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Viking Age artefacts found on the Isle of Man

The recent of discovery of Viking Age artefacts on the Isle of Man has been declared to be a national treasure, and will be included in one of the British island’s museums.

First discovered in December 2018 by metal detectorists John Crowe and Craig Evans, the finds include two highly decorated oval brooches, made from bronze with silver wire decoration and most likely gilded, dating to around AD 900-950. A coroner’s inquest has now declared it to be a treasure, and the items will be put on display at the Manx Museum after conservation experts prepare them.

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“The Isle of Man has a rich Viking heritage and the Manx National Collections reflect this,” says Allison Fox, Curator of Archaeology for Manx National Heritage. “But, this type of brooch, worn by Scandinavian women in the Viking Age and usually found in graves, has been missing so far. In addition to the brooches, there was also one decorated glass bead made in Ireland and a belt with bronze fittings, most likely made in the Irish Sea area, so although proud of her Scandinavian roots, this particular pagan lady also wore local fashions.”

Oval brooches were used as decoration but also to hold together an outer dress, similar to a pinafore.  They were attached to the shoulder and the front of the dress.  A necklace with beads and/or metal decoration may have been worn between the two brooches.

Viking Age Glass bead, made in Ireland discovered on the Isle of Man – photo courtesy Manx National Heritage

“Oval brooches are particularly common in the Viking homelands,” Allison adds, “and are seen almost as national dress, showing that the wearer was most likely of Scandinavian origin.  The absence of this type of brooch from the Island before now has led to theories that it was only the men from Scandinavia that settled on the Isle of Man in the early Viking Age.”

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As artefacts like this are often found in graves, Manx National Heritage commissioned a targeted archaeological excavation of the find site to establish whether or not there were any other remains present.  Archaeologists from York Archaeological Trust (YAT) conducted a small excavation on site but no grave was found.

The brooches are currently with conservators at York Archaeological Trust. Ian Panter, Head of Conservation at York Archaeological Trust, comments, “Having been safely stored in our state-of-the-art conservation lab throughout the lockdown, we now look forward to working with Manx National Heritage in investigating and conserving these brooches using the expertise and great care our reputation is built on.”

The Vikings arrived on the Isle of Man in the 800s, firstly trading and eventually settling. Being a maritime people, and the position of the island right in the centre of the British Isles meant that it was perfect as for the Norse to use as a base, first for trade, then for settlement.  A number of Viking Age burials have been found on the Isle of Man, both male and female.  The earliest ones were buried in the pagan tradition with grave goods.  The Manx Viking legacy is still very evident, not least through the modern parliament, Tynwald, which has its roots in this period.  There is still plenty of Viking influence to be seen in the landscape, with castles, burial mounds and settlements all visible.  Many spectacular artefacts from the Viking Age on the Isle of Man can be seen in the Manx Museum, Douglas.

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“Crucially, after John and Craig found the brooches, they did exactly the right thing and brought them to the Manx Museum without cleaning any of the soil from the outside or the inside,” Allison notes. “This is so important because the brooches are quite fragile and because there might still be small fragments surviving of the textiles from the clothes the woman was buried in.”

Top Image: Photo courtesy Manx National Heritage

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