Unlocking Mysteries: Scientists Reveal Astonishing Discoveries in Newly Opened Millennia-Sealed Cave

A hoard of ‘globally significant’ treasure dating from the Viking era will be analysed as part of a £1 million Scottish research project.

Researchers from the National Museums Scotland (NMS) hope to discover more about the Galloway Hoard, a collection of more than 100 objects dating from the 10th century.

The hoard was buried around AD 900 and includes silver, gold, crystal and jewelled treasures, as well as rarely surviving textiles, including wool, linen and Scotland’s earliest examples of silk.

Other rare items include armlets, a gold bird-shaped pin, an enamelled Christian cross and a decorated cup imported from Europe or western Asia.

The hoard lay undisturbed for 1,000 years before being unearthed by a metal detectorist in a field in Dumfries and Galloway in September 2014. It was saved from being sold to private buyers in 2017.

NMS will carry out a three-year project, entitled ‘Unwrapping the Galloway Hoard’, in partnership with the University of Glasgow, to examine the objects in detail.

The research will involve precise dating of the items and hopefully the identification of their places of origin, which are thought to range from Ireland to the Byzantine empire and perhaps beyond.

Members of the public will be able to see the Galloway Hoard at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh from February 19 to May 9 as part of a new exhibition.

The Galloway Hoard, which was found in 2014, contains arm rings, silver bracelets and brooches, a gold ring, an enamelled Christian cross and a bird-shaped gold pin

After leaving Edinburgh, it will then tour Kirkcudbright Galleries and Aberdeen Art Gallery later in the year.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council awarded a £791,293 grant for the project to analyse the objects in greater detail, with the rest of the £1 million grant being covered by NMS and the University of Glasgow.

The project will hope to uncover more detail around the circumstances of how and why the hoard was buried.

‘That is part of the reason for the research grant – it is only through a forensic analysis of every element of the Hoard that we will get closer to understanding the circumstances of how the hoard got there,’ said Martin Goldberg, principal curator of medieval archaeology and history at NMS and lead investigator on the project.

The Galloway Hoard was ‘quite carefully’ buried in layers, according to NMS, but this new project will also ‘get beyond just the day of burial and look at the longer histories of the objects’.

‘Most hoards are usually interpreted as buried wealth, with the focus on events surrounding the moment of burial,’ said Goldberg.

‘The Galloway Hoard challenges this view and presents a rare opportunity to ask in much more detail about how, and why, people assembled and collected hoards during the Viking age.

‘We’ve already discovered a great deal through the conservation work, and people will be able to see that in the forthcoming exhibition.

‘However, this research project will enable us to go much further using scientific techniques and international collaboration.’

A unique gold bird-shaped pin, restored and stunningly presented in a new image from National Museums Scotland. Following the tour part of the Galloway Hoard will be on long-term display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh with a significant and representative portion of the Hoard also displayed long-term at Kirkcudbright Galleries

Four annular silver ribbon bracelet arm rings from the Viking age Galloway Hoard, which, along with other treasures from the Viking age, will feature in The Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland next year

It is possible the Galloway hoard may have been deposited by a people who considered themselves part of the English-speaking world and may have been locals.

Galloway had been part of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria since the early 8th century, and was referred to as the ‘Saxon coast’ in the Irish chronicles as late as the 10th century.

One of the most exciting objects in the hoard is a silver Anglo-Saxon cross, decorated in Late Anglo-Saxon style using black niello and gold-leaf, which is revealed in new detail in National Museums Scotland photographs.

Previously encrusted in a millennium’s worth of dirt, months of painstaking cleaning and conservation work has revealed an intricately decorated silver cross, allowing scholars to view this detail for the first time before it is put on the public display.

In each of the four arms of the cross are the symbols of the four evangelists who wrote the Gospels of the New Testament, Saint Matthew, Mark (Lion), Luke (Cow) and John (Eagle).

Also included is a elongated gold pendant and a decorated silver-gilt vessel, the only complete lidded vessel of its type ever discovered in Britain and Ireland.

A Carolingian vessel was part of the hoard, and some of the buried treasure was found inside the pot. Someone had wrapped the vessel in fabric before burial and the scan suggests that its contents had also been wrapped in organic matter, possibly leather, before being stored inside it

An elongated gold pendant from the Viking age Galloway Hoard, which was found by an amateur metal detectorist, Derek McLennan, in Dumfries and Galloway in 2014

New images reveal the stunning detail of an Anglo-Saxon cross buried for over a thousand years as part of the Galloway Hoard

The silver cross is decorated in Late Anglo-Saxon style using black niello and gold-leaf. In each of the four arms of the cross are the symbols of the four evangelists who wrote the Gospels of the New Testament, Saint Matthew, Mark (Lion), Luke (Cow) and John (Eagle)

As well as the silver familiar with most Viking-age hoards and the much rarer gold, the Galloway collection also features an ‘unprecedented array’ of other materials such as bronze, glass and rock crystal.

