"Being Viking is a way of life": Images released of most important Viking hoard in Scotland for more than 100 years

By Ben Miller | 29 March 2016

More than ten centuries after it was buried in a field, CT scans have allowed archaeologists to release images of a hoard of 9th and 10th century treasures discovered in Galloway. Stuart Campbell, of National Museums Scotland’s Treasure Trove Unit, says it has made experts do a double-take

A photo of a 9th or 10th century Viking object from an archaeology hoard in Galloway
This vessel with a lid on was part of a hoard found by metal detectorist Derek McClennan in a field in Galloway in September 2014© Historic Environment Scotland
A photo of a 9th or 10th century Viking object from an archaeology hoard in Galloway
A gold and pyrrhotite pendant© Historic Environment Scotland
“I’m mainly a medievalist so I’m probably a couple of centuries too late for a lot of this but the whole idea of why people wore things and how they hide things is really fascinating. These finds bring that to the fore because there’s generally this narrative about people burying valuables – the kind of safety deposit box model of hoarding, which is a valid interpretation so far as it goes.

But the material that was in the pot is of aesthetic and bullion value. The brooches are classic models of hoarding. But what we found really interesting was the way that other objects had been hidden or treated and wrapped up with as much care as the precious metal objects.

A photo of a 9th or 10th century Viking object from an archaeology hoard in Galloway
A large glass bead© Historic Environment Scotland
Glass beads

“I suppose glass beads are kind of the signature medieval find: they’re beautiful objects, obviously the person who made them had a good amount of skill. I have friends who are contemporary art silversmiths so I’m hugely impressed with the quality of the workmanship.

But they’re really not things that are valuable in the same way as the bullions. You can ask almost rhetorical questions, which you can’t get answers to, about the personal motivations of the people who hid that material, why they treated the objects with no physical value with the same reverence as the objects that were truly valuable even by our objects.

They may have had a very specific personal value or, perhaps, a cultural value. It’s one of these questions that we’re playing around with at the moment, in terms of what people considered valuable. When you see people mixing these objects you’re assuming that the plan is to go back and get them.

A photo of a 9th or 10th century Viking object from an archaeology hoard in Galloway
A vessel with its lid removed© Historic Environment Scotland
Why were they buried?

"It’s such a complex project, I’m sure people will still be arguing over this in ten or 15 years’ time. My feeling is that you’re probably looking at some very personal motivations.

When the hacksilver came in last year everyone thought ‘wow, it’s a big Viking hoard.’ I think you can have this almost safe, very general, non-challenging narrative that these guys were Vikings and they looted a monastery or whatever and then buried all this stuff.

It’s almost like a Just So story: 'these guys are Vikings, they nicked this stuff and buried it.' As archaeologists, we can almost be imprisoned by our own expectations about this kind of material. But there’s not a simple answer and you can have a lot of fun challenging and questioning the motivations of the people who buried this material.

A photo of a 9th or 10th century Viking object from an archaeology hoard in Galloway
A silver Irish pennanular brooch© Historic Environment Scotland
Anglo-Saxons and the Irish Sea

“The more I speak to some of my peers and friends across the UK about this, the more interesting the ideas are about the bulk of the material in the pot. Realistically the stuff is not Viking; it’s an Irish Sea hoard or a British hoard.

Being Viking is a way of life, if you like. You can be British or whatever and take to it. Most people in the archaeological field think it wasn’t buried by a Viking. That spirals into why people valued these things.

The hoard of six disc brooches is as big as the largest Anglo-Saxon brooch hoard in the UK, in the British Museum. That’s remarkable: a subset of this hoard is as big as that. It’s made everyone do a double-take.

A photo of a 9th or 10th century Viking object from an archaeology hoard in Galloway
One numismatic section of the hoard eclipses the Pentney Hoard, shown here at the British Museum© Historic Environment Scotland
Exhibiting the hoard

“We’re currently in the process of offering it to museums. It will go to a Scottish museum and the interested parties would fund the award that goes to the finder, based on the market value of the objects.

It’s a bit like some of the big treasure cases in England like the Staffordshire Hoard or the more recent Viking hoards. The range and quantity of the material probably means it will happen post-allocation. The internet means we can get the details out there in a way that we wouldn’t have been able to even ten years ago.”

A photo of a 9th or 10th century Viking object from an archaeology hoard in Galloway
A glass bead with metal casing and perforated silver coin© Historic Environment Scotland

The Treasure Trove

  • The cache of objects were, until recently, contained in a ‘Carolingian’ (West European) vessel or pot which was part of a wider hoard, amounting to around 100 items.
  • Highlights include a large number of silver ingots and armrings, a beautifully-preserved cross and an ornate gold pin resembling a bird.
  • Historic Environment Scotland took the “rather unusual” measure of having the pot CT scanned in order to plan the delicate extraction process.
  • The items, which may have been accumulated over a number of generations, reveal objects from across Europe and from other cultures with non-Viking origins.
  • A silver penannular brooch comes from Ireland, Byzantium silk is from around modern-day Istanbul, and a gold ingot and some gold and crystal objects have been carefully wrapped in cloth bundles.
  • The nature of the hoard remains a mystery and includes objects in base metals and glass beads which have no obvious value.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Three museums to find Viking treasures in

Manx Museum, Isle of Man
A special Viking Gallery contains the National Art Gallery Viking hoards of silver and gold.

JORVIK Viking Centre, York
Everything here is based on archaeological evidence unearthed during the Coppergate excavations undertaken between 1979 and 1981 by York Archaeological Trust. Archaeologists started digging on the site of an old sweet factory and unearthed remains of 10th century Viking-age buildings that were surrounded by moist, spongy layers of earth similar to that of a peat bog. In total an incredible 40,000 objects were uncovered by excavating 36,000 layers and sieving 8 tonnes of soil.

Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
The Anglo-Saxon and Viking Gallery tells the story of the fascinating period between the withdrawal of the Romans in 410AD and the 1066 Norman Conquest. Dangerous and turbulent, this was also the time when many aspects of modern day English culture took root – the word ‘England’ derives from the name ‘Anglia’, the land of the Angles.
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I wish the "Powers that Be" would hurry up and get on with dealing with it all - up to date info would be greatly appreciated. It is more than 2 years since it was found - and I have heard that the cross has deteriorated since being unearthed. Shocking, if it has not been looked after properly, given its rarity and value.
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