Did Vikings ‘nick’ the Newark torc…and the West Lindsey and Towton torcs too?

Originally published elsewhere: 10th December 2018.

In a previous blog we wrote about the  possibility that the Iron Age Newark torc had been redeposited during the Viking period, as evidenced by the 5mm by 2mm gash which can be seen on the interior of one of the Newark torc’s terminals. This gash, as previously mentioned is purposeful and deliberate, and shows none of the evidence likely to be present had the gash been post-depositional, or the result of a percussive blow. Well, the really good news is: we think we’ve found more torcs with gashes and, intriguingly, these seem to have been deposited at various spots along the line of the route of the Great Viking Army’s movement south in 872, along the Ouse and Trent Rivers.

As previously discussed, the Newark torc was found by a detectorist in 2005 in a location close to the River Trent and in an odd spot for an Iron Age torc (which are often found on hill slopes, away from rivers or settlement activity). It was also unusual in that it was found as a solitary object whereas torcs are often discovered buried in hoards (for example, at Leekfrith, Blair Drummond and Snettisham, where four or more torcs were found deposited together). As has been shown in the previous blog the gash on the Newark torc appears to have been made deliberately and the incision made closely matches other examples of Viking nicked metalwork.

Recently, whilst looking at evidence for other torcs, Roland and myself noticed that there was another Iron Age torc, the Caistor/West Lindsey torc which shows evidence of Viking misuse! In his PAS report, Martin Foreman notes that there are ‘nicks noted on the band [which] are a familiar feature of hacksilver ingots and objects’. In addition, the torc has been broken and the remaining piece weighs an amount that corresponds with 8.06, Viking, Dublin weights. Furthermore, Foreman notes that a domed lead weight (or potentially a gaming piece) was found close to the torc findspot, on the same day. Such weights are often Viking in origin. Although, due to the sensitive nature of ‘treasure’ finds, the precise find spot has not been released, the location in West Lindsey would lie close to the River Trent, and interestingly, only some 30 miles to the north of Newark.

Suddenly we had two Iron Age, Viking nicked, torcs, some thirty miles apart, and both close to the Trent. So we carried on looking…..

Having plotted all known torc finds on a map, the only other torc finds in the vicinity were Ulceby and Towton. Ulceby was an apparently undisturbed and secure Iron Age hoard find, with gold torcs and bronze horse bits etc, buried together and with no nicking recorded (although it should be noted that these items have not been checked by the authors). One of the Towton torcs, however, proved to be more interesting. In images from The Yorkshire Museum website, a nick appears to be visible on the back of the right hand terminal of one of the torcs (incidentally, in the same place that the Newark torc is nicked) .

(Image courtesy of York Museums Trust :: http://yorkmuseumstrust.org.uk/ :: CC BY-SA 4.0)

This was confirmed by an image previously take by Roland, which shows the nick much clearer and shows that it has very close similarities to that seen on the Newark torc. Towton is on the left, and Newark on the right.

The Towton torcs, although again having an undisclosed location due their ‘treasure’ status, appear to have been found in Selby, which lies close to the River Ouse. Again the find site is unusual, the torcs were found -one in 2010 and one in 2011- in a stream bed, and have always been assumed to have washed there from their original deposition site.

The evidence above amounts to three torcs, all with apparent Viking nicking, found in unusual locations not typical of Iron Age torc hoard deposition and most interestingly, all appear to have been found in areas close to the route of the Great Viking Army as it moved south from York, via Torksey and Newark to Repton in 872. So, do these torcs map the route of the army, via the Ouse and then the Trent? and how on earth did they get into the hands of the Vikings if they do?

Our suggestion is that these four torcs may well have started life as a single hoard which was found somewhere to the north, and then was broken up and gifted/deposited at various points on the route south. This would fit the evidence for a number of reasons: firstly, Iron Age torc hoards are not common and we believe there are no other Iron Age hoards as yet recorded which show evidence of having been nicked (there are however two other torc pieces, one from nearly Roxby cum Risby and the second from Telford that Foreman suggests conform to Viking weights). In addition, all the nicked torcs come from a defined geographical area some 60 miles long with York at the northern end and Newark at its southern extent.

Perhaps more convincing  is the evidence that both the Newark and Netherurd torcs appear to have been made/finished by the same maker (see here for our recent Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society paper) . The Netherurd torc was deposited in a hoard just south of Edinburgh and so it is not impossible that the Newark torc originally came from a hoard location to the north of its current find spot.

If it is assumed that all four torcs came from the same hoard which was located by the Vikings and broken up, this would make a certain amount of sense: two or three neck torcs and one or two bracelets would not be unusual, and would have been a similar composition to that seen in several torc hoards, including that at Leekfrith and the later Winchester hoard. Weights may also hold a clue as the complete hoard (if it is assumed that the West Lindsey torc was once complete, and proxied by the extremely similar Leekfrith torc weighing 230.6g) would give a total hoard weight for both Towton torcs, the West Lindsey torc and the Newark torc of c.1060g. This weight has previously been noted by Roland and myself as of relevance in later Iron Age torcs and hoards and can be seen time and again in the weight of the complete Netherurd hoard which was c.1092g , the weight of the Snettisham Great torc which is 1084g and similar weights also appear to be occurring in the Essendon hoard also. These weights will be explored in more detail in a forthcoming Historical Metallurgy Society paper.

Also, the fact that the West Lindsey torc may be of an earlier date (c.400BC) than the other three torcs (c.200-100BC) does not preclude their having been found together as it is known from sites such as Snettisham that torcs could be curated/collected/used for a number of years prior to deposition. In addition, dates of IA torcs are currently insecure and mainly based on art historical criteria and related coin finds, and so it may be that the manufacturing dates of all four torcs are not so widely different after all.

Of further interest is that evidence that only one of the nicked torcs was broken up and apparently cut down as bullion: this could be explained by the West Lindsey torc being the least showy of the neck torcs with the two armring Towton torcs and the Newark torc potentially having a greater value as complete items, perhaps as wearable armrings and as a necklace of exquisite goldwork. However, this can never be proved with certainty…. although it may cause trouble for the authenticity officers in a number of re-enactment groups should it be proved that the Vikings were wearing IA torcs!!

To sum up, we think we have four torcs, possibly from the same hoard, that came into Viking hands, perhaps at York, and which may have come from an original deposition site to the north of York. The evidence currently is by no means secure, and we will be carrying out further research to try and prove or disprove our theory. However, we feel that the evidence so far makes a tentative case that, in the late 9th century, the Viking Army found themselves an Iron Age hoard…..and nicked it!


Please let us know what you think! We’re on twitter @Tess_Machling or can be emailed at tess.machling@gmail.com

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