Also included is the ‘outstandingly rare preservation of organic materials’ such as wood, leather, wool, linen and silk, said Susanna Harris, lecturer in archaeology at the University of Glasgow and co-investigator on the project.

‘Many objects are wrapped in textiles, including Scotland’s earliest examples of silk, which could have travelled thousands of miles to reach Scotland,’ she said.

Previously encrusted in a millennium’s worth of dirt, months of painstaking cleaning and conservation work has revealed an intricately decorated silver cross, allowing scholars to view this detail for the first time before it is put on public display in a new exhibition

The silver cross is decorated in Late Anglo-Saxon style using black niello and gold-leaf. In each of the four arms of the cross are the symbols of the four evangelists who wrote the Gospels of the New Testament, Saint Matthew, Mark (Lion), Luke (Cow) and John (Eagle)

‘These types of wrappings rarely ever survive and are archaeological treasures in their own right.

‘The unusual survival of organic material like textiles will allow us to apply a range of scientific techniques that usually aren’t possible for the precious metals that tend to dominate treasure hoards.’

The textiles can be chemically tested for dye to help reconstruct lost colours that have faded over the centuries since burial, or they can be radiocarbon dated to help reconstruct the history of the objects before they were buried.

‘Unwrapping the hoard, literally and figuratively, is a unique and wonderful opportunity,’ said Harris.

A crystal vessel, decorated with gold filigree, from the 10th-century treasure trove. This new project will involve precise dating of the items and, it is hoped, identification of their places of origin

A disc brooch, restored to its former glory. Only a few years ago, National Museums Scotland had been given six months to raise £2 million for the stash or risk losing it to private buyers

Hinged mounts with Anglo-Saxon Trewhiddle-style decoration. Donations from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Scottish government, trusts and the wider public have now helped secure the collection for public viewing

The decorative straps before and after conservation. National Museums Scotland says: ‘The Galloway Hoard transports us back to a critical moment in history: the formation of the political entities we now know as Scotland, England and Ireland’

Archaeologists inspecting the objects, which were sold to National Museums Scotland in 2015, deciphered the runes engraved on them.

National Museums Scotland says that their finds from around Britain or Ireland have been noted for a single class of object – for example, silver brooches or armlets.

But the Galloway Hoard brings together a stunning variety of objects in one discovery, hinting at ‘hitherto unknown connections between people across Europe and beyond’.

The new research will hopefully uncover answers regarding who the objects belonged to, where they came from and why they were buried.

Last year, scientists said the hoard may have belonged to a man named Egbert after finding the name ‘Ecgbeorht’ on one of the arm rings, which translates to the modern name Egbert, common in Anglo-Saxon society.

The name is local, too, suggesting the objects may have belonged to English-speaking people rather than Scandinavian Vikings.

Research into the Galloway Hoard uncovered the name of one of the famous treasure’s original owners. Examination of Anglo-Saxon runic inscriptions on the Hoard’s silver arm-rings revealed the name ‘Ecgbeorht’ or, in its more modern form, Egbert

At the time, the University of Wales’s Dr David Parsons, who examined the runes on the arm ring, said: ‘Arm rings of this sort are most commonly associated with Viking discoveries around the Irish Sea coastlands.

‘Yet these runes are not of the familiar Scandinavian variety common around this date on the nearby Isle of Man, but of a distinctively Anglo-Saxon type.

‘While several of the texts are abbreviated and uncertain, one is splendidly clear – it reads Ecgbeorht, Egbert, a common and thoroughly Anglo-Saxon man’s name.’

The Viking Age treasures were saved for public ownership back in 2017 after a near £2 million ($2.6 million) fundraising target was met.

National Museums Scotland was given just six months to raise £1.98 million for the Galloway Hoard, or else risk losing the ‘unparalleled’ set of artefacts to a private buyer.

Donations from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Scottish government, trusts and the wider public helped secure that target.

Gold ingots and artefacts. National Museums Scotland described the hoard as ‘unique’ in bringing together such a variety of objects in one discovery

These types of armlets are found in Wales, England and Scotland but rarely in Scotland. Scottish Secretary David Mundell previously said: ‘The historical and cultural significance of the unique Galloway Hoard is unquestionable. ‘It not only preserves an important archaeological finding but can ensure its enjoyment for future generations’

Glass beads in an extraordinary range of colours and designs. National Museums Scotland (NMS) will carry out a three-year project, entitled ‘Unwrapping the Galloway Hoard’, in partnership with the University of Glasgow to examine the objects in detail.

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