Jewellery ‘dipped in some conservy type stuff tae tak a shine’

There’s no missing Shetland Mus­eum’s latest exhibit, even though it just fills one plain cabinet right in the middle of the foyer as you come in.

Pieces from the Skaill Hoard have been taken to the isles by the firm Shetland Jewellery to coincide with the 17th Viking Congress, a gathering of academics (Up-Helly- A’ with books?) to be held in Shet­land next week, the first time since 1950.

Here now are pieces from a buried treasure or hoard that lay untouched for 900 years, until its discovery in 1858 in a sandy rabbit hole by St Peter’s Church at Sandwick, Orkney.

There are several parallels with Douglas Coutts’ discovery of the St Ninian’s Isle treasure. These exam­ples are on loan from the National Museum of Scotland and are from an original loot of 115 items weigh­ing 15lb, probably buried before Norway adopted Christianity.

We can only speculate about who buried them, and never returned to claim their hoard. It is all the more remarkable as artefacts of this value were often melted down and reworked without any consideration for their historical value.

The items range from basic silver armbands to intricate bangles, one having been made from eight strands of silver. There’s a coin originally from Baghdad as well as a more pedestrian Anglo-Saxon one.

It is thought some of the jewellery was made in the Isle of Man. Silver ingots show teeth marks where the quality was tested, as silver was often alloyed to deceive.

Much of these pieces as well as pronouncing the wealth status of the wearer were likely often used as cur­rency some are the finest examples from the Viking age in Shetland.

Trevor Jamieson of the museum, before going to row some visitors out and about in the harbour, said in his droll style that they had genuinely been impressed by the interest from visitors and locals alike so far. He conceded that the jewellery had likely been “dipped in some con­servy type stuff tae tak a shine”.

This is a genuine treasure to see and will be an added attraction as “viking” scholars arrive to discuss all things from the Norse world next week.

Stephen Gordon


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