All images copyright Historic Environment Scotland unless otherwise noted.

10th Century Viking Treasures Unearthed In Scotland

Now comes the hard part: preserving 1,000-year-old gold and silver artifacts for centuries to come.

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Jun 27 2017, 4:34pm

All images copyright Historic Environment Scotland unless otherwise noted.

Since its discovery, the Galloway Hoard has alternatingly made headlines in the UK as a metal detectorist's dream, a cultural policy battle, and a fascinating glimpse into Scotland's Viking past. Derek McLennan unearthed the 1,000-year-old treasure in 2014, while he was out with his metal detector in a field in Galloway, a region in southwest Scotland. After two years of review by the Queen's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer, which rules on the fate of found goods, a decision was made in May of this year to hand the hoard over to National Museums Scotland (NMS), as long as it can raise the money to pay McLennan a cool £2 million. Despite a public campaign to keep the treasure in the region where it was found and display it in a regional museum, several artifacts have already gone up at the National Museum in Edinburgh as of June 16, in efforts to quickly begin fundraising for the acquisition.

The allocation to NMS was, in part, fueled by conservation concerns: "This hoard is of major national and international significance, but it also needs a lot of work done. It is going to take a conservation program which we think is going to take at least two years," NMS director Gordon Rintoul recently told BBC, implying that the resources of a big institution would be required to properly care for the cache of over 100 objects. Initial conservation, however, was undertaken almost as soon as the hoard was found, thanks to efforts led by Historic Environment Scotland. AOC Archaeology Group was tasked with preparing the precious items for their transition to a museum, and conservation manager Gretel Evans and conservator Natalie Mitchell were among the first to unpack the richly decorated vessel that housed many of the artifacts.

Dr. Martin Goldberg, Senior Curator at National Museums Scotland with objects from The Galloway Hoard. Copyright Stewart Atwood.

"Decanting the vessel was challenging, but the results were highly memorable," they tell Creators in an email, explaining that they first ran a CAT scan of the vessel to record the exact positions of the objects inside. Among the loot: silver ingots and brooches, armbands inscribed with runes, glass beads, and a gold pin shaped like a bird. While the hoard itself was buried in the 10th century, several of the objects are older and have Irish, Anglo-Saxon, Roman, or even Byzantine origins—hinting at previously unknown connections between people across Europe.

Gold pin shaped like a bird, from the Galloway Hoard

While the metal objects are certain to take the spotlight in upcoming museum displays, the organic materials used to wrap the contents of the hoard are treasures of their own for researchers and archaeologists. "This preliminary analysis of the organic material has been most illuminating, with a variety of textiles and fibers identified—an extraordinary collection of silk, wool, and linen textiles and braids, as well as 'skin products' (leather and/or parchment)," explain the two conservators, who sought out input by colleagues who specialize in ancient textiles in order to unpack the bundles while preserving the packing materials. "They include high-status items, some of which will have been as valuable as the metalwork with which they are associated. Their places of origin and their value have the potential to provide a new perspective on Viking Age hoard deposition and its archaeological and historical context."

Conservator Gretel Evans at work on the Carolingian vessel

Now that each object has been carefully recorded with X-radiography, photography, and microscopy, and stabilized in appropriate storage conditions, it will be up to the recipient museum to handle the rest of the conservation work. "There will be many years of painstaking remedial work to follow," conclude Evans and Mitchell.

Carolingian vessel from the Galloway Hoard
The vessel from the Galloway Hoard was put inside a CT scanner at a hospital before any of the contents were unpacked.

Several artifacts from the Galloway Hoard are now on view at the National Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh, through October 1. National Geographic also has a beautiful selection of photos of the finds.

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