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‘The Galloway Hoard: Viking-Age Treasure’ at The National Museum of Scotland

This week, get ready to tap into your inner Indiana Jones because we are going to explore treasure at the National Museum of Scotland. With gold, silver, and unique artefacts from the Viking Age- this is an adventure not to be missed. So, join me as I grab my well-worn fedora and leather jacket, because we are heading out on an epic explore and discover mission!

The Galloway Hoard was discovered in 2014 in Balmaghie, Scotland which is in the southwest of the country in Dumfries and Galloway. As if straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, the hoard was buried in a fascinating manner. You see, while the top layer contained silver bullion- it was a decoy! Digging further, the archaeologists found another layer. This one had more treasure, containing numerous artefacts- some quite surprising. Let’s take a look at a few highlights from this extraordinary hoard.

The decoy layer wasn't just silver bullion, it also had a unique cross. The cross would have been worn around the neck, and this one still had its chain attached. According to the Museum, the cross is decorated in the Late-Anglo Saxon style, and it was quite unusual for a chain to still be found intact with the pendant.

There was also numerous silver broad-band arm-rings in the hoard. In fact, one of the more fascinating pieces consisted of four arm bands bound together. They are elaborately decorated, each having a unique design.

The curators of the Galloway Hoard exhibition have done a wonderful job at providing multiple ways for us to examine the artefacts. For example, take a look at the 3D image of the largest broad-band arm-ring; you can see how it was stamped and has runes. In fact, the Museum points out how it has the longest Runic inscription of the Hoard, but they currently do not know what it means. This mystery only adds to our Indiana Jones-theme if you ask me. 😉

My favourite object of the exhibition was a lidded vessel that was originally packed full of noteworthy items. Now what is particularly interesting about the vessel is that the one on display is a 3D printed life-size version of the real one. They used 3D X-rays of the original to create the replica- it sure is amazing what we can do with technology nowadays. The Museum points out that the original could not be displayed because it is “wrapped in layers of textiles which are currently too fragile to be exhibited”.

The vessel and its content are unique and gives incredible insight into the Viking-age. Standing at only 10cm high and 10cm in diameter, the vessel’s exterior is decorated with “leopards and tigers, a winged crown and symbol of a fire-altar from the Zoroastrian religion of the Sasanian Empire of ancient Persia (modern day Iran)”. Let me tell you, as a former student of Middle Eastern cultures, the anthropologist in me eats this stuff up! How incredible is it that we can take these objects and see the story they start to reveal? For example, this vessel demonstrates the extensive trade and travel that the Vikings and others undertook in that period. Furthermore, it is the only one of its kind found in Britain. The Museum also provides a 3D model of the vessel so you can examine it from all angles.

Furthermore , the vessel’s contents only add to the excitement. We are fortunate that the lid that sealed it created “unusual conditions within for leather and textile preservation”. Inside were “gold objects, curios and heirloom objects made of glass, rock crystal and other minerals, and a large collection of Anglo-Saxon metalwork. Many were wrapped in silk, linen and leather or connected by silken cord”. Here are some of the items from the vessel on display:

However, like the vessel, some of its contents were also too fragile to be on display. The picture below is of “a bundle of silken cord and fabric with three socketed gold mounts in the shape of fantastical beasts’ heads. Fantastical beasts were a strong part of Scottish mythology and lore (for an example of this, check out our article on the Kelpies).

The complex and unique aspects of the Galloway Hoard begin to tell a story and reveal important information for archaeologists, historians, and scientists. However, what I find so exciting about this is that the experts studying the hoard’s artefacts have only scratched the surface as to what ‘secrets’ it can tell us. It will be exciting to see what further information will come to light.

The Galloway Hoard offers some of the best-preserved organic materials (leather, wood, silk, linen, and wool) of artefacts from the Viking-age. Therefore, as the experts continue their research in the years to come, including radiocarbon dating, the hope is that the organic materials can help inform them more about the items and the circumstances in how the hoard came together. Which, in turn, could help us to learn more about the people who are behind the creation of the hoard.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the National Museum of Scotland for ensuring that the Galloway Hoard has been preserved and studied as it is a fascinating look into Viking-age history for current and future generations. The exhibition is on display at the Museum until the 12th of September. Therefore, if you can travel to Edinburgh, we highly recommend that you take the time to visit this free exhibit. Please check the Museum website for more information on how to plan your visit (at time of writing, prebooking a visit is essential).

At the same time, we realise that travel is still quite restricted and many of our readers will not be able to visit the exhibition. Therefore, I hope that our brief glimpse into this unique and historic Viking-age hoard has satisfied your inner Indiana Jones as much as it has mine.

Until next time- Explore & Discover!


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