New Research to Unlock the Secrets of the Galloway Hoard

The Galloway Hoard
The Galloway Hoard. Image Credit: -JvL- via Flickr

National Museums Scotland is set to lead a new research project into one of Britain’s most important archaeological sites, the Galloway Hoard. 

Funded through a grant by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the three-year project will carried out in collaboration with the University of Glasgow. 

‘Unwrapping the Galloway Hoard’

The Galloway Hoard is one of the rarest collections of Viking-age objects ever found in Britain or Ireland. Buried around the end of the 9th century in Dumfries and Galloway, it has been described as a ‘stunning variety of objects and materials’.

The Hoard is set to go on display from February at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh in a new exhibition, Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure.

According to the National Museum of Scotland, the exhibition will offer an unparalleled glimpse into the hoard, highlighting details hidden for more than a thousand years. Researchers said painstaking cleaning work and expert conservation has made the exhibition possible.

The new research project will enable far more detailed analysis and understanding of the Hoard, including more precise dating of the material. Researchers said the project could also identify the origin of some pieces found in the hoard, which are believed to have originated in a range of places; from Ireland to the Byzantine Empire and beyond. 

3D digital modelling and radiocarbon dating will also help researchers delve into the hoard and unlock its secrets. 

Dr Martin Goldberg, Principal Curator, Medieval Archaeology & History at National Museums Scotland, and lead investigator on the project said: “Most hoards are usually interpreted as buried wealth, with the focus on events surrounding the moment of burial.

“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.”

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Dr Susanna Harris Lecturer in Archaeology the University of Glasgow, and co-investigator on the project commented: “The Galloway hoard is the richest, most varied and well-preserved collection of precious and exotic objects surviving from Viking-age Britain and Ireland.

“Beyond the silver, familiar from most Viking-age hoards, and the much rarer gold, is an unprecedented array of other materials such as bronze, glass, and rock crystal, entangled with the outstandingly rare preservation of organic materials (wood, leather, wool, linen, and silk).

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

Dr Harris added: “Once we have identified and recorded the textiles wrapping objects, they can be chemically tested for dye to help us reconstruct lost colours which have faded over the centuries since burial, or they can be radiocarbon dated to help us reconstruct the long lives of these objects before they were buried.

“Certain types of scientific analysis are better suited to particular materials, but with this exceptional range of material we can apply various techniques and learn more about the whole Hoard. Unwrapping the Hoard, literally and figuratively, is a unique and wonderful opportunity.”

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