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The Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure

Chambers St, Edinburgh EH1 1JF, UK

It feels incredibly joyous to announce that I visited a museum today. I have many fond memories attached to visiting the National Museum of Scotland from visiting when I was a child with my mum and grandma to it becoming a place of solace and tranquillity during more stressful periods at university. This past year I’ve missed many things but ‘visiting museums’ has been very close to the top. Therefore, I’m beyond excited and honoured to be working with the National Museum of Scotland to promote their new, free exhibition “The Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure”.

The museum is open daily from 10am to 4.30pm and free to visit as long as you pre-book a ticket online. It felt very reassuring to be waiting in a socially distanced queue for my turn to enter as I know the museum is taking every possible precaution to keep visitors as safe as possible. For those wondering, as well as limited numbers, I also spotted various hand sanitising stations, anti-bacterial wipes in the toilets, and sign-posted one-way systems. Once I was waved forward and my e-ticket was scanned, I headed up to the third floor for the exhibition.


Before we enter the exhibition, I thought a little background about the Galloway Hoard might be helpful. It’s the richest Viking-age hoard ever found in Britain or Ireland and features rare treasures buried more than 1000 years ago! Incredibly, it lay undiscovered until 2014 when a metal detectorist stumbled across it in Kirkcudbrightshire. Since then, National Museums Scotland has raised the funds to exhibit the items and conduct research into better understanding the Hoard. 

The exhibition begins with a short video introducing you to the Galloway Hoard before you begin your journey of uncovering the Viking hoard. I say uncovering because that’s exactly what it felt like. The artefacts were fascinating in and of themselves but the way they were presented to visitors really captured my attention and I found myself being propelled through the exhibition by my curiosity. For instance, the first objects on display were part of the first layer they discovered in the Hoard called the ‘decoy layer’ then the further you venture into the exhibition you are introduced to the more valuable ‘lower layers’.   

The ‘decoy’ layer featured silver bullion and a beautifully restored Anglo-Saxon cross. I enjoyed the questions in the descriptions like ‘Why was the centre of the Anglo-Saxon cross removed? Had it been desecrated or was the central figure carefully removed as a token?’. The element of uncertainty and the questions posed really made the whole exhibit feel very engaging to me. As well as regular short videos, another feature that I found interesting were the frequent QR codes beside objects on display which direct visitors to a 3D scan of the object where they can have a closer look at a specific artefact.  

I went into the exhibit knowing next to nothing about the Viking Age and was fascinated to learn about the ‘arm rings’ which were in the decoy layer of the hoard. The arm-rings were often made of silver, designed to be worn on the arms and acted as their currency. Each arm-ring is unique due to the differing patterns hammered into the silver. A small wooden box was found amongst a cluster of these arm-rings and hidden within were three gold objects. Interestingly, this is rare as silver was more common in the Viking Age. I was drawn to the dainty gold bird pin which is part of the trio of gold objects. There’s some speculation about what kind of bird it is but I agree with the National Museum of Scotland, it’s definitely reminiscent of a flamingo.  


Moving onto the ‘lower layer’, these objects were more valuable so were better concealed and well protected. The most remarkable find within the Galloway Hoard is a small, decorated, lidded vessel filled with a collection of artefacts. I was surprised and very impressed when I read that the vessel on display was, in fact, a 3D model of the original as the original is covered in delicate fabrics that are too fragile to be put on display. The original vessel was crammed full of gold objects, glass heirloom objects, rock crystal, and a large collection of Anglo-Saxon metalwork. Similar to the rest of the exhibition the vessel’s contents are displayed in the order they were unpacked, leaving the carefully packaged objects at the base of the vessel towards the end of the tour. These objects were even more unusual and exceptionally preserved. Two objects caught my attention; the gold ‘Blackstone’ pendant and the dirt balls. The large pendent is covered in gold filigree framework and contains a metamorphic stone. The interesting thing about this piece is why a traditionally less valuable gemstone was treated with special care? According to the researchers, it could be because it performed an important function – traces of gold on the surface suggest it was a touchstone used for assessing the quality of gold. Similarly, why was a collection of dirt balls at the base of the vessel among the most valuable items? Included in the description were questions like ‘Where did they come from?’ or ‘Did they have spiritual significance? 


Having a naturally curious disposition, I found this exhibition extremely fascinating and I revelled in the mystery behind all the objects. I’ve only described a small percentage of what’s on display so if you are able to visit, I can’t recommend booking a free ticket to the exhibition enough. I’m looking forward to what future research might yet uncover about this magnificent Viking-age find!

 If you’d like more information or to book your tickets here’s the link:
www.nms.ac.uk/gallowayhoard

I was invited by National Museums Scotland to experience the Galloway Hoard as part of a paid partnership but all opinions are my own. 







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