Saturday, 3 January 2015

British treasurers No.2

King Alfred 'The Great'
A line engraving c.1750 by George Vertue
In the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford there is a very special Anglo Saxon treasure approximately 1150 years old - the Alfred Jewel. It was discovered in 1693 by a labourer digging for peat at Newton Park in North Petherton, Somerset. North Petherton is near Athelney, where in 878 King Alfred the Great took refuge from the Vikings and later founded a monastery.
Sir Thomas Wrothe, owner of Newton Park, became the owner of the jewel. He later presented it to his uncle, Colonel Nathaniel Palmer, a former member of Trinity College, Oxford, who bequeathed it to the university in 1717. He intended that it should go to the Bodleian Library, but a year later his son Thomas, decided that it should be deposited in the Ashmolean Museum.
The Alfred Jewel
via
The Alfred jewel is made of polished rock crystal. Below the crystal and crafted in cloisonné is a figure thought to represent one of the five senses 'sight'. The crystal is set in pure filigree gold, and has cut out lettering around the edge inscribed AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN - Alfred ordered me made.
Recent opinions have decided that it is an aestel or pointer used for following the text in a manuscript or gospel. The pointer would have been held within the mouth of the mythical dragon probably made of ivory, and kept in place by a rivet which is still in situ. 
King Alfred and his daughter Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians depicted on a 13th century genealogical chronicle in the British Library, London

British Treasure No.1 can be found here.
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Footnote
Over the Christmas period a group of amateur treasure hunters found
a hoard of more than 5,000 rare Anglo Saxon coins showing the heads of
King Ethelred 'The Unready' and King Canute. They are thought to have a
value of over one million pounds. The coins have been described as being in
mint condition with a 'mirror like' finish. They were found buried in a lead
container in a field in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. This is one of several 
large and exciting treasure trove finds that have been made during 2014.

43 comments:

  1. The pointer is something I have never heard of and is certainly beautiful. Exciting about the discovery of the coins. A real life buried treasure. Kind of makes you want to go on your own dig! Great post.

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    1. This latest find is the culmination of several valuable treasure troves this year. The current technology for seeking out metal artefacts has become so sophisticated.

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  2. This is so exciting. Years of history, found during 2014.
    The writing looks like latin!! i could be wrong. or Gaelic.!
    Such a beautiful piece.
    There is still so much out there .. and still so much to learn.
    great post Rosemary.
    Happy weekend.
    val x

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    1. I believe that much more treasure will be found Val.
      My understanding is that the writing on the chronical is Old English the same as the written wording around Alfred's jewel. It is a derivative of Anglo Saxon, Old French and Classical Latin.

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  3. That is very interesting Rosemary.
    Goodness, a great find over the Christmas break.
    Regards,
    Margaret

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    1. Because the find is Treasure Trove the finders will get 50% of the value and the land owner the other 50%, but the treasure itself will most likely end up in the local Buckinghamshire museum.

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  4. Dear Rosemary,

    What a beautiful piece! It makes me wonder about the life of King Alfred. I'm guessing that it was the most interesting mix of luxury and rusticity. I look forward to reading more about those coins. Doubtlessly there will be a great article in National Geographic.

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    1. Alfred's jewel has been skilfully and very cleverly made. It is a sophisticated piece of workmanship especially when you consider just how old it is.

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  5. Like many North Americans I am woefully uneducated in European history before the Middle Ages. The books by Bernard Cornwell have given me an appetite for the real thing! The Christmas treasure find will have historians in a buzz.

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    1. Dear H - Today archaeology has taken on a whole new excitement with the sophisticated finds that keep turning up regularly in our fields aided by the latest technology.

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  6. So beautiful and intricately wrought! I hadn't heard of the latest treasure trove find -- very exciting!

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    1. When I visited the Ashmolean in Oxford it is the very first thing that I wanted to find in their cabinets. It is indeed exquisite.

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  7. Just read about the Anglo-Saxon coin find, how exciting. We've been to Oxford, but not to the Asmolean, may need to add it to our list of places to see.

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    1. The Ashmolean is well worth a visit, it is filled with wonderful treasures that you would enjoy seeing. Once you have seen Alfred's jewel you will never forget it.

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  8. This piece is so fascinating isn't it, I am always amazed at the way that gold survives so well in the ground no matter how long it is there. The new hoard that has been found is very exciting indeed isn't it! xx

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    1. It is an exciting and rare treasure Amy - once seen never forgotten. The treasure hoards that keep appearing in our fields are indeed very exciting discoveries.

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  9. Dear Rosemary, I don't remember a piece of Jewelry which has affected me as much as this one. How unique and absolutely beautiful. The Ashmolean Museum has been on my list to visit for a long time if for no other reason that to see their extensive collection of fine Italian Renaissance maiolica.

