National treasure

By Matt Elton, 20 January 2010 - 1:19pm

As an appeal is launched to keep the Staffordshire Hoard in local museums, Alan Crosby laments the lack of spending on historical discoveries

Tuesday 26 January 2010
Alan Crosby
, editor of The Local Historian
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Last week the celebrity historian David Starkey, accompanied by other figures from the world of TV history, launched a campaign to raise the £3.3 million needed to purchase the remarkable Staffordshire Hoard, which was discovered in a field near Lichfield in 2009. The money is required to buy the hoard for the public, and to ensure that the plans to exhibit it at the museums in Stoke on Trent and Birmingham come to fruition.

There is no doubting the importance of the discovery. This ranks among the most significant, and visually astonishing, archaeological discoveries of the past hundred years. It is not only of outstanding interest as an astonishing collection of artefacts, many of them of breathtaking visual and artistic quality, but it also has profound historical importance.

From the outset, scholars speculated that it would help to shed light on what some still call the Dark Ages, and would be instrumental in rewriting chapters in the history of this island and this nation. So why, I wonder, is it necessary for a campaign to be held to raise funds? Why are hard-pressed council tax payers having to contribute through local authority grants? Why should there have to be deadlines for the collecting of the money, and threats that if it is not found the hoard will be sold on the open market, with the possibility that it might be dispersed and scattered?

To me it seems lamentable that for something as irreplaceable as this, already iconic in its appeal and certain to be considered as one of the nation’s most enduringly influential treasures, it is apparently not possible for the government, via the Heritage Lottery Fund, simply to give the necessary sum. That figure of £3.3 million is a mere drop – no, a mere molecule - in the vast ocean of public expenditure.

What comparisons can we make? One naturally comes to mind: the 2012 Olympic Games, now predicted to cost £12 billion (yes, that’s £3 billion more than the absolute upper limit we told about two years ago, when it was a mere £9 billion). So, to pay for the Staffordshire hoard would be equivalent to finding one 364-millionth of the cost of the Olympics. It would appear that this is not, however, possible. Am I alone in thinking that this is a matter for national shame?

 

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Images (this page and front): Part of the Staffordshire Hoard © Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
 
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