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Home > Auctions > 25th February 2020 > Anglo-Saxon 'The Thwaite' Gold and Garnet Sword Pyramid

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LOT 0552

GBP (£) 25,000 - 30,000
EUR (€) 29,200 - 35,030
USD ($) 32,210 - 38,650

£18,000 (EUR 21,021; USD 23,192) (+bp*)

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Anglo-Saxon 'The Thwaite' Gold and Garnet Sword Pyramid

6th-7th century AD

A hollow-formed gold sword pyramid of unusual form comprising: an octagonal base with square central void, rising to a pyramidal body with flat top; the corners each set with a triangular garnet cloison and between them at the base a similar rectangular insert; above on each face a triangular garnet cloison and on each sloping edge a garnet cloison cut as a prism with rounded face; inset square garnet cloison to the upper face; behind most garnets a gold foil panel with waffle-pattern impressed texture. 12 grams, 16mm tall, 18mm at the base (3/4"). Fine condition; cleaned. All original garnets are present, three are cracked and several are partly displaced with one turned through 90° so that the lower edge now appears in the cell, displaying both the thinness (1.2mm) of the gemstone and the presence of its foil backing. Extremely rare.

Found while searching with a metal detector by Melanie Hollwoger on 9 September 2018 at Thwaite, Norfolk, UK; declared as Treasure under the Treasure Act 1996; valued and destined to be acquired by Norwich Castle Museum; subsequently returned to the finder after the museum was no longer in a position to acquire it; accompanied by copies of various documents pertaining to the find from the Senior Coroner for Norfolk, the Assistant Treasure Registrar at the British Museum, and a copy of the Report to HM Coroner on the find, plus a copy of the provisional valuation undertaken for the Treasure Valuation Committee which suggested a value of between £25,000 - £27,500.
Recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) with report number NMS-FCD6CD; accompanied by a copy of the report.
Published in The Searcher Magazine, no.400, December 2018, p.26 & 27; accompanied by copies of the relevant Searcher Magazine article. A closely similar pair of items form part of the Staffordshire Hoard, catalogue nos. 576, 577, published in Fern, C. Dickinson, T. & Webster, L. The Staffordshire Hoard: an Anglo-Saxon Treasure, London, 2019.
The exact purpose of these fittings is not known but their position in the few graves which contained them (notably Mound 1 at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk) indicate that they were used in the suspension of the sword from a baldric or waist-belt (see Menghin, W. Das Schwert im Frühen Mittelalter, Stuttgart, 1983; Mortimer, P. Woden's Warriors, Ely, 2011; Brunning, S. The Sword in Early Medieval Northern Europe. Experience, Identity, Representation,Woodbridge, 2019). They are a short-lived fashion which nevertheless displayed considerable wealth and status, and where such were available the finest materials were allocated to their manufacture. Lower social ranks adopted similar items, made from silver, silver-gilt or gilt -bronze and often with less impressive detailing.

The present example is similar to two found in the Staffordshire Hoard. The use of prismatic garnets on the corners of the angled faces is a feature found only on the highest quality swords (Sutton Hoo Mound 1). However, the pyramid does not evidence the finely detailed filigree and granule decoration of the Sutton Hoo and higher-quality Staffordshire Hoard examples. Rather, the garnets are presented here in a straightforward plain setting which emphasises the sheen of the gold surfaces and the glitter of the foil-backed garnets.