events and education programme for the hoard. This will begin on 11 February when the treasures will be put on display at the Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock (until 19 March). In collaboration with Oxfordshire Museums Service, the Ashmolean will stage roadshow events around the county which will include talks, object handling sessions and displays of the objects at locations including Bicester, Faringdon and of course in Watlington. The hoard will also be the focus at the Ashmolean’s annual Festival of Archaeology which takes place every year in July.
Stuart McLeod, Head of HLF South East, says: ‘This is fantastic news for the Ashmolean and its visitors. Thanks to the fundraising campaign and the £1.05 million provided by National Lottery players, this hugely significant hoard will be available for future generations to admire, learn from and explore.’
The Watlington hoard was discovered on private land by metal-dectorist James Mather on 7 October 2015. On the verge of giving up after a frustrating day of finding nothing more than ring-pulls and shotgun cartridges, James chanced upon an object he recognised to be a Viking-age ingot. On finding a further cache of silver pennies close-by he realised he had discovered a hoard. In the days following, James, the landowner and archaeologist David Williams of the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, explored the site and then block-lifted the hoard out of the soil so that it could be taken to the British Museum to be excavated under laboratory conditions. Here it was x-rayed to reveal the contents and the arrangement of the objects within the soil.
Comprising about 200 coins (some of them fragmentary), seven items of jewellery and fifteen ingots (bars of silver), the find is not particularly large, but it is hugely significant because it contains so many coins of Alfred the Great, king of Wessex (r.871–99) and his less well known contemporary, Ceolwulf II of Mercia (r.874–c.879). The vanishingly rare ‘Two Emperors’ penny, of which the hoard contains thirteen examples, shows these two kings seated side-by-side below a winged figure of Victory or an angel. Prior to the discovery of the hoard, only two other examples of the ‘Two Emperors’ were known. The image on the coins suggests an alliance between the kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia. This, remarkably, challenges the accounts found in written sources which dismissed Ceolwulf as a puppet of the Vikings. The coins can
therefore offer new insights into this tumultuous period of England’s history and allow us to speculate on Ceolwulf’s disappearance and what role Alfred might have played in his rival’s demise.
The location and date of the find is also significant. Oxfordshire lay on the border of Mercia and Wessex, and Oxford was one of a number of fortified towns developed under Alfred in part to control the Thames which was used as an important route for Viking ships to strike into the heart of England. Viking forces moved both by water and land, and they likely used the ancient trackway known as Icknield Street which passes through Watlington, close to where the hoard was found. The hoard can be dated by the presence of a single ‘Two-Line’ type penny which was not produced until the late 870s, after the Battle of Edington (May 878) between Alfred’s forces and the Great Heathen Army led by Guthrum. It is possible that the hoard was buried in the wake of this violence or during the ensuing movement of peoples. It is clear that the Watlington Hoard can reveal more about this important moment in the history of England and once acquired it will be studied and published by Ashmolean experts and conservators. Following a regional tour of the objects, the hoard will go on permanent display in the England Gallery with the Alfred
Jewel and the Museum’s world-class Anglo-Saxon collections. Heritage Minister, Tracey Crouch, says: ‘These coins shed new light on a key moment in English history so this is a real coup for the Ashmolean and a great achievement in the preservation of English heritage. I am delighted that National Lottery players have contributed to not only keeping the coins in this country but on public display in Oxfordshire where they were found.’
Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund director, says: ‘This is a major acquisition by any standards and we’re delighted for the Ashmolean and its visitors. It was a very focussed and determined fundraising campaign and we’re pleased to have been able to make a significant grant towards it. The Ashmolean’s collection provides a perfect context for the Hoard and we look forward to seeing and learning from the many gallery displays it will make possible in the years to come.’
Michael Lewis, Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme at the British Museum, says: ‘The British Museum welcomes the news that this historically important hoard has been acquired for the nation and will now be displayed for people to enjoy. It was crucial at the time this hoard was discovered that David Williams, Surrey FLO, was able to work with the finder to excavate the find. British Museum curators and conservators, together with Dr John Naylor (PAS Finds Advisor for Medieval Coins) at the Ashmolean Museum, have very much enjoyed working on this amazing discovery, and sharing with the public what we have learnt about rivalries amongst Anglo-Saxon kings at the time of the Vikings.’
