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• understood. And the cross was a militarily useful symbol that had gured dramatically in actual battles. Bede tells the story of the Northumbrian king Oswald, who before the Battle of Heaven- eld against the Welsh in 634 "set up the sign of the holy cross and, on bended knees, prayed God to send heavenly aid to His worshippers in their dire need." He and his men then "gained the victory that their faith merited." Remarkably, one of the hoard's two crosses was determinedly bent and folded, like so many of the other pieces in the hoard. Was this to "kill" its military potency, as with the swords? is possibility is made more compelling by the only other apparently nonmartial object: e slender strip of gold, inscribed on two sides with the same biblical quotation is, strikingly, also folded. "[S]urge d[omi]ne disepentur inimici tui et [f]ugent qui oderunt te a facie tua---Rise up, Lord, may your enemies be dispersed and those who hate you ee from your face." e quotation is from the Latin Vulgate text of Numbers 10:35 and the Psalm now numbered 68:1---verses that may have been put to unexpected use. In the Life of Saint Guthlac, written around 740, Guthlac is beset by demons, whereupon he "sang the rst verse of the sixty-seventh psalm as if propheti- cally, 'Let God arise,' etc.: When they had heard this, at the same moment, quicker than words, all the hosts of demons vanished like smoke from his presence." Even the hoard's nonmar- tial objects, it seems, might have had militarily useful, magical functions. border raid- ers---Mercia takes its name from the Old English mierce, meaning "frontier people"---which may account for the apparent range of regional styles in the hoard. " e hoard was found on a frontier zone, which is always interesting," Kevin Leahy says. "It was on the border between Mercia and Wales." In other words, in contested territory. Around 650, in Sta ordshire's Trent Valley near Lich eld, an obscure battle was fought involving the Mercians and their Welsh neighbors. Much plunder was carried away---possibly down the old Roman road Watling Street, which leads past the site where the Sta ordshire Hoard was found. Event and place are commemorated in the Welsh poem "Marwnad Cynddylan--- e Death Song of Cynddylan": Grandeur in battle! Extensive spoils Morial bore o from in front of Lich eld. Fi een hundred cattle from the front of battle; four twenties of stallions and equal harness. e chief bishop wretched in his four-cornered house, the book-keeping monks did not protect. A retinue of 80 horses and spoils from a "wretched" bishop (a detail that conjures the gold inscription and crosses): e poem o ers a tempting explanation for the hoard, an expla- nation, alas, built from slender, circumstantial evidence that has happened to survive from an era from which most evidence was lost. We can conjure other teasing theories. Our un- known travelers may have chosen the burial spot because it was obscure---or because it was conspicuous. e burial might have had a marker for rediscovery, or it might have been intended as an o ering hidden forever to all but their gods. e hoard may have been ransom, or booty, or a votive thanks. It may have been a collection of Anglo-Saxon heirlooms buried at a later time. Today the vanished Mercian landscape is evoked by surviving Anglo-Saxon place-names, such as those ending with "leah" or "ley," mean- ing "open woodland," like Wyrley, or Lich eld itself, whose name roughly means the "common pasture in or beside the gray wood." e hoard burial site is now a grassy eld where Fred John- son grazes horses. Odds are we will never know the story behind the Sta ordshire Hoard, but in a world without magic spells or dragons, would we understand it if we did? j SECRETS OF THE LOST GOLD Unravel more mysteries of lost gold of the Dark Ages during Expedition Week on National Geographic Channel. Check natgeotv.com for local listings.