British Museum blog

Two hoards and one unknown Viking ruler


Ian Richardson, Portable Antiquities and Treasure,
British Museum

The saying goes that one waits an eternity for a London bus to arrive, only for two to eventually show up at the same time. Dot Boughton, Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) for Lancashire and Cumbria, is probably beginning to feel that the same rule applies to Viking silver hoards. It was only in April of this year that a hoard of over 90 coins and hacksilver from Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria was reported to Dot. For any FLO, and indeed for the British Museum, which provides expert advice to enable the coroner to hold an inquest into the case (as required under the Treasure Act 1996), this represented a lot of material to work on. Not since the discovery of the Vale of York hoard almost five years ago had so many Viking-age artefacts and coins from one find been reported as Treasure.

But no sooner had the coroner concluded his inquest into the Barrow case than Dot was on the phone to our office again with news of an even larger hoard.

A piece of jewellery from the Silverdale Viking hoard

A piece of jewellery from the Silverdale Viking hoard

When the finder’s photographs were sent through to us, we knew this new hoard from Silverdale in Lancashire, was going to be one of the major enterprises of the year for us and our colleagues. Silver arm-rings, brooch fragments, ingots and coins had all (bar one coin) been found in, or underneath, a lead container. Barry Ager (Department of Prehistory and Europe) and Dr Gareth Williams (Department of Coins and Medals), were duly warned of the arrival of this material and they cleared their schedules.

After a furious few months spent weighing, analyzing, cataloguing and photographing the finds, the report for the coroner was ready.

Among the many stand-out objects is a coin type none of us had seen before. One side of it reads DNS (Dominus) REX, the letters arranged in the form of a cross (many Vikings had converted to Christianity within a generation of settling in Britain). On the other side, the inscription reads AIRDECONUT which appears to be an attempt to represent the Scandinavian name Harthacnut, a ruler not previously known.

A previously unrecorded coin type, probably carrying the name of an otherwise unknown Viking ruler in northern England

A previously unrecorded coin type, probably carrying the name of an otherwise unknown Viking ruler in northern England

The local museum, Lancaster City Museum, had earlier been informed of the find and as they expressed an interest in acquiring the hoard through the Treasure process, Mr Simon Jones, HM Deputy Coroner for Preston and West Lancashire has been asked to hold an inquest into the case. The inquest will be held on Friday the 16 December 2011, and we will find out whether it is ‘Treasure’ according to the criteria set out in the Treasure Act 1996.

The finder and his wife obligingly accepted our invitation to attend the launch of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and Treasure Act Annual Reports, held at the British Museum today where they have been able to join us in showing the hoard to Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries.

The Silverdale Hoard

The Silverdale Hoard

Going forward, it is of course our sincere hope that Lancaster City Museum will be able to acquire the Silverdale hoard for its collection. If the coroner declares it ‘Treasure’, the next step is to have it valued by the independent Treasure Valuation Committee (TVC) who would recommend a market value for the hoard. The museum may very well engage in a fundraising campaign to acquire the hoard, and if they do so we’ll offer our full support.

A selection of objects and coins from the Silverdale Hoard will be on display at the British Museum in Room 2, from Thursday 15 December through the New Year.

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Archaeology, At the Museum, Portable Antiquities and Treasure, , , ,

23 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. Brian J. says:

    “…not previously known”? it’s not this guy, then: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harthacnut ?

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  2. john oakes says:

    I don’t quite understand this article. Hardicanute/Harthacnut is a name well-known to me, a complete non-specialist, and he googles immediately as a King of “England” from 1040 till his death in 1042…………..
    So to whom is he ” not previously known”?

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  3. Fredrik says:

    Very interesting to read about especially since I’m an archaeologist in Sweden. I presume it has already been checked but is it possible that the coin could be from Scandinavia or done in the period of Knut III Harthacnut 1018-1042 who also ruled in England from 1040?

    A great find and I really hope the hoard is required so it can be properly displayed for the public and research community around the world.

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  4. Prioryman says:

    I’ve written this up on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silverdale_Hoard . A great discovery, and great work by the conservators!

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  5. graemedavis says:

    Now, I’m no expert, but the name Harthacnut rang a bell. If this is the Harthacnut who was the son of Cnut the Great (a.k.a. King Canute) and ruled England from 1040 to 1042, he’s hardly unknown. Perhaps the writer was trying to say that his coins were not previously known?

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  6. Anne Lamb says:

    Harthacnut[2] (“Tough-knot”;[3] Danish: Knud III Hardeknud) (c.1018 to 8 June 1042) was King of Denmark from 1035 to 1042 and King of England from 1040 to 1042.

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  7. @ Brian j; john oakes; Fredrik; graemedavis; Anne lamb

    Thanks for your comments and for pointing out that there was indeed a Viking ruler in both Scandinavia and England with the name Harthacnut. The finds at Silverdale are dated earlier than this well-known ruler – around AD 900-910 – and therefore it’s thought that the Harthacnut recorded on this coin is possibly a previously unknown ruler of the Viking kingdom of Northumbria.

