Has a man with a metal detector really stumbled upon the legendary Norse treasure worth more than £800,000? Experts believe long-lost trove of gold and silver may be the real deal
A metal detector-wielding amateur archaeologist may have discovered the legendary hoard that inspired one of Richard Wagner’s most epic works of opera.
The trove unearthed in Rhineland Palatinate, western Germany, includes silver bowls, brooches, other jewellery from ceremonial robes and small statues that adorned a grand chair, said experts.
Amid speculation that it may be the legendary Nibelung hoard, they have valued the haul of gold and silver, which dates back to Roman times, at nearly £826,000.
‘In terms of timing and geography, the find fits in with the epoch of the Nibelung legend,’ Axel von Berg, the state’s chief archaeologist was quoted by German media as saying.
‘But we cannot say whether it actually belongs to the Nibelung treasure,’ he said, adding that whoever owned it had ‘lived well’ and could have been a prince.
The haul, which was found near Ruelzheim in the southern part of the state, is now at the state cultural department in Mainz, but officials suspect they may not have all of it.
Prosecutors have begun an inquiry into the man who found the treasure because they suspect he may have sold some of it, possibly to a buyer abroad, the department said.
‘The spot where the find was made was completely destroyed by the improper course of action,’ it said in a statement.
Whether the treasure is the famous ‘Rhinegold’ or not, it seems to have been buried in haste by its owner or by robbers in around 406-407 AD, when the Roman Empire was crumbling in the area along the Rhine, Mr von Berg said.
The Nibelung hoard features in Wagner’s epic opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring Of The Nibelung), often referred to as the Ring Cycle, which follows the struggles of heroes, gods and monsters over a magic ring which grants the power to rule the world.
Modelled after ancient Greek dramas, it is a work of extraordinary scale – intended to be performed over four evenings with a total playing time of about 15 hours – that took Wagner 26 years to compose.
The cycle is based on the Germanic legend of Siegfried and the mythology surrounding the royal lineage of the Burgundians who settled in the early 5th century at Worms, one of Germany’s oldest cities.
According to the Nibelung legend, the warrior Hagen killed the dragon-slayer Siegfried and sank his treasure in the Rhine river.
The Rhine has shifted its course many times over the centuries, so the treasure need no longer be under water.
Rhineland Palatinate boasts the most famous stretch of the Rhine, dotted with castles and steeped in legend that has inspired German poets, painters and musicians.