The Impressive Gaulcross Hoard: 100 Roman-Era Silver Pieces Unearthed in Scotland
Archaeologists discovered a hoard of 100 silver items, including coins and jewelry, which come from the 4th and 5th centuries AD. The treasure belongs to the period of the Roman Empire’s domination in Scotland, or perhaps later.
Almost 200 years ago, a team of Scottish laborers cleared a rocky field with dynamite. They discovered three magnificent silver artifacts: a chain, a spiral bangle, and a hand pin. However, they didn't search any deeper to check if there were any more treasures. They turned the field into a farmland and excavations were forgotten.
Now, archaeologists have returned to the site and discovered a hoard (a group of valuable objects that is sometimes purposely buried underground) of 100 silver items. According to Live Science, the treasure is called the Gaulcross hoard. The artifacts belonged to the Pict people who lived in Scotland before, during, and after the Roman era.
Silver plaque from the Norrie's Law hoard (7th-century Pictish silver hoard), Fife, with double disc and Z-rod symbol. (CC BY SA 3.0)
The artifacts were found by a team led by Gordon Noble, head of archaeology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. When they started work in the field, they didn't think to search for more artifacts, but were trying to learn more about the context of the discovery made nearly two centuries ago. The researchers claim that the field also contained two man-made stone circles - one dating to the Neolithic period and the other the Bronze Age (1670 – 1500 BC).
The three previously discovered pieces were given to Banff Museum in Aberdeenshire, and are now on loan and display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
The surviving objects from the nineteenth-century Gaulcross hoard find. (National Museums Scotland)
In 2013, two groups of researchers studied the field in northeastern Scotland with the help of metal detectors. It was the first time when researchers explored the field after such a long time. During the second day of work, they uncovered three Late-Roman-era silver "siliquae," or coins, that dated to the 4th or 5th century AD.
They also found a part of a silver bracelet, silver strap-end, and several pieces of folded hacksilver (pieces of cut or bent silver). They examined the field over the next 18 months, and as a result, they unearthed 100 pieces of silver all together.
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The silver was not mined in Scotland during the Roman period, and instead came from somewhere else in the Roman world. During the ''Late Roman period, silver was recycled and recast into high-status objects that underpinned the development of elite society in the post-Roman period''. The researchers believe that some of these silver pieces, such as the chunks of silver called ingots, may have served as currency, much as a gold bar did in more modern times.
The recent discoveries help shed light on the date of the Gaulcross hoard. It seems that some of the objects were connected with the elites. The silver hand pins and bracelets are very rare finds, so the researchers concluded that the objects would have belonged to some of the most powerful members of the post-Roman society.
Some of the finds from Gaulcross: A) the lunate/crescent-shaped pendant with two double-loops; B) silver hemispheres; C) a small, zoomorphic penannular brooch; D) one of the bracelet fragments with a Late Roman siliquae pinched inside (National Museums Scotland)
Another important hoard has previously been uncovered in Scotland. Actually, on October 13, 2014, April Holloway of Ancient Origins reported on the discovery of one of the most significant Viking hoards found there to date. She wrote:
''An amateur treasure hunter equipped with a metal detector has unearthed a massive hoard of Viking artifacts in Dumfries and Galloway, in what has been described as one of the most significant archaeological finds in Scottish history. According to the Herald Scotland , more than 100 Viking relics were found, including silver ingots, armbands, brooches, and gold objects.”
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The findings also included “an early Christian cross from the 9th or 10 century AD made from solid silver, described as having unique and unusual decorations. There was also a rare Carolingian vessel, believed to be the largest Carolingian pot ever discovered.”
Detail of the Carolingian vessel of the famous Viking hoard. (Historic Environment Scotland)
Holloway wrote that the Vikings “conducted numerous raids on Carolingian lands between 8th and 10th century AD” and explained that in a “few records, the Vikings are thought to have led their first raids in Scotland on the island of Iona in 794.”
The Vikings attacks led to the downfall of the Picts. As Holloway reported:
“In 839, a large Norse fleet invaded via the River Tay and River Earn, both of which were highly navigable, and reached into the heart of the Pictish kingdom of Fortriu. They defeated the king of the Picts, and the king of the Scots of Dál Riata, along with many members of the Pictish aristocracy in battle. The sophisticated kingdom that had been built fell apart, as did the Pictish leadership.''
The Aberlemno Serpent Stone, Class I Pictish stone with Pictish symbols, showing (top to bottom) the serpent, the double disc and Z-rod and the mirror and comb. (Catfish Jim and the soapdish/ CC BY SA 3.0)
Top Image: The Gaulcross silver hoard, including a silver ingot, Hacksilber and folded bracelets. Source: National Museums Scotland