Experts are beginning an 18-month research project to unlock the secrets of the largest and most valuable Anglo-Saxon hoard ever discovered, after a £276,000 grant from English Heritage.
The Mercian Trail partnership, comprising Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Birmingham Museums, Lichfield District Council, Staffordshire County Council and Tamworth Borough Council, has also contributed £68,000 to the research programme.
A comprehensive analysis
The project, to be carried out by Anglo Saxon finds cataloguer Chris Fern and specialist artefact photographer Guy Evans, aims to produce a detailed catalogue entry for each of the 3,500 items in the hoard. Each entry will include high resolution images and radiography images, as well as analytical data on the metal and other material used. All this information will be captured in a new database.
Councillor Mark Meredith, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, said: "It is the first time such a comprehensive analysis of all the thousands of hoard artefacts will have been recorded. As the research progresses it will lead to new discoveries into how the beautifully intricate artefacts were put together, and help unlock secrets as to why they came to be buried in a Staffordshire field.
"We're delighted to have such high calibre experts leading this very exciting and significant work, which puts our city at the centre of helping to understand the darkest age of our country's history."
Barney Sloane who oversees strategic research at English Heritage, said: "The beauty and sheer size of the hoard have astonished the world, but the real excitement starts now with the unravelling of its significance.
"This research will ensure that the public displays are informed by the highest possible level of scholarship and will answer some important questions about the hoard itself, Anglo Saxon England and the Kingdom of Mercia, the latter often described as 'shrouded in the mists of time'."
New database, book and exhibition
The first stage of research is expected to be complete by October 2013. A second stage of work will involve the publication of a book and extensive digital resource which will be freely available via the Archaeology Data Service. It will focus on studies that will place the hoard in context, both at the time it was buried and now.
Some of the stunning new photography from the research will be displayed at a summer exhibition of the treasure, ‘Staffordshire Hoard: Dark Age Discovery’, which runs from 21 July to 1 September 2013 at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent .
For more information call 01782 232502, or visit the Stoke Museums website.