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What you can see at the new Galloway Hoard exhibition

The long-awaited exhibition Galloway Hoard has begun, now open at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Discovered in 2014, the hoard is one of the richest collections of rare and unique Viking-age objects ever found in the British Isles.

The new exhibition, Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure, offers the first chance to see details hidden by the dirt and corrosion of over a thousand years, revealed by expert conservation, painstaking cleaning and cutting-edge research. It will be on display in Edinburgh until September 12, 2021, then move to Kirkcudbright Galleries (9 Oct 2021 to 10 July 2022) and Aberdeen Art Gallery (30 July to 23 October 2022).

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The Galloway Hoard was buried around the year 900. After their discovery, it took several years for them to be properly cleaned and prepared. “The Galloway Hoard contains a wide range of materials, unusually so for a hoard of this period. That has meant that it has presented a wide range of conservation challenges, requiring a variety of treatments and approaches,” says Dr Mary Davis, an Artefact Conservator for National Museums Scotland. “The conservation and the research work so far have really gone hand in hand, revealing fantastic details on individual objects which have enabled us to start piecing together the story of the Hoard, and I’m pleased that the exhibition conveys a real sense of that process of discovery.”

Extracted 3D surface details from the lidded vessel. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland

A major revelation is remarkable new detail of the unique lidded vessel which contained the Galloway Hoard’s most precious treasures. Dr Martin Goldberg, Principal Curator, Medieval Archaeology & History at National Museums Scotland, explains, “This is only the third silver-gilt and decorated vessel to be found as part of a Viking-age hoard in the UK, and so we might have expected it to be like the other two. However, the 3D-model reveals that the vessel is not from the Carolingian (Holy Roman) Empire of continental Europe as we’d expected based on other similar examples. Instead, the decoration and design show leopards, tigers and Zoroastrian religious symbols, all of which suggest that it is a piece of Central Asian metalwork from halfway round the known world.

Gold objects – Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland

“Another surprise comes from radiocarbon dating of wool wrapping the vessel, which dates to AD 680-780. 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 under those fragile textile wrappings.”

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Beads, curios, and heirloom objects were bundled and strung together resting as a group on a silver brooch-hoop at the top of the lidded vessel in the Galloway Hoard. – photo courtesy National Museums Scotland

The exhibition will show how the Hoard was buried in four distinct parcels. The top layer was a parcel of silver bullion and a rare Anglo-Saxon cross, separated from a lower layer of three parts: firstly another parcel of silver bullion wrapped in leather and twice as big as the one above; secondly a cluster of four elaborately decorated silver ‘ribbon’ arm-rings bound together and concealing in their midst a small wooden box containing three items of gold; and thirdly a lidded, silver gilt vessel wrapped in layers of textile and packed full of carefully wrapped objects that appear to be have been curated like relics or heirlooms. They include beads, pendants, brooches, bracelets, an elaborate belt-set, a rock crystal jar and other curios, often strung or wrapped with silk.

Conserved bird pin from the Galloway Hoard – photo courtesy National Museums Scotland

“The Galloway Hoard rightly drew international attention both on its discovery and its acquisition by National Museums Scotland following a successful major fundraising campaign,” adds Dr Chris Breward, Director of National Museums Scotland. “I’m sure people will be fascinated to have this opportunity to see it now far more clearly, to understand its importance and to gain an insight into the amazingly detailed work that we have done and are continuing to do with it. We are excited to finally be able to show The Galloway Hoard in the National Museum of Scotland and are also greatly looking forward to bringing it to Kirkcudbright in October.”

To learn more about this exhibition, please visit the National Museums Scotland website.

Top Image: Items from the Galloway Hoard – photo courtesy National Museums Scotland

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