Deira Dibblers and the day they found a hoard of Viking treasure

Darlington and Stockton Times: Natalie McCaul, Curator of Archaeology at the Yorkshire Museum with a Viking Neck Ring Natalie McCaul, Curator of Archaeology at the Yorkshire Museum with a Viking Neck Ring

EXPERTS believe the discovery of a forgotten hoard of Viking jewellery on farmland in North Yorkshire could shed new light on the region 1,000 years ago. Hannah Chapman spoke to the men who found it.

FOR metal detectorists Stuart Campbell and Steve Caswell, the thrill of their hobby comes from learning about the minutiae of life in Britain hundreds of years ago.

In hour-upon-hour spent walking the hills and vales of North Yorkshire, they have found scores of coins, buckles, brooches and thimbles, some decades old, many dating back centuries.

Until they discovered what is now known as the Bedale Hoard, they had never sold any of their finds, often giving them back to the landowners after reporting them through the national Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Stuart says: "When you go out with your metal detector, it's like fishing, you don't know what's going to come up next.

"You're walking across a field and your machine goes off. You dig a hole and something comes up. You don't know whether it is going to be a ring pull or the Middleham Jewel.

"I find it quite thrilling digging up things people have had in their hands maybe 800 years ago. I love thimbles and buttons for that reason.

"It's the paraphernalia of the people who lived and worked in that place 700 or 800 years ago."

Their discovery of the hoard in a field in the Bedale area in May 2012 was the result of long hours of research into the landscape, combined with a keen understanding of the principles of phenomenology - the use of sensory experiences to interpret sites of potential archaeological interest.

Stuart says: "You can only see certain features when the sun is going down because if you have a side light on things it shows them up.

"Some roads appear then disappear 15 minutes later.

"The sun was going down and I saw a straight line up the field and I thought "it's a Roman road".

"If you're a Viking moving about the place the Roman road would be a motorway. It would be 700 years old then but it would be the only usable road of the area."

Seeing what he believed to be the old Roman road gave him the clue he needed about where to search, and then the finds kept on coming.

A closer inspection of what Stuart initially thought was a stretch of discarded cable revealed it to be a braided, four stranded necklace.

Realising he had a major find on his hands, he went to get Steve.

"He was waiting for me in a state of shock when I got home," recalls Steve.

After contacting their local Finds Liaison Officer, Rebecca Griffiths, archaeologists were brought in to examine the site, and they discovered the full hoard.

It consists of a gold sword pommel, a unique silver neck ring and neck collar, a silver armlet, 29 silver ingots, two other silver neck rings, gold rivets and half a silver brooch.

The hoard is believed to date from the late ninth or early tenth century.

What remains unclear, and likely always will, is why the Viking who buried the treasure never returned to reclaim the jewellery.

One theory is that the wealthy owner of the items stashed them before marching off to war.

Steve says: "We can only assume that this chieftain buried it, went to battle, and never came back. Or he might have gone trading, and someone has killed him."

Stuart adds: "For that time it was an immense amount of wealth."

"With that money you could have hired an army," says Steve.

The pair are two of a three-strong metal detecting club calling themselves the Deira Dibblers (Deira being the ancient kingdom between the Tees and Humber, and dibble, meaning to make a small hole in the ground).

Metal detectorists are accused by some of stripping valuable artefacts from the ground, thereby removing their archaeological context.

But Steve says: "If you never go metal detecting, you never find stuff. Archaeologists aren't going to dig up every field in the country to find it. If you want items to research, then you need metal detecting to find them."

He adds: "When the hoard was discovered we left it for the archaeologists to dig it. As far as we know, this is the only Viking hoard that has ever been recovered from the ground by archaeologists - we left it in the ground in the context in which we found it."

They have not been back to the site since the full hoard was discovered, although they plan to return in the future, saying they are confident that it has more secrets to divulge.

Steve says: "Since then we have stayed clear but we do intend going back.

"We would like to think that there is a sister hoard to this one. And it will either be within 20 yards - or within 20 miles."

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