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    1. Dear Gina - I do hope that at some stage in the future you can visit the Ashmolean. It is a museum full of a wonderful variety of treasures including as you mention fine Italian Renaissance maiolica. They own the Fortnum collection which is of international importance.
      The jewel is has been masterfully crafted and it is hard to believe that it is so old.

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  10. Dear Rosemary, thank you for directing my attention to that jewel! I have been in the Ashmolean museum, but missed it,..
    As I plan to go in 2015 with lovely DiL to Oxford (mostly on the traces of Inspector Morse), I will fill this gap as soon as I can.

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    1. Dear Britta - it would be very easy to miss this little jewel, but if you ask at the enquiry desk they will direct you straight to it. It is an exquisite piece, a little treasure that once you have seen it, you will never forget it.

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  11. Hello Rosemary, When I was in college I took a course in Anglo-Saxon language, which first drew my attention to the quality of Anglo-Saxon art, of which the Alfred Jewel is an amazing example. It's like the paintings you featured from the Berry Hours--so much work was performed, and so many military and other exploits ventured, so that a few lucky people could live lives of incredible luxury, beauty and refinement.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - you are right to point out the huge discrepancies that existed at that time - it must have been an awful life for most. However, that has been the case even until fairly recently. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries must be recognised as a period when ordinary people did begin to have and achieve more rights and access to a better life.

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  12. Yes, I now see it's very likely that this is the end of a "pointer". How interesting. I've read about several hoards over the Christmas holidays and feel the urge to go out & dig the garden as we are in quite a promising area, a couple of miles from a Roman town. I believe gardeners in the closest village are not allowed to dig too deeply! How can they resist?

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    1. Our home is built on ground that was once a Roman Camp, and I once entertained thoughts that we might discover ancient artefacts when we first came here and started creating the garden. There is also a prehistory ditch that surrounds us. The dream did not last long once we discovered how difficult it was to dig through our oolitic limestone to even get plants into the ground. It was like trying to get through a stone pavement, so no hope of any little treasure troves hidden in our ground.

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  13. The long history of England is fascinating! Thank you for sharing this jewel and the news of the coin find!

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    1. I am pleased that you enjoyed learning about it - the treasure troves that keep being discovered on a fairly regular basis are really fascinating.

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  14. This is such a treasure and fascinating to read about it's history. Sarah x

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    1. I recall the first time that I ever saw Alfred's jewel and have never forgotten it. Glad that you found the post of interest Sarah

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  15. Fascinating, Rosemary. Gorgeous photos. England has such magnificent treasures in its history. Again I say, you are so fortunate to be able to live where you do. I am so grateful that I was able, once upon a time, to visit.

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    1. Dear Yvette - I have loved and admired this treasure since I first saw it several years ago. It appears that many more treasures are lying under the ground waiting to be discovered!!!

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  16. Thanks for sharing. I haven't been to the Ashmolean Museum for years. I must go. Imagine being part of the group who found the hoard in Buckinghamshire? Seeing as I don't own a metal detector, I'll have to make do with hunting in museums.

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    1. I think I read somewhere that there was a large group of them present - I should imagine that they went off and raised a glass or two to their success.

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  17. Great post.

    Happy new year from Volos.

    Yannis Politopoulos

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    1. Thank you for your visit - New Year Greetings to you

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  18. Amazing piece of jewelry, so rich and beautiful. And how exciting to find coins of that incredible value, can you imagine ? !

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    1. The amount of treasure trove being discovered recently makes me think that there is much more to find.

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  19. Hello, Rosemary! What a beautiful treasure! It must be the result of marvelous craftsmanship in the 9th century, and I’m amazed how it was well kept for about 800 years till it was found. The discovery of the Anglo Saxon coins in such large quantity is exciting. The treasure hunting of old coins was once popular in Japan, but without result. Wish you a happy 2015 ahead.

    Yoko

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    1. Hello Yoko - I don't know whether Alfred's jewel was buried in a container or simply found hidden under the ground, but as the man was digging for peat the ground must have been soft and protective.
      The amount of treasure found over the last few years has been astounding and I do not doubt that much more will be found. The Anglo Saxons were always hiding their treasure from the Vikings.

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  20. Lovely post Rosemary, thanks for sharing. I read about the recent find of coins and think it's just wonderful that we have such treasures from our history and no doubt many more to still be found. P x

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    1. The sophistication of these metal detectors is resulting in lots of wonderful finds. I think that people are now, on the whole, acting much more responsibly and handing over the treasurers they find to the proper authorities. However, I am sure that may not always be the case.

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  21. Lovely and interesting post Rosemary, the history, the treasures...this I would like to learn more about!
    Have a beautiful day...
    Warm hug,
    Titti

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    1. If ever you visit Oxford do seek out the jewel in the Ashmolean Museum and see it for yourself Titti.

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  22. Such a good idea for a series of posts, Rosemary. The Alfred Jewel is a glorious work of art, as your lovely photos show so well.

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