Viking hoard in Carolingian pot revealed

Historic Environment Scotland has released the first images of the objects found inside the Carolingian pot that was part of a Viking hoard discovered in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, in September of 2014. Archaeologists took the unusual step of CT scanning the rare silver alloy vessel shortly after it was unearthed because they were concerned it was too fragile to just take the lid off and see what it contained. The scan identified at least one Anglo-Saxon openwork brooch, four other silver brooches, some gold ingots and ivory beads coated in gold, each wrapped in an organic material.

Armed with a CT roadmap of the vessel’s contents, conservators painstakingly excavated the interior, taking care to preserve every fragment of organic material they could to prevent it from crumbling into dust when exposed to the air. In addition to the ingot and silver-encased ivory beads detected on the scan, they found a total of six Anglo-Saxon silver brooches, one penannular brooch likely made in Ireland, a richly decorated gold pendant which may have held holy relics, several mysterious gold and crystal objects and, breaking the precious metals trend, two large seeds of nuts. The nuts have yet to be identified, but obviously they came from a very special plant that probably wasn’t indigenous to the area.

The hoard was found in two layers: a top one 24 inches under the surface with silver armbands, ingots, a gold bird pin and a silver and enamel cross wrapped in a silver chain, and underneath it the pot. It’s the largest Carolingian pot ever discovered and there are only six known. Scholars believe it may have had been used for important Christian ceremonies and was raided during a Viking incursion on a monastery or church in Germany or France. By the time it was buried, it could well have been a family heirloom.

The levels appear to have been arranged according to the their importance. The pieces on top were valuable, but most of them were the kind of thing that was cut up for currency, ie, hacksilver before the hacking. The pot, on the other hand, and its contents, must have been deemed of greater significance to their owner. Each object was wrapped in a textile and placed inside the vessel which was topped with its lid and then it too was wrapped with cloth or leather. Textile experts studied the fragments from inside the pot and identified several of them as silk samite, a super deluxe fabric woven in Byzantium, North Africa, or southern Spain. This fabric was exclusively the province of monarchs, the highest ecclesiastical officials and the remains of venerated saints buried in churches.

The style of the artifacts in the hoard date them to the 9th and 10th centuries, which means the hoard was likely buried in the 10th century, a period when the Vikings in the British Isles had suffered setbacks after more than a century of successful raids starting in the 790s. In the 9th century there was extensive Norse settlement of Scotland and the their military victories continued even as the country unified under Kenneth MacAlpin, King of the Picts and first King of Scotland (Alba). Several of his successors — Constantine I, Indulf — died fighting the Norse. Then there were the English to deal with. In 937 King of Scotland Constantine II allied with his once and future enemy Olaf Guthfrithson, the Viking king of Dublin, to defeat the invading army of Æthelstan, King of England. They lost. It was a one-battle alliance anyway, and the conflict between the Scots and Norse continued throughout the century.

Galloway itself had a strong Viking presence from the 9th until the 11th century. It’s in southwest Scotland, with Norse-heavy Cumbria just to the south and the Norse-dominated Irish Sea to the west. The people who lived there in the 10th century were mostly Vikings in language and culture. The person who buried the hoard was likely trying to protect his savings rather than burying it as a religious offering. That’s why he was so very careful about how the valuables were buried. He planned to recover them but never did.

The ultimate fate of the hoard has yet to be determined. Its market value will be assessed by Scotland’s Treasure Trove Unit and the hoard will be offered to Scottish museums. Whichever museum wants it will have to raise the value of the hoard as a reward which will be split between the metal detectorist who discovered it, Derek McLennan, and the landowner, the Church of Scotland. The value is sure to be very high. No other Viking hoard has been found with such a wide variety of objects — gold, silver, glass, enamel, textiles — from such a wide geographic area. Preliminary estimates put it at between £500,000 and £1 million, closer to the latter than the former.

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Comment by Virginia Burton
2016-03-24 06:38:11

I love the brooch with four faces–they look like the old “Kilroy was here” cartoons!

Comment by Cerelle
2016-03-24 11:55:19

MY thoughts, we know where that motif the work of the 9th or 10th century Brits!

Comment by Karlsdottir
2016-03-24 12:09:10

I see someone, fearing they’re in harm’s way, slowly wrapping each treasure, having a last look. Sad.

Very curious about the seeds. I hope they can be IDed.

Comment by John R
2016-03-24 12:46:07

Is there an image of 4 dragons on one pin? The dragons seem to be forming hearts w their tongues or is that another animal?

Comment by Cordate
2016-03-24 14:48:32

Most buried hoards are lovely little time-capsules and this one’s super cool! It’s great that many of the textile fragments have survived the years and excavation.

The hinge piece looks like a great example of historic niello work as well.

Comment by Sven
2016-03-26 00:43:16

Great colors, sometimes hard to tell if coloration, remnants of the colorful silk samite or just verdigris. …Of course, I like the quatrefoil too.

Comment by debitor serf
2016-03-27 23:38:48

Vikings were the ISIS of the Middle Ages.

Comment by livius drusus
2016-03-28 05:15:08

They did like slaves and loot. Then again, you can say the same about most bellicose cultures.

Comment by debitor serf
2016-03-28 23:36:19

the Vikings introduced themselves to the world buy attacking a series of monasteries and killing the inhabitants. They occupy a place in history few others can share, and the fear they instilled is still evident 1000 years later.

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