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The lidded vessel which contained the Galloway Hoard's most precious treasures is itself a revelation. For the first time in over a thousand years the detailed surface of the vessel has been brought to light by expert conservation and cutting-edge research.

The Galloway Hoard vessel fact file

Date

Not yet known. Possibly 6th century to 8th century AD. Buried circa AD900

Found

2014 at Balmaghie, Dumfries and Galloway

Made from

Silver. The decoration on the vessel is chased (hammered from the front) and engraved in outline (inlaid with niello, a black silver sulphide paste). Key parts of the decoration are also gilded. The vessel was also wrapped in layers of textile when it was buried and these now cover the decorated surface

On display

3D printed scale model in The Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure, Level 3. Original vessel kept in controlled environmental stores to preserve the textiles for further research

Did you know?

The vessel's place of origin is not yet precisely known, but the evidence of the surface decoration that was revealed by the 3D model suggests that it was made beyond Europe, in Central Asia. This freshly revealed decoration is an area of ongoing research.

The Galloway Hoard was discovered by a metal-detectorist in 2014 on what is now Church of Scotland land at Balmaghie in Kirkcudbrightshire, Dumfries and Galloway. A silver-gilt decorated vessel carefully wrapped in woollen textiles formed part of the discovery.

Pear-shaped vessel, corroded green with fraying brown textile clinging to it in patches. Naturalistic patterns are hinted at beneath.The original Galloway Hoard vessel, which is kept safely in controlled environmental stores. Image © Historic Environment Scotland. 

Some of the vessel's contents, such as two dirt-balls, appear mundane at first glance. Thanks to recent research, they have proven to be anything but. Everything within this vessel was valued for a variety of reasons based on where it came from, how old it was, and who had owned it previously. This uniquely composed collection would have been priceless to the person or people who brought it all together. The diverse origins of the vessel's contents complicate the stereotype of a 'Viking' hoard.

Illustration showing the vessel and its contents in grey and gold silhouettes. The vessel stand upright on the left side, with brooches, arm-rings, coins and others in the middle and right. Exhibition graphic depicting the vessel and its contents from Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure.

Conservation work is allowing us to see these objects clearly for the first time . . . This exhibition offers a rare ‘snapshot’, the chance to see real archaeological work in progress, both what we have learned so far and the work still to be done.
- Dr Martin Goldberg, Senior Curator Early Medieval and Viking Collections

A closer look: investigate the vessel in 3D

3D scans make it possible to get an unprecedented look at the Galloway Hoard vessel's decorations. Give it a spin below, and see what details reveal themselves to you.

New technologies, new insights

New 3D models, taken from X-ray imaging done at the British Museum and produced with the help of the Glasgow School of Art and Steven Dey of ThinkSee3D Ltd, have enabled researchers to see beneath the textiles for a privileged glimpse of the decorated surface of the vessel. This is a major revelation, allowing us as well as visitors to the exhibition to have a privileged glimpse of the vessel's decorated surface for the first time in over one thousand years.

The modelling, alongside dating analysis of the textiles, has revealed surprising new details about its age and origin. Radiocarbon dating of the wool wrapping the vessel dates the textile to between 680 and 780 AD. Not only is the vessel from beyond Europe; the wool wrapping it pre-dates the Viking Age, being one or two centuries old by the time the hoard was buried.


3D scanned vessel against a grey background. The vessel is smooth, shiny and intricately decorated all over with swirling, naturalistic patterns. A carving of a crown-shaped fire temple is the focus.

3D imagery of the vessel, highlighting the Zoroastrian fire temple symbol, leopards, and tigers. Scanned at the British Museum and produced with the help of Glasgow School of Art and Steven Dey, ThinkSee3D Ltd.

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. Tigers and leopards often feature in hunting scenes on silverware from the Sasanian Empire (AD224-651). The central spine within each roundel is a Zoroastrian fire-altar, an important feature of Zoroastrianism and Sasanian imperial iconography also commonly found on their coinage. It is remarkable to find one of these eastern vessels so far to the west, thousands of miles from where it originated.

What makes the vessel special?

There are some important differences that make the Galloway Hoard vessel distinct from other Viking-age hoard vessels. Other vessels contained silver. Here the silver bullion was buried outside and the contents of this vessel are unlike any other Viking-age hoard.

This is also the only vessel used as a treasure container with a surviving lid. Most importantly, this vessel was carefully wrapped with evidence for three layers of textile. We are recording and preserving these rare survivals for the future and further investigation will explore how they were made, and whether they were coloured or embellished.

A 3D reproduction of the vessel is held up by two hands in white gloves. One hand gently lifts the vessel's lid several inches up.Reproduction of the vessel. Image ©Neil Hanna.

The lid sealing the vessel helped to create unusual conditions within for leather and textile preservation. These materials are of huge value to archaeologists because they rarely survive and, unlike gold or silver, they can be scientifically analysed using techniques such as radiocarbon dating.

Were they garments hastily grabbed from whatever was close at hand to stash this precious vessel? Or were they specially made covers for a lidded vessel that was only ever meant to be revealed to particular people at special moments? Many questions remain, and a three-year research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council seeks to answer them. Meanwhile, the vessel's detailed surface can be seen for the first time during the Galloway Hoard: Viking-Age Treasure exhibition.

Book now to see the Galloway Hoard

The Galloway Hoard is now on display at the National Museum of Scotland. Click below to pre-book entry to the museum, which includes access to the exhibition.

The Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure

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