• Full title:   Binham hoard
  • Created:   6th century or earlier
  • Formats:  Jewellery
  • Held by  Norwich Castle Museum
  • Shelfmark:   Shelfmark: 2005.756 (bracteate 1, IK 604,1); 2011.755 (bracteate 2, IK 630,1); 2013.67.3 (bracteate 3, IK 604,2); 2013.67.4 (bracteate 4, IK 630,2); 2015.124.1 (bracteate 5, IK 630,3); 2017.61.1 (bracteate 6, IK 604,3); 2017.61.2 (fragment of bracteate, probably from 4); 2013.67.1, 2013.67.2 (gilt bronze bracelet fragments); 2015.124.2 (gold bracelet/arm-ring); 2017.61.3 (silver equal-arm brooch)
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Description

The Binham hoard was discovered by metal-detectorists between 2003 and 2015. It is the largest collection of gold from 6th-century Britain, weighing 102 g. It consists of two bracelets (one of gold, one heavily gilt bronze), a silver brooch and six gold bracteates. Bracteates are neck pendants which derive from the practice of wearing pierced Roman coins as jewellery. They developed in Scandinavia and northern Germany in the 5th century, copying Roman coin designs and inventing new motifs incorporating mythological imagery. Bracteates may have been viewed as carrying protective properties and in Scandinavia many were included in hoards (groups of objects that were deliberately buried) for ritual reasons. Circumstantial evidence points to Binham as an important early centre, quite probably with a religious focus.

Three bracteates from the Binham hoard use the same central design of an armed male figure, facing right and holding a sword in his right hand, fighting a beak-headed creature; a second similar beast is behind his right leg. There is a short runic inscription, possibly reading waat or wææt, meaning ‘liquid’ or ‘drink’ in Old English. Only about twenty objects with runic inscriptions made before c. 650 are known from England.

The other three bracteates, one neatly folded, depict a human head in profile, facing left. In front of the face is a serpent that splits into two. Roman lettering encircles the head. The largest of these bracteates is the biggest and heaviest yet found in Britain.

This discovery shows that the practice of hoarding bracteates occurred in eastern England as it did in north Germany and southern Scandinavia. These bracteates often share identical or similar designs, which seems to relate to their use by an emerging elite who were in frequent communication around the North Sea and who shared similar ideological beliefs.

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