'It was encrusted in a millennium's worth of dirt' Conservation work reveals stunning new detail of cross in Galloway Hoard buried for 1,000 years

Conservation work has revealed stunning new detail of an Anglo-Saxon cross buried for over 1,000 years as part of the Galloway Hoard, one of the UK’s most important archaeological finds of recent times.

Pre-conservation left and the stunning detail revealed (right)
Pre-conservation left and the stunning detail revealed (right)

Previously encrusted in a millennium’s worth of dirt, months of painstaking cleaning and conservation work has revealed an intricately decorated silver cross, allowing scholars to view this detail for the first time before it is put on public display in a new exhibition, Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh from February 19.

The silver cross is decorated in Late Anglo-Saxon style using black niello and gold-leaf. In each of the four arms of the cross are the symbols of the four evangelists who wrote the Gospels of the New Testament, Saint Matthew, Mark (Lion), Luke (Cow) and John (Eagle).

Dr Martin Goldberg, Principal Curator of Early Medieval and Viking Collections at National Museums Scotland said: “Our approach to developing further understanding of the Galloway Hoard involves the great patience, careful examination and pain-staking care of conservation, combined with wide-ranging research on the great variety of materials and objects in this outstanding hoard.

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Stunning new detail has been revealed

"The cross is a wonderfully visual representation of the work we have been doing to reveal new details about the hoard. The conservation work lets us see this object clearly for the first time in over a thousand years, but it also reveals a whole new set of questions.”

The cross is just one of many unusual features in the Galloway Hoard. Late Anglo-Saxon Christian metalwork is very unusual in Viking-age silver hoards. As well as silver bullion, the Galloway Hoard contains a large collection of brooches, bracelets, glass beads, pendants, curios, heirlooms and more gold than any other hoard surviving from Viking-age Britain and Ireland, as well as outstanding preservation of organic materials including Scotland’s earliest examples of silk.

Dr Leslie Webster, former Keeper of Britain, Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum, added: “The pectoral cross, with its subtle decoration of evangelist symbols and foliage, glittering gold and black inlays, and its delicately coiled chain, is an outstanding example of the Anglo-Saxon goldsmith’s art. It was made in Northumbria in the later ninth century for a high-ranking cleric, as the distinctive form of the cross suggests. Anglo-Saxon crosses of this kind are exceptionally rare, and only one other – much less elaborate – is known from the ninth century. The discovery of this pendant cross, in such a remarkable context, is of major importance for the study of early medieval goldsmith’s work, and for our understanding of Viking and Anglo-Saxon interactions in this turbulent period.”

The Galloway Hoard was discovered in 2014, and it was acquired by National Museums Scotland in 2017. Since then, it has been undergoing extensive conservation and research at the National Museums Collection Centre in Edinburgh.

Pre-conservation, covered in 1,000 years of dirt

The exhibition, which is supported by Baillie Gifford Investment Managers, will run at the National Museum of Scotland until May 9 next year, before touring to Kirkcudbright Galleries and Aberdeen Art Gallery.

Following the tour, research into the contents of the Galloway Hoard will continue. Part of it will go on long-term display at the national museum with a significant portion of it also displayed long-term at Kirkcudbright Galleries.

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