‘Extraordinary’ restoration of Roman rock crystal jar from Galloway hoard | Archaeology

When the Galloway hoard was unearthed from a ploughed subject in western Scotland in 2014, it supplied the richest assortment of Viking-age objects ever present in Britain or Eire. However one of the artefacts paled as compared with treasures similar to a gold bird-shaped pin and a silver-gilt vessel as a result of it was inside a pouch that was mangled and misshapen after nearly 1,000 years within the floor.

Now that pouch has been eliminated and its contents restored, revealing a rare Roman rock crystal jar wrapped in beautiful layers of gold thread by the best medieval craftsman within the late eighth or early ninth century.

About 5cm excessive, it might as soon as have held a fragrance or different prized potion used to anoint kings, or in spiritual ceremonies. It had been rigorously wrapped in a silk-lined leather-based pouch, reflecting its significance.

The hoard, which included about 100 objects, was buried round AD900 and contained artefacts from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Eire and as distant as Asia. It was unearthed by a steel detectorist on what’s now Church of Scotland land in Kirkcudbrightshire.


After a fundraising marketing campaign to boost £2m, it was acquired by Nationwide Museums Scotland in 2017.

Dr Martin Goldberg, NMS’s principal curator of early medieval and Viking collections, described the jar as “actually lovely” and all of the extra distinctive as a result of his analysis has led him to conclude that the rock crystal carving was actually Roman. It was maybe 600 years outdated by the point it was reworked right into a gold-wrapped jar.

He mentioned: “So it’s a very shocking and distinctive object.”

Dr Leslie Webster, former keeper of Britain, prehistory and Europe on the British Museum, mentioned: “Rock crystal is uncommon in itself. It … was significantly prized within the vintage world for its transparency and translucency, and so it’s related to purity. So it was, I feel even in its time, very, very particular …

“I’ve seen lots of Anglo-Saxon finds over time in my skilled profession, some of them superb. However this totally knocks all of them right into a cocked hat.”

The base of the rock crystal jar.
The bottom of the rock crystal jar. {Photograph}: Neil Hanna

The restoration has revealed an surprising Latin inscription on the jar’s base. Spelled out in gold letters, it interprets as “Bishop Hyguald had me made”. That is essential proof that some of the hoard’s materials might have come from a church within the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, which included Dumfries and Galloway and stretched as far north as Edinburgh and as far south as Sheffield.

At the beginning of the tenth century, Alfred the Nice was pushing again the Danes, laying the foundations of medieval England and Alba, the dominion that turned medieval Scotland. It’s unclear whether or not the hoard was buried by a Viking – Norse sagas confer with riches being buried to be accessed within the afterlife – or somebody fearing Viking raids at a time when ecclesiastical treasures have been being robbed from monasteries.

Goldberg mentioned that silk was then a very luxurious and unique materials: “It’s come from Asia, so it’s travelled 1000’s of miles. It’s an instance of how valuable they thought this object inside was,” he mentioned.

Though Bishop Hyguald might have been a distinguished determine in Northumbrian ecclesiastical circles, church chronicles of the interval are incomplete, partly as a result of of the Viking invasions.

Goldberg expressed pleasure at discovering the title. “A lot of the previous is nameless, particularly if you’re taking a look at very early historical past,” he mentioned. “There are only a few names to work with. However that is including new data, constructing a a lot richer image.”

The rock crystal design resembles the capital of a Corinthian column, with carved lobes that seem like foliage, he realised. “It’s nearly an ideal mannequin of a Corinthian column, however the scale is minute,” he mentioned.

There may be the likelihood that this jar nonetheless bears hint components of the potion it as soon as held and that its exact chemical compounds may be revealed.


Goldberg mentioned: “The sort of liquid that we’d count on could be one thing very unique, maybe a fragrance from the Orient, one thing’s that’s travelled in the identical method that the silk has. There have been sure varieties of unique oil that have been utilized in anointing kings and ecclesiastical ceremonies.”

Ninety-seven of the hoard’s artefacts are included in a touring exhibition, titled The Galloway hoard: Viking-age treasure. It’s at Kirkcudbright Galleries, close to the location of its discovery, till 10 July, transferring to Aberdeen Artwork Gallery from 30 July to 23 October. The jar is present process last work however, from Monday, a brand new movie and digital mannequin will probably be featured.

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