Egbert was here! Name discovered and deciphered from a runic inscription on the spectacular Galloway Hoard
Perhaps more than anything else in the hypothesis-filled world of archaeology, burial hoards invite the most conjecture. What do they mean? Who buried them and why?
Archaeologists in Scotland are however a step closer to answering these questions after they discovered a message left by one of the people who may have deposited the Galloway Hoard 1100 years ago.
Described as one of the most significant Viking discoveries ever found in Britain and Ireland, the hoard consists of more than 100 gold and silver objects from the Viking age and was discovered on Church of Scotland land in Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway in September 2014.
Now, examination of Anglo-Saxon runic inscriptions on the hoard’s silver arm-rings has revealed the name “Ecgbeorht” or, in its more modern form, Egbert, offering a clue to the identity of the hoard’s original owners at the beginning of the tenth century.
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“We don’t know any more about Egbert than his name right now but there’s something really tantalising about connecting the Galloway Hoard with a named person,” says Dr Adrian Maldonado, Glenmorangie Research Fellow at National Museums Scotland.
“Egbert is a common Anglo-Saxon name, and with more research on the rest of the contents of the hoard, we will be able to narrow down its dating and suggest some candidates from the historical record.”
Historians believe the hoard will transform our understanding of the Viking – Anglo Saxon period of Scottish history. Following its acquisition by National Museums Scotland in 2017, the hoard is currently being conserved and researched at the National Museums Collection Centre in Edinburgh.
“If the hoard belonged to a person or group of Anglo-Saxon speakers, does it mean they were out raiding with other Vikings,” conjectures Dr Maldondao. “Or that these Viking hoards were not always the product of Scandinavian raiders? There are other explanations, but either way this transforms our thinking on the ‘Viking Age’ in Scotland.
“These inscriptions are evidence that identity was complex in the past, just as it can be today. In Early Medieval Scotland, we have inscriptions in five different scripts (Latin, ogham, Pictish symbols, Scandinavian and Anglian runes) making it a diverse and multilingual era. Place-names in British, Gaelic, Norse and Old English were being coined in South West Scotland around the time of the Galloway Hoard.
“The sea was more like a motorway, allowing people to communicate across linguistic boundaries, exchanging ideas and objects. This is just a glimpse of how the Galloway Hoard will continue to challenge our thinking as conservation continues.”
As well as the arm-ring with the full name of Egbert, four others have runic inscriptions. Three appear to be abbreviated names, probably also Old English, whilst the fifth has still to be deciphered, but all are in Anglo-Saxon runes.
The runes were read by Dr David Parsons of the University of Wales who said “five of the silver arm-rings have runic inscriptions scratched into them which may have functioned as labels identifying distinct portions of the hoard, perhaps recording the names of the people who owned and buried them”.
“Arm-rings of this sort are most commonly associated with Viking discoveries around the Irish Sea coastlands. Yet these runes are not of the familiar Scandinavian variety common around this date on the nearby Isle of Man, but of a distinctively Anglo-Saxon type. And while several of the texts are abbreviated and uncertain, one is splendidly clear: it reads Ecgbeorht, Egbert, a common and thoroughly Anglo-Saxon man’s name.”
According to Dr Parsons there is “some reason”, to suspect that the Galloway ‘Viking’ Hoard may have been deposited by a people who, to judge by name and choice of script, may have considered themselves part of the English-speaking world.
“It is even possible that these were locals,” he adds, “Galloway had been part of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria since the early eighth century, and was referred to as the ‘Saxon coast’ in the Irish chronicles as late as the tenth century.”
Unique in bringing together a remarkable variety of objects in one discovery, and hinting at hitherto unknown connections between people across Europe and beyond, the hoard also contains an outstanding range of exceptional precious metal and jewelled items including a rare gold ingot, a gold bird-shaped pin and a decorated silver-gilt cup of Continental or Byzantine origin.
An exhibition of the Galloway Hoard will be displayed at the National Museum of Scotland in May, and will tour thereafter to Kirkcudbright Galleries, The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum and Aberdeen Art Gallery thanks to funding from the Scottish Government.
Following the tour part of the Galloway Hoard will be on long-term display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh with a significant and representative portion of the Hoard also displayed long-term at Kirkcudbright Galleries.
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