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Viking hoard goes on display in the north-east

Galloway Hoard disc broach

The richest collection of Viking artefacts ever discovered in the UK is heading for the north-east.

The Galloway Hoard is to go on display at Aberdeen Art Gallery on Saturday, July 30 and will remain there for almost three months.

Buried around AD 900, the Hoard is of international significance and is transforming our understanding of this period of Scottish history.

It contains over 100 diverse objects, from silver, gold and jeweled treasures to rarely-surviving textiles, including wool, linen and Scotland’s earliest examples of silk.

The Galloway Hoard was discovered in 2014 and was acquired by National Museums Scotland in 2017 with the support of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund and the Scottish Government, as well as a major public fundraising campaign.

It has been undergoing extensive conservation and research since then, uncovering the secrets of the Hoard for the very first time.

In this free exhibition, visitors can discover intricate decoration not seen since the objects were buried more than 1000 years ago, which has been uncovered through cleaning and conservation.

Then they can delve deeper and examine hidden details found in X-rays, CT scans and 3D models to explore what innovative research and analysis have already told us about the Hoard, and find out what future work might yet uncover about this unparalleled Viking-age find.

Many of the items are still being investigated by a highly skilled team that features some of the UK’s finest researchers and artists.

But they illustrate the Vikings enjoyed trade with cultures around the globe.

Dr Martin Goldberg, principal curator, medieval archeology and history at National Museums Scotland, said a surprise came from radiocarbon dating of wool wrapping the vessel, which dates to AD 680-780. Dr Goldberg added: “So, the vessel is from beyond Europe, potentially thousands of miles away, and the wool wrapping it pre-dates the Viking Age, being more than 100 or maybe even 200 years old by the time it was buried.

“While the real vessel is still wrapped up in 1300-year-old cloth being kept safely in controlled environmental stores for preservation and future research, it’s wonderful to be able to use 21st-Century technology in the exhibition to let people see what it looks like like under those fragile textile wrappings.”

Dr Goldberg said it’s the “unique combination of familiar objects, exotic materials and exceptional preservation” that make the Galloway Hoard a fascinating find.

Retired businessman and metal detectorist Derek McLennan discovered the treasure in 2014 when he was scanning an area of ​​church land in Dumfries and Galloway with two local ministers.

Research continues into the Galloway Hoard. The Arts and Humanities Research Council has awarded support for a £1 million, three-year research project, Unwrapping the Galloway Hoard, led by National Museums Scotland.

The pectoral cross.
The pectoral cross.

One of the most recognizable items in the hoard is the pectoral cross.

After cleaning, the cross was revealed as a supreme example of a late Anglo-Saxon art-style known as Trewhiddle style, named after a late ninth-century hoard of metalwork from Cornwall. Its animal and plant forms are characteristic of this style.

The gleaming silver surface was carved and then inlaid with pieces of gold; both the silver and gold were then inlaid with black niello, a paste of silver and copper sulphide.

The gold areas were used to pick out important features such as the wings and haloes of the figures on the cross arms.

Several objects from the Galloway Hoard were made in the same style, including the gold bird-pin and the silver disc-brooches.

This use of figurative and naturalistic art differs from the largely abstract ‘Viking-age’ decoration of the silver arm-rings that it was buried with.

In each of the arms of the cross are the symbols of the four evangelists who wrote the Gospels of the New Testament:

Saint Matthew (bottom – haloed figure)

Saint Mark (right – the winged Lion)

Saint Luke (left – winged ox)

Saint John (top-eagle).

Parts of their bodies, and in the case of Matthew, his halo, are picked out in gold with a black and white background. All four symbols of the evangelists hold a book representing their Gospel.

Each evangelist is framed within a roundel set amidst a complex design of sprouting foliage.

The narrow, curved portions of the arms are filled with a tight interlace design shaped around the empty central circle, and the lion and winged ox look inward toward the missing central setting.

The lost feature at the crossing of the arms may once have held a depiction or symbol of Christ.

The free exhibition runs until October 23.

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