Medieval gold jewelry, silver coin hoard on display

The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (the National Museum of Antiquities) just announced the discovery of a unique hoard of medieval gold jewelry and silver coins. The hoard consists of four gold earrings, two strips of gold leaf and 39 silver coins. The coins date to between 1200 and 1248, which indicates the hoard was buried around the middle of the 13th century. The jewelry, however, was already 200 years old when it was buried with the coins, a much prized heirloom collection.

The hoard was discovered in 2021 in Hoogwoud, North Holland, by Dutch historian and metal detectorist Lorenzo Ruijter. He reported the find to regional heritage authorities. He had to keep his discovery a secret for two years while experts at the National Museum of Antiquities cleaned, conserved and investigated the hoard before announcing the sensational find.

Gold jewelry from the High Middle Ages are extremely rare finds in the Netherlands, so the four 11th century earrings are the most significant pieces in the hoard. They are large, about two inches wide, and crescent shaped. Two of the four pendants have intricate filigree decoration. The other two are engraved with decorative scenes. One of them was damaged (probably by agricultural activity) and is incised with a floral motif. The other pendant is engraved with the image of a man’s head surrounded by radiating lines. This represents a portrait of Christ as Sol Invictus. Only three gold earrings similar to this have been found before in the Netherlands.

Only one side of the earrings is decorated and the suspension loops are so delicate compared to the weight of the jewelry that archaeologists believe they were not worn through pierced ear lobes, but rather worn on a head scarf, hood or head band. This type of adornment is seen in German illustrations from the period.

The two strips of gold leaf fit together, so they were likely part of the same decoration. Small textile fibers still attached to the leaf suggest the strips bordered a garment, likely a seam or a waistband.

The 39 silver coins are small pennies from Holland, Guelders and Cleves, the Diocese of Utrecht and from the German Empire. Traces of textiles found with the coins indicate they were originally buried in a bag or wrapped in cloth. The most recent of the coins were struck in 1247-8 by William II of Holland when he was elected King of Germany after Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II was excommunicated by Pope Innocent IV. William died in 1256 in Hoogwoud where the hoard was found. He was in the area engaged in one of several of his wars against the West Frisians when he and his horse fell through weak ice into a frozen lake. His West Frisian enemies killed him before the cold lake could finish what it had started, and buried him under the floorboards of a local house. That gives the hoard enormous archaeological significance in the history of Holland as a region and of the Netherlands.

The hoard is on display at the museum until mid-June of this year. It will go back on display in October as part of The Year 1000 exhibition. These are temporary loans, however. The hoard itself is still property of the finder.

2 thoughts on “Medieval gold jewelry, silver coin hoard on display

  1. Friends,

    The area around Hoogwoud was wracked by war during the mid-1200s. Count William II of Holland and Zeeland was campaigning against the West Frisians in this area. On 28 January 1256 William became separated from his army and tried to cross a frozen lake on horseback. His horse fell through the ice, leaving the Count stranded. He was found by some Frisians, who promptly offed him and buried his body beneath a house. The 1250 coin suggests it is highly possible that this treasure was hidden during this time, and never recovered by its owners.

    Mungo Napier, Laird of Mallard Lodge (SCA) 🦆

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.