The 'melting pot' of cultures that forged the kingdom of Scotland

Scotland was home to ‘melting pot’ of diverse ideas and cultures as early as the medieval era with a mixed population moving around and mixing with each other more than previously thought.

Dr Adrian Maldonado, Glenmorangie Research Fellow at National Museums Scotland, with the Hunterston Brooch, one of the museum's most prized medieval objects which features on the cover of a new book, Crucible of Nations: Scotland from Viking Age to Medieval Kingdom. The brooch was made around 700AD, using extremely sophisticated Irish-Scottish metalworking techniques. Some 200 years later, a Viking runic inscription was added of the Gaelic name Melbrigda. [image credit: Neil Hanna]"

A new book, Crucible of Nations: Scotland from Viking Age to Medieval Kingdom, looks how people of different languages and culture came together from the 9th to 12th Centuries with a new understanding of early Scotland built on fresh research into the artefacts that were left behind.

Author Dr Adrián Maldonado, Glenmorangie Research Fellow at National Museums Scotland, uses archaeology to trace how the kingdom of Scotland was forged by the interaction between several cultural groups – including those who spoke Pictish, Gaelic, British, Old English and Old Norse.

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Many objects indicate the sharing of ideas, language, techniques and materials across the population, with the impact of the Vikings, the disappearance of The Picts and the emergence of Alba, the Gaelic-speaking kingdom that formed the core of the medieval kingdom of Scotland, examined.

Dr Maldonado said: “Crucible of Nations explores what material evidence tells us about this important, yet poorly understood period in Scottish history.

"What’s new here is that we take in multiple perspectives on the events of this the Viking Age – Picts, Gaels, Britons, Scandinavians, and Anglo-Saxons, all living in this one corner of Britain. There is more to the Viking Age than just Vikings.

“When we examine these collections together, the archaeology gives us a much bigger picture of a Scotland forged by its diversity, with new identities born out of shared experience. One of the most surprising insights is how much of what we think of as ‘Viking’ material in Scotland includes things made in Britain and Ireland.”

The book features more than 200 new images of objects held by the National Collection, such as the Hunterston Brooch, which was probably made at a royal site such as Dunadd, Argyll, by an extremely skilled jewellery who was familiar with Anglo-Saxon, Irish and Irish-Scottish techniques of decorative metalwork.

Some 200 years after it was made, its then owner added an inscription in Viking Runes, which can be seen on the reverse of the brooch.

New discoveries such as an Anglo-Saxon runic inscription from the Pictish kingdom are also examined. The inscription was found on a small piece of metal found as part of the Croy Hoard in Torvean, Inverness. The balance beam, which sat on top of a scale to measure weights, features an inscription in Anglo-Saxon runes, which roughly translates as "weigher", or "I weigh". It is the most known northerly known example of the language.

Since 2008, the Glenmorangie Research Project has enabled National Museums Scotland to enhance understanding of the archaeology and history of medieval Scotland.

Thomas Moradpour, President and CEO of The Glenmorangie Company said: “We are delighted to have supported the production of this wonderful publication, whose rich illustration and new insights show the value of a project which began more than a decade ago, and which delves into this pivotal period when Scotland became a nation.”

Crucible of Nations: Viking Age to Medieval Scotland by Dr Adrián Maldonado is out now and available to order online from the National Museum of Scotland shop (including online) and from all good bookshops

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