Heart-shaped romance found in ancient gold
These two lovebirds know the true spirit of Valentine's romance, having been locked in a heart-shaped embrace for more than a thousand years.
Crafted by Anglo-Saxon goldsmiths in the seventh century, the delicate gold filigree creatures have this week been revealed for the first time, as part of the Staffordshire Hoard.
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Conservators discovered the love-struck creatures after painstakingly removing a thick layer of dried mud from the ancient artefact that had been buried in a farmer's field since the Dark Ages.
Now for the first time the exquisite detail of the tiny treasure – no more than three centimetres in length – is available for modern lovebirds to see, as part of an exhibition of the unparalleled Staffordshire Hoard at The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, in Stoke-on-Trent.
Councillor Mark Meredith, Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet member for culture, said: "This is the latest stunning artefact to be unveiled in the 3,300-piece Staffordshire Hoard – the largest and most valuable collection of Anglo-Saxon treasure ever discovered.
"Conservators from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, working in our museum labs have been using thorns and sponges to delicately remove earth that had been engrained in this exquisite item, and many more like it, for more than 1,300 years.
"And the detail of the design and craftsmanship in the artefacts they have unveiled is breath-taking.
"We do not yet know what this artefact is, why it was created or what it is a part of. That is part of the mystery and enduring appeal of the Staffordshire Hoard, and finding answers to these questions is a journey of discovery that will shed light on the darkest period of our country's history.
"It is almost certain that the heart shape created by the touching of the creatures' beaks is not intentional; the Anglo-Saxons did not use such a symbol to represent love or affection. But the fact that these two ancient birds have been looking into each other's eyes across many centuries will surely bring out the romantic in any of us at this time of year."
Devina Visram, 25, and Andrew Dawson, 28, both work at the museum and were among the first people to see the newly cleaned treasure.
Devina said: "It is a wonderful co-incidence that this item has been discovered just in time for Valentine's Day. I have already fallen in love with it, and I'm sure it will become a firm favourite with visitors to the museum in the coming weeks."
The largest ever exhibition of the Staffordshire Hoard is currently being held at The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent until 1 September. The newly cleaned artefacts will be exhibited as part of a rolling display. Admission to the museum is free, but donations are encouraged.
Conservation work is an active part of the Stoke-on-Trent City Council-led Hoard Research Project, funded by English Heritage. The Staffordshire Hoard is jointly owned by Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Birmingham City Council. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is leading conservation work on the treasure. Donations can be made to support the research and conservation of the Staffordshire Hoard via http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk/donate.