TREASURES from the largest hoard of Viking silver ever found in Scotland are returning to the Northern Isles for the first time since they were unearthed on Orkney more than a century ago.
In March 1858, David Linklater chased a rabbit into its hole near St Peter’s Kirk in Sandwick in Orkney, near the Bay of Skaill, and as he dug at the entrance to the warren he came across a few scattered pieces of silver buried in the earth.
His find led to the discovery of the remarkable “Skaill Hoard” - 15 lbs of silver bullion consisting of 115 items of Viking jewellery, including nine brooches, 14 necklets, 27 armlets, an assortment of ingots and silver fragments and Anglo-Saxon and Arabic coins.
A Shetland Amenity Trust spokeswoman explained: “The hoard of metal rings and other items were reported to the authorities, and it was claimed by the Crown as an antiquity of national importance. David Linklater had discovered one of the finest hoards of Viking silver ever found in Britain.
“The hoard comprised 15 lbs of bullion, consisting of 115 items, mostly jewellery. One of the twenty-one coins is a dirham, minted in Baghdad, in present-day Iraq, in AD 945 to 946. It indicates the hoard was buried in the later 10th Century, in the heyday of Earldom of Orkney that ruled the Northern Isles, and the heady days of pagan power struggles.
“The Skaill cache was carefully concealed in a box of stone slabs, but the rich owners never recovered the booty, and it lay forgotten for 900 years.”
The Orkney hoard is now one of the treasures in the collections of the National Museums Scotland, but now part of the collection is to be displayed at the Shetland Museum and Archives from Friday.
The Trust spokeswoman said that in addition to the coin from the Middle East, the cache includes a number of items from closer to home.
She said: “The Skaill brooches were possibly produced in the Isle of Man, maybe by the same silversmith, and there are bracelets constructed of strands twisted together. Whatever form it was in, silver was used as money: bangles of a fairly standard weight could be used as payment; bits of broken-up brooches and cut pieces of silver were used in the same way. Silversmiths melted down items into ingots, and these were also a resource for metalworking. Two of the ingots are notched, where someone has tested the metal quality - silver was commonly alloyed to make it less pure.”
Jilly Burns, Head of National and International Partnerships at National Museums Scotland said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with our colleagues in Shetland on the loan and display of these unique treasures.”
Burns added: “It is hugely important to us to make the National Collections available as widely as possible across the country though programmes, loans, events and exhibitions, and we hope that the Skaill Hoard will prove as fascinating and popular with visitors as our other recent loans to Shetland Museum and Archives.”
The exhibition coincides with the 17th Viking Congress, an international gathering of Viking scholars taking place on the islands. It is the first time the congress has been staged in Shetland since the first edition was held in Lerwick in 1950.
The Skaill treasures will be on display at Shetland Museum and Archives until Shetland’s annual Viking festival, Up Helly Aa, in January next year.