Rare, Gold Coated Jar May Reveal Great Britain in Early Middle Ages | Smart News


Discovered with the Galloway Hoard in Scotland, a gold-wrapped rock crystal jar includes the name of a hitherto unknown bishop of medieval Britain.
Neil Hanna / National Museums of Scotland

Wrapped in textiles and covered in dirt from where it was found in southwest Scotland, the object didn’t look like much at first. Years of careful cleaning, however, finally revealed a magnificent gold-wrapped rock crystal jar, reports Dayla Alberge of the Guardian. Additionally, researchers have uncovered a Latin inscription that refers to a hitherto unknown bishop.

The artifact, first discovered in 2014, is one of the many objects comprising the Galloway Treasure, a collection of rare objects from the Viking Age found in Great Britain or Ireland, dating from around the 10th century. In 2017, the collection was acquired by National Museums Scotland as part of a three-year conservation effort, funded in part by a $ 1.3 million grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and in partnership with the Glasgow university.

The jar was found wrapped inside a textile pouch and had proven difficult for scientists to examine due to the delicate nature of the fabric surrounding it. Researchers were recently able to use 3D x-ray imaging to visualize the item without disrupting its packaging.

The scan found gold letters engraved on the bottom of the jar that read “Bishop Hyguald made me do it,” Jeevan Ravindran reports for CNN Style. Experts say this indicates the artifact may have come from a church in the kingdom of Northumbria, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom from the beginning of the Middle Ages comprising the north of modern England and the south of Scotland.

gilded square bass of rock crystal jar with ornate engraving

The base of the rock crystal jar is adorned with ornaments.

Neil Hanna / National Museums of Scotland

“The inscription is in Latin, which was the universal language of the Western Church at that time,” says Alex woolf, lecturer at the University of St. Andrews, in a museum declaration. “The sources and records for the period are incomplete, but what we do know of them is that there were several clergymen in early medieval Northumbria with the name of Hyguald.”

“We do not know of a Bishop Hyguald, in particular, but our lists of bishops in Northumbria are incomplete after 810 [C.E.],” he says. “[…]it may well be that what we are examining is an undocumented mid-ninth-century bishop.

The treasure was found six years ago by a metal detector in a plowed field at Dumpfries and Galloway, a region in southwestern Scotland on the border with England. The collection includes more than 100 objects in gold and silver, as well as other artefacts from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Ireland and Asia, buried over 1,000 years ago.

The jar is approximately two inches high and was made from rock crystal. It is wrapped in gold thread and includes filigree ornamental gold decorations.

gold wrapped rock crystal jar wrapped in ragged cloth

A ragged and fragile textile pouch covering the rock crystal pot had to be handled with care before scanning the artifact, the researchers said.

Neil Hanna / National Museums of Scotland

Although the collection of the treasure dates from around the 10th century, researchers believe the jar itself could be much older, and was possibly a gift from the Roman Empire to the Anglo-Saxons used to hold perfume or a liquid “of great value”, reports CNN.

“This is unique to the early Middle Ages in Britain, but there are parallels within the Roman Empire for objects of this type,” explains Martin goldberg, main curator of the National Museums of Scotland collections from the early Middle Ages and the Vikings, in the museum statement. “The ones I saw are in the Vatican collection, where there are different shapes of sculpted crystal columns. And so it was maybe 500 years old by the time it was transformed in the late 8th or early 9th century into a pot wrapped in gold.

The Galloway Hoard is one of the richest collections of Viking Age artifacts found in Britain or Ireland, according to the museum. The rock crystal jar, however, is a rare find, says Leslie webster, former guardian of Brittany, prehistory and Europe at the British Museum.

“Rock crystal is unusual in itself,” she said in the museum’s statement. “It is one of those materials highly prized in the ancient world, for its transparency and translucency, and therefore associated with purity… This object is absolutely fascinating. I have seen a lot of Anglo-Saxon finds over the years in my professional career, some of them incredible. But that puts them absolutely all in a cocked hat.

Archaeologists speculate that the Galloway Hoard was buried around 900 CE when the Vikings were known to plunder monasteries. They believe the artifacts may have been hidden by looters or hidden by someone fearing an attack, according to daily mail.

The Galloway Hoard is currently on display at Kirkcudbright Galleries until July 2022.


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