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 100 “strange and wonderful objects” that were about 1,000 years old.
No one knows how the person who buried the hoard came across the spectacular stuff or why it was buried. One can only speculate that perhaps there was a battle, and perhaps the items were buried beforehand or during the course of it in case the one who hid the hoard had to flee.
Conservators are just now releasing images of the Galloway hoard, showing items found in a Carolingian vessel or pot. The pot itself, from Western Europe, is very rare and is one of only six of the type ever found.
“The hoard is the most important Viking discovery in Scotland for over 100 years. The items from within the vessel, which may have been accumulated over a number of generations, ʀᴇvᴇᴀʟ objects from across Europe and from other cultures with non-Viking origins,” says a press release from Historic Scotland.
The items were wrapped in textiles and buried in the pot. The hoard includes:
Six silver Anglo-Saxon disc brooches dating to around the early 9th century. They are equal to another hoard of similar brooches found in England, the Pentney hoard, which was the largest such hoard found to date. The Pentney hoard is now in the British Musuem. A silver penannular brooch of Irish origin.
Penannular means it is in the form of an incomplete ring. Byzantium silk from around Istanbul. A gold ingot. A large number of silver ingots. Silver arm rings. A beautifully ᴘʀᴇsᴇʀvᴇd cross. An ornate gold pin in the form of a bird. Gold and crystal objects wrapped in cloth bundles. Of these last, the press release says:
At the moment their purpose remains a mystery. While it’s clear many of the objects collected have a value as precious metal, the nature of the hoard remains a mystery, and includes objects in base metals and glass beads which have no obvious value.
The decision about which material to include in the vessel appears to have been based on complex and highly personal notions of how an individual valued an object as much as the bullion value the objects represented.
Conservators have been working to remove the items from the pot and ᴘʀᴇsᴇʀvᴇ them. They are with Historic Environment Scotland, the тʀᴇᴀsuʀᴇ Trove Unit, and the Queen’s and Lord тʀᴇᴀsuʀᴇr’s Remembrancer.
The process leading up to the extraction was precise yet exciting, according to Richard Welander of Historic Environment Scotland:
Before removing the objects we took the rather unusual measure of having the pot CT scanned, in order that we could get a rough idea of what was in there and best plan the delicate extraction process. That exercise offered us a tantalising glimpse but didn’t prepare me for what was to come.
These stunning objects provide us with an unparalleled insight to what was going on in the minds of the Vikings in Galloway all those years ago. They tell us about the sensibilities of the time, ʀᴇvᴇᴀʟ displays of regal rivalries, and some of the objects even betray an underlying sense of humour, which the Vikings aren’t always renowned for!
Stuart Campbell of the тʀᴇᴀsuʀᴇ Trove Unit says in the press release that the complexity of the hoard raised more questions than it answered, and for years to come scholars and researchers will study the motivations and cultural identity of those who buried it.
The тʀᴇᴀsuʀᴇ Trove Unit will assess its value on behalf of the crown, though the finder, Derek McClennan will be eligible for the market value. (It is estimated to be worth at least £1 million.) Mr. McClennan found the hoard in a Galloway field in September 2014.
The Church of Scotland, which owns the land, has reached an agreement with Mr. McLennan about the equitable sharing of any proceeds that will eventually be awarded. The hoard is now with the Scottish тʀᴇᴀsuʀᴇs Trove Unit until it has been fully examined and a decision is made about its future location.
After assessment, the hoard will be offered to Scottish museums. It will go on display in the museum that meets the market value price and buys it.
“Nothing was thrown in the vessel,” Olwyn Owen, an independent Viking scholar in Edinburgh, told National Geographic . The hoard was “wrapped with great care and packed extremely tightly together, and they are such special objects that they were clearly enormously important to their Viking owner. It’s a strange and wonderful selection of objects.”