Archeology Culture X-Files

The Largest Viking Silver Treasure – Accidental Discovery

July 16, 1999 witnessed the accidental discovery of the largest Viking Silver treasure – The Spillings Hoard. The location of the discovery is a field on the Spilling farm, Northern Gotland, Sweden.

What’s the story?

The Swedish television TV4 teams of reporters were making a cultural feature of Almedalen Week, in the Socken of Othem on Gotland. They aimed to pursue shooting of a segment on looting of archaeological sites. The archaeologists Jonas Ström, a Professor of numismatics- Kenneth Jonsson were also a part of the team.  The acumen behind choosing this particular farm was that earlier the landowner, Björn Engström had found almost 150 silver coins and bronze objects in here.

Post filming, Ström and Johnson decided to survey more. The TV crew left the place. And, almost 20 minutes post, they heard a strong signal from the metal detector.

The Largest Viking Silver Treasure – Accidental DiscoveryA part of cache No 2 of the Spillings Hoard in the Gotland Museum

This resulted in two small silver caches.

After a couple of hours, they received another signal from the detector.

Somehow the detector showed ‘overload’ and turned itself off and decided to send for the back-up crew from the museum. The crew also sought permission for an archaeological excavation at the County Administrative Boards.

The Largest Viking Silver Treasure – Accidental DiscoverySilver tangle from hoard No 1. This one weighs about 2000 gram, about 10 silver marks in the old Gotlandic system where silver was used as currency.

Just some days had passed and the metal detector pointed towards a third metal cache. The first two caches were taken care of primarily and the third one was excavated almost a year after the discovery. The third cache inculcated almost more than 20 kg of bronze scrap-metal.

The Largest Viking Silver Treasure – Accidental DiscoveryThe "cake" from the bronze cache

 What more information was found?

More excavations were executed in the summer of 2000 and 2003-2006, among them lock mechanism, iron rivets, mounts and remnants of wood.  All of these leading to the conclusion that the storehouse of the caches has been chests.

The Largest Viking Silver Treasure – Accidental DiscoveryIron fittings from the chest in the bronze cache.

More survey and excavation indicated it to be the foundation stone of a building. However, the process of carbon dating revealed that the building was in use in between 540 and 1040. The structure itself indicated towards a regular Viking Age structure. Other surveys and excavations of the field have showed that the encompassing find-site had been inhabited over 1,000 years.

The Largest Viking Silver Treasure – Accidental DiscoveryLocation of depositories in the stone foundation at Spillings
The Largest Viking Silver Treasure – Accidental DiscoverySilver melted into bars from hoard No 2.

What have been the findings?

The caches contained silver objects ranging from coins, thread, bars, jewelry. It ensured to be the largest find of silver jewelry in accordance with the data till 2015.

silver_bracelets_spillings_hoard_2Silver bracelets, bangles, from hoard No 2 of the Spillings Hoard at Gotland Museum

The total number of coins found is almost 14,925. The most noted one was designated as the Moses Coin and belonged to the Khazar kingdom.

The Largest Viking Silver Treasure – Accidental DiscoveryCloseup of silver coins from hoard No 2.
khazar_coin_spillings_hoard-1Khazar coin, c. 800

The bronze cache included bronze objects which were broken, partially melted or even fragmented. It was unusual, because there have been found very few finds, which had such large amount of bronze intended for the process of smelting.

There are two theories with relation to the findings:

  • It was the stock of a foundry man residing in Gotland.
  • It could be a prize from a Viking raid, which was hidden beneath the floor of the outhouse.
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