NOTES TO EDITORS
About the Heritage Lottery Fund
HLF awarded £1.05 million to the Ashmolean Museum for the project Acquisition of the Watlington Viking Hoard in September 2016. Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #HLFsupported.
Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. In the past five years alone Art Fund has given £34 million to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections. It also helps museums share their collections with wider audiences by supporting a range of tours and exhibitions, and makes additional grants to support the training and professional development of curators. Art Fund is independently funded, with the core of its income provided by 123,000 members who receive the National Art Pass and enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions and subscription to Art Quarterly magazine. In addition to grant-giving, Art Fund’s support for museums includes Art Fund Museum of the Year (won by the V&A, London, in 2016) and a range of digital platforms. Find out more about Art Fund and the National Art Pass at www.artfund.org
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The Treasure Act of 1996
Under the Treasure Acts finders have a legal obligation to report all finds of potential Treasure to the local coroner in the district in which the find was made. The success of the Act is only possible through the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, advising finders of their legal obligations, providing advice on the process and writing reports for coroners on Treasure finds. The Act allows a national or local museum to acquire Treasure finds for public benefit. If this happens a reward is paid, which is (normally) shared equally between the finder and landowner. Interested parties may wish to waive their right to a reward, enabling enabling museums to acquire finds at reduced or no cost. Rewards are fixed at the full market value of the finds, determined by the Secretary of State upon the advice of an independent panel of experts, known
as the Treasure Valuation Committee. The administration of the Treasure process is undertaken at the British Museum. This work involves the preparation of Treasure cases for coroners’ inquests, providing the secretariat for the Treasure Valuation Committee, and handling disclaimed cases and the payment of rewards.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme
Thousands of archaeological objects are discovered every year, many by members of the public, particularly by people while metal-detecting. If recorded, these finds have great potential to transform archaeological knowledge, helping archaeologists understand when, where and how people lived in the past. The Portable Antiquities Scheme offers the only proactive mechanism for recording such finds, which are made publicly available on its online database. This data is an important educational and research resource that can be used by anyone interested in learning more. The Portable Antiquities Scheme is managed by the British Museum, and funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport through a grant, the British Museum and local partners. Its work is guided by the Portable Antiquities Advisory Group, whose membership includes leading archaeological, landowner and metal-detecting organisations. Visit: www.finds.org.uk
Oxfordshire Museums Service
The Oxfordshire Museums Service aims to inspire a sense of belonging in people who live in the rich and historically important county, using collections which form a unique record of the heritage of Oxfordshire. The Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock occupies a large 18th-century town house and its grounds in the centre of the medieval town. Permanent displays explore the history of the county from dinosaurs to nanotechnology. A regular programme of changing exhibitions, lectures, events and activities are on offer throughout the year.
The Anglo-Saxons in Oxfordshire: Gewisse to Alfred and Beyond (11 February–19 March)
The Watlington Hoard will be shown in a new exhibition opening at the Oxfordshire Museum on 11 February. Featuring pagan burials, Viking treasure and the craftsmanship of master sword-makers, this exhibition explores the stories, life and battles of the Anglo-Saxons. A public lecture on the Hoard will be given at the Museum on Saturday 18 March.
British Archaeology at the Ashmolean
The Ashmolean’s British archaeology collections range in date from the earliest Anglo-Saxon objects found in England, to the consumer goods of the 18th century. Geographically the collections are wide ranging, with objects collected from Britain, mainland Europe and Scandinavia. There are significant groups of excavated material from Oxford city and Oxfordshire, such as Sutton Courtenay, Dorchester-on-Thames, Berinsfield, Seacourt, and Woodperry, among others. The early-medieval collections are among the finest in the world, and contain important metalwork, ceramics and glassware. Ceramics and other material culture of later- and post-medieval date are also significant, due to the nature of the objects themselves and their history in the discipline of medieval archaeology. So too are the personal archives relating to eminent archaeologists including E.T. Leeds, Martyn Jope, and Donald Harden. Find out more at http://britisharchaeology.ashmus.ox.ac.uk
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