Hoard stars in silver show
Exhibition: Almost 100 precious metal pieces from Aberdeenshire on display
A new museum exhibition is showing how silver became one of the most precious metals in Scotland, and how people living in the north-east and Highlands helped it achieve this status.
Scotland’s Early Silver, which opens today at the National Museum in Edinburgh, includes the first public display of precious items from Aberdeenshire, which date back to the fifth century AD.
The Gaulcross hoard – a collection of almost 100 fragments of brooches, bracelets and coins ready to be melted down for recycling, known as “hacksilver” – was uncovered by Aberdeen University archaeologists in 2013.
Three pieces of silver were found at the site near Fordyce during the Victorian era, as workers blasted rocks with dynamite to clear the land for farming.
But it was not until the area was revisited many years later that the full hoard was discovered, the most northerly find of its kind in Europe.
The exhibition has also brought together the nine surviving so-called “massive” silver chains for the first time.
They were made between the years 400 and 600 AD by local tribes, re-using and recycling Roman metals for their own use.
The heaviest of the chains weighs in at three kilograms and was discovered near Inverness in 1809.
Alice Blackwell, a Glenmorangie Research Fellow at National Museums Scotland and co-curator of the exhibition, said: “These chains were the heaviest jewellery Scotland had seen and, in terms of regalia, were almost twice as heavy as the royal Crown of Scotland.
“You wore them like a choker so you carried the weight on your shoulders – they were practical, but they would not have been comfortable.”
Ms Blackwell added: “People have heard of the Romans and the Vikings but the period in between is not so well known, so I think they will really find it interesting.
“We want to make them wonder ‘why silver and not gold?’.
“We think of gold as the most important metal, but that’s because value is cultural.
“Scotland was really unusual in valuing silver in this way as, in most other parts of Europe, it was gold.”
Scotland’s Early Silver is on display until Sunday, February 25 2018, at the National Museum of Scotland.
PRECIOUS: Alice Blackwell takes a closer look at a Pictish neck chain at the Scotland’s Early Silver exhibition