Skip to main content
Cursed Treasures

'If you turn up a lot of bling you'll go down in history': 'Cursed Treasures' interview

Image: Cursed Treasures

As part of Ancient Mysteries season, Cursed Treasures investigates the greatest treasures of the ages. Since the dawn of civilisation, mankind has created treasures that celebrate and revere their leaders. Yet, the fall of ancient civilisations left the whereabouts of many of their greatest riches unknown: plundered, hidden, or lost to time. 

Sky HISTORY caught up with series contributor historian Professor Ronald Hutton, who discusses some of the amazing treasures featured in the series, such as the Staffordshire Hoard and Sutton Hoo.

Sky HISTORY: Can you talk about some of the British treasures that appear in the series?

The two big Anglo-Saxon treasures are Sutton Hoo and the Staffordshire Hoard. Sutton Hoo is a ship burial of spectacular size and richness. It's a bit less mysterious as it's clearly a royal grave in the cemetery of the early Anglo-Saxon kings of East Anglia.

The Staffordshire Hoard is a lot more baffling. There are three things it could have been. It might have been the war booty of a pagan Anglo-Saxon king, which was buried deliberately as an offering to his war gods. The second explanation is that it is war booty taken by a raiding army who stashed it away in a field but never got back to digging it up. The third explanation is it was a Viking army stashing loot that they raided from an old Anglo-Saxon Treasury.

What motivated treasure hunters like the Earl of Carnarvon, whose stories are featured in the series?

It's curiosity and the fact that if you turn up a lot of bling, you will go down in history.

How far do you believe in the curse of Tutankhamun?

I don't believe myself; otherwise, an awful lot of my friends who are archaeologists would be doomed from the word go.

The curse only really works for one man, and that's the Earl of Carnarvon, who was bitten by a mosquito in Cairo and died of septicemia. It would have been more impressive if Carter and the rest of the team had been taken out in short order.

Are there any lost treasures that you would love to recover and why?

There were a couple of  amazing Viking horns made of beautifully wrought metal that were dug up in the 18th century in Denmark and became the pride and joy of the Danish Royal Collection. These were stolen by a common or garden thief who wanted the value of the metal. By the time he was discovered, he had melted them down. So, we only have drawings of them, and they are gorgeous works of art. The illustrations are probably good enough to make rough reproductions but not proper 3D recreations.

Are there any treasures out there still waiting to be found?

I would be interested to find out what happens to the bones of the man they thought was King Arthur, who was dug up at Glastonbury Abbey in 1191, and put into a beautiful black marble tomb in the Abbey. But like every marble tomb, it got wrecked when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.

I don't for a moment think that the bodies are Arthur's or Guinevere's because they were dug out of a cemetery on the wrong date, but it would be nice to have those bones on which so much excitement and reverence were focused in the Middle Ages.