1,000 year old Viking treasure found in Aghalee

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Pieces of Viking silver more than 1,000 years old have turned up in a wheat field near Aghalee.

An inquest last week ruled that the find is to be regarded as ‘treasure’ under law and the items will now be examined to determine their value.

The hearing was told that Polish baker Marcin Sadowski came across the items while scanning the field with his metal detector.

Mr Sadowski, 32, from the nearby area, made the finds last year on land belonging to farmer Thomas Hayes.

The objects were about 30 feet apart and one piece seemed to have been cut from a kind of bangle, while the other had been chopped from a bigger bar. Finds like this are called “hack silver”.

They are between 91 to 93 per cent silver, with the remainder made up of gold, copper and lead, and they date back as far as 850 to 1000AD.

Quite how or why they ended up buried there was a source of speculation. “While we can never be certain, we imagine it was perhaps a form of safekeeping,” said the curator of Armagh County Museum, Dr Greer Ramsey. He added that the owner may have returned every now and again to retrieve pieces from a larger stash, or it could just have been dumped there all at once ‘in times of stress’.

“I suppose it was a bit of an alternative to keeping money under the bed,” he added. An alternative theory is that, in Viking mythology, buried treasure could still benefit the dead when they are in heaven.

History enthusiast Mr Sadowski said the same field had also yielded a first century Roman copper brooch. He also found a Bronze Age axe head (now in Lisburn museum), musket balls and even a bomb believed to be from the war era, which the Army then had to blow up.

When it comes to his latest finds, he said: “It’s not about monetary value – it’s about its historical value. Every little small item can give you a clue.”

‘Treasure’ refers to valuable discoveries which are over 300 years old. Now the finds have been ruled as treasure, they will be sent to England to be assessed. It will then be decided whether a museum wants to keep the items. If so, both landowner and finder will split the value equally; if not, they may keep it themselves. Asked about its worth, landowner Thomas Hayes,53, played it down. “I’ll not be booking a cruise on the strength of it,” he said.