    Ian Richardson, British Museum

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  8. Hear Dot Broughton speak about this hoard along with many other speakers at the International Symposium in Early Medieval Coinage, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Saturday, March 31st, 2012. Admission free. See: http://semc2012.blogspot.com/. Contact t.abramson@ntlworld.com to register.

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  9. Dudley Miles says:

    Press reports refer to coins in the name of Alwaldus, who has been identified with Alfred the Great’s nephew Æthelwold. He is reported by one version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to have been accepted by the Northumbrians as king when he revolted against Edward the Elder after Alfred’s death in 899. However, there is no reference to this in the article above. Is it correct that the hoard includes coins of Alwaldus and what is the source of the press comments?

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  10. Airdeconut might be identical to Hardegon alias Harthacnut mentioned in Adam bremensis , see http://www.europeanhistories.com

    What makes you by the way claim that the coin was minted in York/Northumbria… might it have been minted elsewhere?

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  11. Karol Jozef Gajewski says:

    I saw the Silverdale Hoard yesterday in Room 2 and was very impressed. According to some press reports, the hoard was discovered on the ‘Lancashire-Cumbria border’. Other reports place this find squarely within Lancashire itself. I hope there will not be a struggle between rival museum personnel in Lancaster and Carlisle to acquire this treasure!

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  12. If you don’t mind me saying, I think it is very bad practice to use Greek letters (or other non-Latin characters) to represent glyph variants of Latin characters. A barless A is still an ‘A’, and not a Greek letter Lambda. If you write “ALVVALDVS” as “ΛLVVΛLDVS” it may look more like the word as inscribed on the coin, but it is wrong, and makes it impossible to find if searching for “ALVVALDVS”.

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  13. Bjorn Fodnes says:

    Are we talking about this Hardeknut. I think we are.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harthacnut_I_of_Denmark

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  14. Hugo Falck says:

    Must be Hardegon (Cnut I)

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  15. Royce Shingleton, PhD. says:

    Am most interested in the potential “new ruler” revelation in regard to the find at Silverdale, since am descended from Eadwulf–a nobleman of unknown ancestry who ruled in Northumbria at the time the treasure was buried. Is there a process for making public the historical implications of the find, and what would be a possible timeframe for learning more?

    Royce Shingleton
    Gatlinburg, TN USA

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  16. Russell Poole says:

    I seem to recall that coins bearing a version of the name Cnut are extant from the C10th. They might possibly have been struck in the name of the same C10th Harda-Cnut. This C10th Cnut was perhaps associated with the Dublin-York dynasty. Unfortunately I can’t check any references at present but likely somebody can point to them.

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  17. Troels Brandt says:

    You can find the name Hardacnuth in the Saint Cuthbert legend as the father of king Guthfrith of York, but that was in the end of the 9th century. Around 900-910 coins with the name Cnut Rex are found in York – sometimes together with the name Siefredus. They were probably all members of the same royal family in York at that time – and Cnut may even be identical with your Airdcnut.

    Some Danish chronicles mentioned a Hardeknud as a brother of Gorm, who ruled Denmark until 956 AD, but these chronicles were written much later and they mixed up the early kings. The background of Gorm is unknown, but he is sometimes mentioned as English of birth.

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  18. bella says:

    The name Harthacnut actually refers to a type of knot that was used by sailors at the time, according to my cousing in Denmark, who was also very familiar with the name…

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  19. Sandie says:

    I read somewhere that King Gorm’s father was Harthacnut, born c. 890 – he is mentioned by the Chronicler Adam of Bremen. Legend tells that this Harthacnut was born in ‘Northmannia’ (Norway or Normandy?) and seized Denmark in the early 10th C. He is allegedly the son (or grandson?) of Sigurd Snake in the Eye, son of Ragnar Lodbrok.

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    • Troels Brandt says:

      The problem is that you can find many combinations of the royal names of that time, when you read the sagas, the chronicles and Adam. We can not be sure of their relations, but the coin probably makes it a little more certain that there was a connection between Northhumbria, the name Hardeknud and the Danish royal family.

      An explanation could be that Gorm, who is the ancestor of the present royal family, was the member of a distaint branch of the royal family – maybe the Lothbroch sons. In order to “legalize” their power they may therefore in the 10th century have tried to manipulate the royal lists to get a closer connection to the Danish rulers before the split in the 9th century – just as Cassiodorus/Jordanes earlier did with the Ostrogothic royal lists, and as Saxo later did with the Danish lists.

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  20. Jørgen W. Rasmussen says:

    It is really not that mysterious at all! According to Norse sagas – as also mentioned above by Sandie – the Harthacnut (Hardeknud) in question allegedly was grandson of Sigurd Snake-in-the-eye (Sigurd Orm-i-øje), grand grandson of Ragnar Lodbrok (Regner Lodbrog), and father of Gorm the Old (Gorm den Gamle). Born around year 840, he became king of the eastern part of Denmark in year 891, whereupon he became king of Northumbria in 898 which he ruled for five years, until he died year 903.

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