Viking buried treasures come in all shapes and sizes these days but there’s rarely, if ever, been such an exciting haul of elegant ancient art discovered in a single pre-history hiding hole as that presently on display at the National Museum of Scotland. The Galloway Hoard was discovered in 2014 by Ayrshire metal detectorist Derek McLennan and acquired for the nation by National Museums Scotland three years later. Now in the hands of expert archaeological doyens, this ancient cache of unusual silver, gold, silk, wool, linen, leather and sophisticated art has been gently revealed to us through precision lab treatments.
The exhibition is smartly managed to ensure social distancing and leads us through a variety of darkened rooms highlighting the beauty of arm rings, ingots, brooches and Anglo-Saxon metalwork. Many objects are supported by short videos, explanations and clever digital displays that appear on your smartphone via a QR code. It’s an ingenious means of getting a close ‘hands on’ look at many of the extremely delicate items on show. The 3D images can be manipulated and inspected from all angles.
The centrepiece of the haul is an exquisitely decorated silver container which is the first such vessel to be brought to the surface with its lid intact. Many of the valuable items survived because of this firmly swathed treasure. Other highlights include a pectoral cross laced with detailed Christian iconography and a swooping flamingo shaped pin adorned with bejewelled eyes and tiny interlaced feathers that has a weirdly modern appearance for something over a thousand years old. Indeed, contemporary jewellery designers might be surprised at many familiar techniques and patterns on display here. Despite their reputation as rogues and brutes, it seems the Vikings really did know a thing about bling.
Admission is free but pre-booking is required.
With thanks to Artmag contributor Malcolm McGonigle for this review. All images National Museums Scotland.