The largest Viking hoard ever found outside Russia, was discovered in 1840 by workmen repairing the embankment along the River Ribble at Cuerdale near Preston in Lancashire.
Around 8,600 objects were buried in the lead-lined chest, made up mainly of coins but also including ingots, amulets, chains, rings, as well as broken-up brooches and armlets.
Most of the hoard is made up of bullion, weighing over 36kg (the total hoard weighs approximately 40kg). Most of the pieces were items of silver jewellery that had been broken up, either for use as hacksilver or for payment in bullion. Much of it was of Norse Irish origin — i.e. bossed penannular brooches and thistle brooches — alongside Scandinavian arm-rings and neck-rings. A Carolingian buckle and some brooch fragments showed evidence of contact with France and there was also a Pictish silver sheet and fragment of a silver comb.
Even by today’s standards, this 10th century cache represents an astounding wealth, leading to speculation that this was a massive war chest put together by the recently expelled Vikings from Dublin intent on making a forceful return.
That much of the hacksilver, or bullion, is of Irish Norse gives weight to this argument, as does the presence of newly minted coins made by York Vikings. Added to this, the Ribble Valley was a main thoroughfare for trade between Viking York and the Irish Sea.
Another theory is that the hoard represents the wealth of a local chief, buried for safekeeping, a Viking-style safety deposit box, to be dipped into as and when needed.
The frequency and force of Viking raids in the region during the end of the 9th and beginning of the 10th centuries, presents a plausible premise that this hoard was buried for safekeeping during troubled times and that the owner intended to retrieve it when times were safe, but failed. Amongst the silver and coins were small bone pins, indicating some of the bullion or some of the coins had been parcelled up in smaller packages held together by these pins. This could signify the hoard represents a stockpiling of wealth, acquired at different times and different places, and hidden either at one time or gradually accumulated over time.
The inclusion of freshly minted Christian coins from the Danelaw along with ingots marked with the Christian cross argues against this being a ritual burial or offering as such caches are associated with pagan rites rather than Christian.
There are more than 7,000 coins in the Cuerdale Hoard, both Anglo-Saxon and, the majority, from the Danelaw. But, surprisingly, the hoard also contained Frankish coins, some from Scandinavia and about 50 Kufi dirhams from the Arab world as well as a few imitation Kufic coin from eastern Europe and a solitary Byzantine coin. The largest single group of coinage in the hoard was from Viking Northumbria, all of which were relatively new, suggesting the hoard was buried only a few years after these coins were introduced into circulation, some time between AD 905 and 910.