The intricate decoration of an ancient Anglo-Saxon silver cross buried for more than a millennium has been revealed for the first time, adding greater detail to one of Britain’s most remarkable archaeological finds.
The cross, decorated using black niello and gold-leaf, features engravings depicting each of the writers of the Gospels.
The Galloway Hoard is regarded as one of the richest and most significant finds of Viking objects ever found in the United Kingdom. Alongside the cross, there were rare silver bracelets and brooches, a gold ring and a bird-shaped gold pin.
The entire hoard, which was discovered in 2014. Credit: Courtesy National Museums Scotland
“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,” Leslie Webster, the former Keeper of Britain, Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum, said in a statement.
The cross was made in Northumbria — what is now northern England and southern Scotland — in the 9th century for a high-ranking cleric, Webster added.
Similar Anglo-Saxon crosses are exceptionally rare, Webster said; the only other known example comes from the 9th century, but is far less elaborate.
The Galloway Hoard was the subject of a $2.5 million lawsuit by the Church of Scotland last year, with the church claiming it was entitled to a share of the treasure trove since it was discovered on its land.
It had been found by retired businessman and detectorist Derek McLennan in a field in the Dumfries and Galloway region of western Scotland.
The cross before it was cleaned. Credit: Courtesy National Museums Scotland
“Initially I didn’t understand what I had found because I thought it was a silver spoon and then I turned it over and wiped my thumb across it and I saw the Saltire-type of design and knew instantly it was Viking,” McLennan told the BBC at the time of the discovery.
The cross, along with other parts of the collection, will be placed on display in Scotland from February.
“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,” Martin Goldberg, the principal curator of Early Medieval and Viking collections at National Museums Scotland, said in a statement.
Detail on one of the arms of the restored cross. Credit: Courtesy National Museums Scotland
“Was it bullion too, destined to be melted down into the types of ingots it was found with? We can easily imagine this cross being robbed from a Christian cleric during a raid on a church — a classic stereotype of the Viking Age,” he said. “But the complexity of this hoard forces us to reconsider simple stereotypes.”
The finds are relics of a period that saw the creation of the separate political entities we now know as Scotland, England and Ireland, National Museums Scotland said.