The largest hoard of Viking silver was found accidentally while filming a news report about illegal treasure hunting

Neil Patrick
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The Spillings Hoard  is the world’s largest Viking silver treasure, found on Friday 16 July 1999 in a field at the Spilling farm northwest of Slite, on northern Gotland, Sweden.

The silver hoard consisted of two parts with a total weight of 67 kg (148 lb) before conservation and was made up of, among other things, 14,295 coins most of which were Islamic and from other countries. A third deposition containing over 20 kg (44 lb) of bronze scrap-metal was also found. The three caches had been hidden under the floorboards of a Viking outhouse sometime during the 9th century.

On Friday 16 July 1999, a team of reporters from the Swedish television TV4 were in the socken of Othem on Gotland to film a cultural feature from Almedalen Week.

They chose to do a segment on the problem with looting of archaeological sites with archaeologist Jonas Ström acting as their guide along with Kenneth Jonsson, a professor of numismatics, who happened to be on the island at that time. Spillings farm was selected for the filming since about 150 silver coins and bronze objects had been found there earlier by the landowner Björn Engström.

Closeup of silver coins from hoard No 2.Source

Closeup of silver coins from hoard No 2. Source

With filming complete, Ström and Jonsson decided to continue their survey of the field. Twenty minutes after the TV-crew had left, they heard a strong signal from their metal detector, which led them to the smaller of the two silver caches.

A couple of hours later and only 3 metres (9.8 ft) from the first find, they received another signal from the detector:

“The display blinked ‘overload’ and then it turned itself off.”

— Jonas Ström

 

Closeup of silver hoard No 2 from the Spillings Hoard at Gotland Museum. Source

Closeup of silver hoard No 2 from the Spillings Hoard at Gotland Museum. Source

The site was hurriedly cordoned off, back-up crew from the museum was sent for, permission for an archaeological excavation was immediately sought at the County Administrative Board and guards were posted.

However, instead of keeping the find a secret, the Gotland Museum decided to go public with the find immediately. During the first weekend, over 2,000 people visited the excavation site.

Some days later, the metal detector indicated a third metal cache approximately 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) from the first find. The archaeologists concentrated on uncovering the two first finds before starting with the third. Due to the size of the hoards and the fragility of the objects, the bottom layers of the depositions were encapsulated in plaster.

Only when they tried to lift the finds out of the soil did the archaeologists realize how heavy the hoards were. The smaller weighed 27 kg (60 lb) and the larger one 40 kg (88 lb). An attempt to X-ray the finds at the local hospital failed because they contained so much silver that the X-ray plates remained blank.

 

Iron fittings from the chest in the bronze cache. Source

Iron fittings from the chest in the bronze cache. Source

The larger find was intact but the smaller had been damaged by a plough. A previous landowner who visited the excavation commented that he had found metal wires around the find-spot several years earlier, but thinking that they were only steel wire, he had thrown them away. It was therefore concluded that the treasure had originally been even larger.

With the two first caches taken care of, the third deposition was excavated almost a year after the first discovery. It contained over 20 kg (44 lb) of bronze scrap-metal, most of which had been partially melted into a ‘cake’. This find was deemed even more valuable since very few finds contain such large amounts of bronze intended for smelting.

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