It Cleans Up Nicely: Scottish Viking Hoard Reveals New Secrets
Around the time the Irish were stamping out the Viking presence in their country, local lore says the Scots and Vikings also fought a battle near Galloway, Scotland. In 2014, a metal detectorist took that legend, swept the area, and discovered a hoard of more than 100 “strange and wonderful objects” that are at least 1,000 years old. Now those Viking hoard relics have been cleaned up and experts say “the richest collection of rare and unique Viking-age objects ever found in Britain or Ireland” is providing new and valuable information.
Extensive Conservation work on the Viking Hoard
Dr. Martin Goldberg, principal curator of archaeology and history at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, told The Scotsman that conservation work has “completely transformed” the appearance of some of the artifacts. It is also providing researchers with “a better understanding now of the international range of hoard.” He says:
“There were always clues about the origins of some of the material and the amazing trajectories that brought them across Europe and Asia to be buried in Galloway. But we are learning more about the specifics about where things have come from and how old various things might be and for how long the hoard may have been accumulated for. We’re sticking to AD 900 for the burial but some objects are looking like they are several centuries older.”
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The last couple of years of conservation work have been very productive. Goldberg says that a team has completed all sorts of tasks, ranging from “basic swabbing to X-rays and CT scanning.” And these analyses have enabled the researchers to “get a different understanding of the different densities of material in each object, and a different understanding of how each object was made and what has happened to it since then.”
Even the corrosion of an artifact has proven useful, as Goldberg explains, “Sometimes we’re looking at an object that is corroded that has important information in the layers of corrosion that tell you something about what it was next to or the things that was about it. Rather than just clean the corrosion off we have to record it as carefully as possible because it is preserving minute traces of information. We’ve found potential traces of embroidered silk which is only preserved in green corrosion on objects.”
Traces of linen, wood and leather have also been detected on some of the artifacts, which Goldberg states “is very unusual” in a hoard.
An Amateur Treasure Hunter Received 2 Million Pounds for his Discovery
Derek McLennan, a British metal detectorist who unearthed the rich collection of unique Viking artifacts, received an astonishing £2 million (US$2.6m) as a reward. The amount is ex gratia and was set to reflect the market value of the find.
McLennan discovered the 10th-century hoard in a Dumfries and Galloway field (one of 32 unitary council areas of Scotland) in 2014. The incredibly valuable treasure includes silver bracelets and brooches, a gold ring, a bird-shaped gold pin, an enameled Christian cross, and a Carolingian vessel filled with artifacts.
Left: Large silver alloy Carolingian vessel, which was part of the hoard. Right: Derek McLennan, the finder of the treasure hoard. Photograph: Jamie Simpson
McLennan notified the authorities about his valuable finds and three years later the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (the body that rules on ownerless goods and property), ruled that the one-hundred unique items of the hoard should be held with National Museums Scotland (NMS) for public display, after offering the enormous sum ex gratia to McLennan.
In contrast with the rest of the UK, where awards are split with the landowner, rules on discoveries in Scotland reward only the finder - who receives the whole payment. Dr. Evelyn Silber, University of Glasgow’s honorary professorial research fellow in History of Art and Safap chair, told The Guardian, “The panel is grateful to the finder for reporting these stunning artefacts which include decorative glass beads, silver bracelets and brooches, a gold ring, a bird-shaped gold pin and a highly-decorated gilt vessel recognized as being one of only three known examples. These will now be preserved and put on display for the people of Scotland, and the world, to enjoy.”
The Discovery of the Galloway Hoard
But how did Derek McLennan end up discovering the richest Viking hoard in British history? Was it pure luck or did he know something? As April Holloway reports in a 2014 Ancient Origins article , McLennan used a metal detector on Church of Scotland land when he picked up a signal indicating the presence of metal beneath the ground.
He dug down 24 inches (60cm) before finding the first item. As soon as Derek recovered the first arm-ring he realized the significance of his find and contacted the Scottish Treasure Trove Unit. They sent an experienced archaeologist, Andy Nicholson, and the hoard was excavated properly.
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Some of the treasures: A silver disk brooch decorated with intertwining snakes or serpents (Historic Scotland), a gold, bird-shaped object which may have been a decorative pin or a manuscript pointer (Robert Clark, National Geographic / Historic Environment Scotland), one of the many arm rings with a runic inscription (Robert Clark, National Geographic / Historic Environment Scotland), a large glass bead (Santiago Arribas Pena), and a hinged silver strap (Robert Clark, National Geographic / Historic Environment Scotland).
The Story Continues
NMS states that several other finds from the UK and Ireland have been remarkable as well, but the Galloway hoard offers an incredible variety of objects, revealing previously unknown relationships between European nations in the 10th century, a fact that opens new horizons of study and research on the matter.
Goldberg says the next step is “radio carbon dating to produce a chronology for all these materials. It’s an unfolding story. We want to come up with a biography for each object, from its origin to how it was used to when it was deposited in the ground and then tie the 100 stories together.”
The Scotsman reports that a major exhibition focused on the Viking hoard will open at the National Museum in 2020 and then go on tour.
Top Image: A selection of artifacts in the Galloway Hoard, a Viking hoard unearthed in Scotland in 2014. Source: The Scotsman