Scottish museum acquires 8th c. gold sword pommel

An exceptionally rare gold sword pommel that is one of the only ones of its kind ever found in Scotland has been acquired by National Museums Scotland. It was made around 700 A.D. out of solid gold and is decorated with intricate gold filigree, geometric patterns and stylized zoomorphic designs. Garnets are set in the goldwork. Goldwork of any quality from this period is rare in the UK; this object is so rich and so skillfully crafted that it is a unique example on the Scottish archaeological record.

The pommel (the widened fitting atop a sword’s grip) was discovered by a metal detector hobbyist near Blair Drummond in Stirlingshire, Scotland, in late 2019. He reported the find to the Treasure Trove unit but the usual process of determining treasure was disrupted by the pandemic, so only now has the artifact been officially claimed for the Crown and allocated to National Museums Scotland.

“Early medieval Scotland is a really interesting period,” [Dr Alice Blackwell, Senior Curator of Medieval Archaeology and History at National Museums Scotland,] said.

“You have a number of culturally distinct kingdoms and the pommel’s design has taken from the different cultures and melded them together “

That melding of different cultural styles is known as “insular art” style, which was made famous by illuminated manuscripts such as the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Dr Blackwood said this fusion of styles had made it hard to determine where exactly it was made and whom it may have belonged to.

However, she said it potentially could have belonged to royalty due to the higher standard of goldwork the pommel had compared with other goldware found in this period.