Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Ring mistaken for ‘fairground tat’ is rare Anglo-Saxon gold

It is an exquisite piece of jewellery that may have been dropped by a marauding Dane and was mistaken for fairground tat when it was discovered a thousand years later.

Now a rare Anglo-Saxon gold and enamel ring found by a metal detectorist in West Sussex is expected to fetch up to £12,000 at auction.

Peter Pawel, 46, unearthed the ring on Father’s Day in 2021 after telling his nine-year-old daughter Maya that he would “bring home gold today”.

The gold and enamel ring found by Peter Pawel. Photo: Noonans

Pawel, who owns a construction company, was taking part in a morning search of a pasture field at Greatham, near Pulborough, with other members of his metal detecting club. His first finds were commonplace: a musket ball and shotgun cartridge.

His subsequent discovery, at around 9am, had a more promising glint. He explains: “The next signal was at a depth of around 10cm. I saw a yellow colour in the clump of clay. Looking closely, it looked like gold but I thought it was just a cheap funfair item.” 

The dig’s organiser, however, realised that it was something very special. When Pawel reported the find to the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, it was identified as being gold and dating from the 9th or 10th centuries. The round bezel features a cross with cloisonné enamelling in green and blue. The band, meanwhile, has filigree decoration depicting curling tendrils.

Such design elements are found in fine English jewels from the reign of King Alfred (871-899) to that of Æthelred the Unready a century later. For example, the famous Alfred Jewel in the Ashmolean Museum also has blue and green cloisonné enamelling and filigree gold decoration. Similar objects were imported from the Rhineland as gifts or through trade, too.

The Greatham ring may have been lost as result of unsettled times. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that, in 1009, an army of Danes led by one Earl Thorkell plundered and burnt “everywhere in Sussex” and other southern counties, as was their custom.

Peter Pawel, with his daughter, Maya. Photo: Noonans

On the eve of the Norman Conquest, in 1066, Greatham was held by Azur of Slindon, a landowner with large estates in the region.

Nigel Mills, coin and artefact specialist at Noonans, said: “The ring is a 10th-century gold finger ring decorated with filigree and inlaid on the bezel with green and blue enamel forming an expanding cross. The ring has been recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme and disclaimed as treasure. Lavish rings from the 10th century are rare and normally have a religious significance.”  

The ring qualified as treasure because it is made of precious metal and was over 300 years old at the time of discovery. Treasure finds must be reported to the coroner and museums are given the chance to buy them at market value. When no museum does so, the find is “disclaimed” and returned to the finder, as in this case.

The ring will be offered at Noonans Mayfair in a sale of Jewellery, Watches, silver, and objects of vertu on Tuesday, November 28, at an estimate of £8,000-£12,000.  

Pawel, who uses an Equinox 800 metal detector, had only been detecting for a year when he made the find and it remains his best to date. He will share the proceeds equally with the landowners and plans to spend some of the money on a family holiday.  

The picture at the top of the article shows Peter Pawel with the Anglo-Saxon ring he found near Greatham in West Sussex. Photo: Noonans

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