A small metal object recently acquired by Winchester City Council’s Museums Service might not be much to look at, but it provides us with a direct link back to the time when King Alfred the Great and the Vikings fought over the future of the Kingdom of Wessex and the city of Winchester.
The object was discovered several years ago by local metal detectorist Jeremy de Montfalcon in Headbourne Worthy parish, just north of Winchester. He responsibly brought his find to be recorded by the Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Winchester, Rob Webley, who identified it as a silver ingot of 9th-11th century AD date. This was later confirmed by experts at the British Museum when the item was declared treasure as required by the Treasure Act.
The ingot is 35mm in length and has a silver content of 89 per cent. The upper surface is smooth, but the underside is pitted from casting in an open mould, which would have been simply made in sand or earth. Similar examples occur in buried Viking hoards of silver. Such ingots could have been used as bullion in payments or trade transactions, as well as a source of metal for jewellery making. It has been suggested that a Viking unit of silver weighed about 26 grams, so this ingot weighing 13 grams would approximate to a Viking half unit.
Robin Iles, the Winchester Museums curator now responsible for care of the ingot, said, “The presence of the ingot near to Winchester tempts us to speculate – does it imply the presence of marauding Vikings in the area? We know from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year AD 860 that “A great host landed and stormed Winchester”. Or did the ingot just belong to an Anglo-Saxon silversmith who carelessly lost it during the more peaceful days when King Cnut ruled in Winchester? I guess we’ll never know for sure”.
Patricia Stallard, the city council’s portfolio holder for culture, heritage and sport added, “This unusual object is just one of the many cared for by the museum service which provide us with glimpses of the lives of people living in the Winchester district long ago. Residents and others can find out more about interesting items in the city council’s collections by visiting the museums online collection website www.winchestermuseumcollections.org.uk ”