The term “hoard” is used in a number of ways, most usually to describe a collection of objects or artifacts. This wiseGEEK article focuses specifically on so-called “archaeological hoards,” hoards dug up by archaeologists which can sometimes reveal very interesting things about a people and their culture. Several notable hoards are on display at museums as complete collections, and in other cases, a hoard may be broken down into various components and displayed or studied at multiple locations.
A typical archaeological hoard is buried with the intent of recovery at some date in the future, and it usually contains a jumble of items wrapped in fabric, skins, or other materials to make them easier to locate. Over time, the outer wrapping often decays completely away, and some objects may migrate, causing the hoard to be distributed over a broad area. Hoards are often uncovered by people who use metal detectors recreationally, and some very notable hoards have been uncovered by farmers and gardeners who literally run into them.
There are several reasons why the objects in a hoard might go unclaimed. Commonly, hoards were created to protect treasured items from raiders, pirates, or government officials, and their owners died before recovering the items or passing on the location of the hoard. In other cases, someone might forget the location of a hoard, or be unable to return to it. In the instance of votive hoards, objects are buried deliberately for religious reasons, with no intention of recovering the artifacts at a later date.
From the point of view of an archaeologist, a hoard is like a time capsule. It is generally safe to assume that the objects are contemporary to each other, so a hoard can reveal an interesting cross-section of a very specific moment in time. Especially in the case of a mixed hoard, it is possible to learn about which classes in society owned which objects, and which sort of things were considered highly valuable by people in the past.
There are a number of different types of hoards. The most famous is probably the “hoard of loot,” otherwise known as a hidden treasure, consisting of various stolen and concealed items. A personal hoard consists of items of value to one person, which might range from mementos to money, while a merchant's hoard is a collection of merchandise and other functional objects. Collections of metal objects, whether raw or finished, are known as founder's hoards.