Scans of Viking pot reveal hidden brooches, gold ingots, and beads

Scans of Viking pot reveal hidden brooches, gold ingots, and beads

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Scans of Viking pot reveal hidden brooches, gold ingots, and beads

A hospital X-ray has helped to reveal the contents of a 9th Century bronze pot found in Dumfries and Galloway by an amateur with a metal detector. The sealed vessel was part of a major Viking hoard found at an undisclosed location earlier this year. It was considered too delicate to open so Historic Scotland teamed up with Borders General Hospital.

The £485,000 unit, normally used on patients, revealed brooches, ingots and beads inside. Richard Welander, head of collections with Historic Scotland, said: “When I saw the results I was reminded of the words of Sir Howard Carter when Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened in 1922 – “I see wonderful things”.

“We are all so grateful to the Borders General Hospital for allowing us to forensically examine one of the key objects of the hoard. “As with human patients, we need to investigate in a non-invasive way before moving onto delicate surgery.

Experts used a CT scanner to inspect what is inside the Viking pot. The circular shape in the upper right corner is said to be an ornate bead. The dome object to its left is a bone or ivory bead, and the coil curling from the bottom left to the center is five brooches. But the rectangular shape at the center remains a mystery

“In this case, that will be the careful removal of the contents and the all-important conservation of these items.”  Retired businessman Derek McLennan, 47, discovered the vessel among more than 100 artefacts on Church of Scotland land at an undisclosed site in Dumfries and Galloway.

When the find was made public by Scotland’s Treasure Trove Unit last month, it was described as “one of the most significant Viking hoards ever discovered in Scotland”. But the small pot with a sealed lid fascinated experts who believed it contained more objects.

Derek McLennan, who found the trove, was approached by Richard Welander, head of collections with Historic Scotland, who was aware of the previous use of the hospital’s CT scanner for research. With the permission of the hospital chief, the pot was brought in for an evening scanning session (pictured)

They knew from its ornate exterior that it hailed from the west European Carolingian period between 780 and 900 AD but had no idea what treasures it contained.

That is when Mr Welander made the call to Dr John Reid, consultant radiographer at Borders General Hospital, a keen amateur archaeologist and chairman of the Trimontium Trust in Melrose.

‘Precious object’

He had previously used the CT (Computed Tomography) Scanner to supervise the scanning of the remains of a Roman soldier’s head discovered at Trimontium, a former Roman camp near Melrose.

After obtaining permission from hospital chiefs, Dr Reid supervised the scanning of the pot. He said: “The conservationists did not want to guddle about and compromise this precious object.

“I would like to assure people that this work takes place outwith normal hours and in no way impedes the important work we do for our human patients.

The protected pot is shown being scanned in Borders General Hospital. The CT scanner consists of an X-ray tube that rotates around the object. These rays are received by a detector on the opposite side of the object, and an image of the scan is created. It produces 120 visual ‘slices’, and is accurate to within half a millimeter

“The scanner is both rapid and accurate, with the ability to produce 120 visual slices and is accurate to within half a millimetre.”

A short video of the pot being scanned at the hospital is currently available on YouTube under the title “Scanning Viking Hoard”.

Galloway Viking treasure bids weighed up

An expert panel has met to help decide where a Viking treasure hoard discovered in southern Scotland should be permanently housed. Both Dumfries and Galloway Council and National Museums Scotland are bidding for the artefacts.

Experts were unable to open the 9th-century Carolingian pot (pictured), which was found on church land in Dumfries and Galloway in September

The Scottish Archaeological Finds Allocation Panel has met to discuss the hoard’s future. It will make a recommendation on where the treasure should go to the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer. The find was made by a metal detectorist in south west Scotland in 2014.

Dumfries and Galloway Council wants to house the hoard in a new art gallery being built in Kirkcudbright.

Their bid has been backed by a local campaign which delivered a 5,000 signature petition to the Scottish Parliament earlier this week. They have both argued that the treasure should be returned to the region where it was found.

Key moments in the hoard’s story

It had been hoped a joint bid could be agreed with NMS but that has proved impossible. NMS said it believed it had put forward a proposal which benefitted both organisations.

The discovery was made in early September by retiree Derek McLennan. I was made on the Church of Scotland land, but the exact location hasn’t been revealed. A gold ring found in the hoard is pictured

It would see some of the hoard go on display permanently in Kirkcudbright and, on occasions, the entire collection hosted in the town. However, no agreement has been reached between the two bodies and it will now be up to the SAFAP to make a recommendation.

An early medieval cross was also found among the hoard of Viking treasure. The cross is engraved with decorations that experts claim are highly unusual, and which finder Mr. McLennan believes may represent the four Gospels

It assesses the applications according to a number of criteria with a presumption that they should be allocated locally unless a “convincing argument” for placing it elsewhere can be made.

Other factors taken into account include:

  • the national importance of the find
  • the need to keep a collection together in one place
  • special conservation requirements
  • the potential to maximise public access
  • research possibilities
  • security
  • the views of the finder

If an organisation bidding to host a hoard disagrees with the recommendation made by the panel it can make a case for it to be reconsidered.

That would result in the case being deferred for further consideration at a future meeting.

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P. Natasha Covers Classical Archaeology news and has been with Histecho since 2017. She has a Master's degree in MA Archaeology from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program. A California native, she also holds a Bachelor of science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.

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