Staffordshire Hoard

I was in London yesterday and with an hour to kill, popped into the British Museum to see the Staffordshire Hoard, the stash of Anglo-Saxon gold artefacts discovered by a metal-detectorist earlier this year.

How disappointing! Though the largest haul of Anglo-Saxon gold ever discovered, there are only about ten items on display. They haven't been cleaned properly yet and so much of the detail on the hilts and pommels is obscured by mud. The photos on the website are much better, so save yourself a trip.

However, an hour at the British Museum is never wasted. I've yet to be drawn into graphic novels, though an exhibition of Hoshino Yukinobu's manga character, Professor Munakata, had me tempted. The Rosetta Stone is always thrilling, as much for what it is as what it has come to represent. It hangs there in its case like one of Kubrick's monoliths, a totemic presence.

And then I was delighted to stumble upon some famous Anglo-Saxon runic inscriptions: the Franks Casket, carved from whale bone; the Seax sword retrieved from the Thames. I'm interested in Anglo-Saxon culture and religion for a number of reasons, but mostly because I find its animistic pagan worldview rather thrilling, in a hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck kind of way. The English runes or futhorc come from a time when the boundary between the prosaic act of writing and the magical exertion of will upon the world was thin. Words were magic. Peering at these objects, suspended behind glass as if for our protection as much as theirs, you can almost sense the magic force with which the makers thought them imbued. I experience it as a sense of loss.

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