A stunning collection of Viking Age artefacts discovered on the Isle of Man has been declared Treasure and acquired by Manx National Heritage
The Vikings arrived on the Isle of Man in the 800s as traders, before settling and eventually leaving a legacy that is still very evident today.
From the landscape with its castles, burial mounds and settlements through to the modern parliament, Tynwald, which has its roots in this period, the Vikings are still very much a part of the Manx identity.
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At Manx Museum, a Viking and Medieval Gallery tells the story of this influential Norse heritage via a collection of spectacular locally-found artefacts, and they have now been joined by a recently uncovered hoard of Viking Age treasures.
The find consists of a gold arm-ring, a massive silver brooch, at least one silver armband and other associated objects, which archaeologists say were buried around AD 950.
Discovered on private land in late 2020 by a metal detectorist, the hoard was recently declared Treasure by the Isle of Man Coroner of Inquests, paving way for its acquisition by the Museum.
“I knew I had found something very special when I moved the soil away from one of the terminals of the brooch,” says the finder Kath Giles, “but then I found parts of the pin, the hoop and underneath, the gorgeous gold arm-ring. I knew straight away that it was a significant and exciting find. I’m so thrilled to have found artefacts that are not only so important, but so beautiful!”
Giles’ initial excitement was well-founded; the gold arm-ring is made from three plaited rods of gold, both ends merging into a flat lozenge-shaped band that has been decorated all over with a stamped design of groups of three dots.
“The arm-ring is a rare find,” says Curator for Archaeology at Manx National Heritage, Allison Fox. “Gold items were not very common during the Viking Age. Silver was by far the more common metal for trading and displaying wealth. It has been estimated that gold was worth 10 times the value of silver and that this arm-ring could have been the equivalent of 900 silver coins”.
Earlier discoveries of Viking Age gold arm rings from the Island include one found with the Ballaquayle Hoard in Douglas in the 1890s, but that was a much simpler in design.
“the brooch would have been an immediate visual indicator of the wealth of the owner”
Three Viking Age gold finger rings have previously been discovered on the Isle of Man and one complete gold ingot, which experts say points to some gold-working being present on the Island during the Viking Age – not to mention some particularly wealthy individuals. The gold arm-ring reinforces these theories.
The silver brooch, which is one of the largest examples of its type ever discovered, is known as a “thistle brooch of ball type” and boats an impressive c.20cm diameter hoop and a pin measuring c.50cm long.
The brooch itself, although bent and broken, features intricate designs and is largely complete. It would have been worn at the shoulder to hold heavy clothing such as a cloak in place, with the point of the pin upwards.
As with the arm-ring, the brooch would have been an immediate visual indicator of the wealth of the owner and may not have been for everyday use. The type is thought to have originated in the Irish Sea area and may even have been made on the Isle of Man.
The hoard also includes the remains of at least one decorated silver armband, which was cut in antiquity. Both whole and cut items of Viking Age gold and silver jewellery have previously been discovered on the Island. Most of these have been the result of deliberate deposition of “hoard” material, presumably buried during a time of threat, with the intention by the original owner to reclaim the artefacts at a later stage.
However, this particular type of arm-ring and brooch are the first to be found on the Island and add significantly to the picture of wealth circulating around the Irish Sea area in general over one thousand years ago.
“The arm-ring, brooch and cut armband are all high-status personal ornaments and represent a large amount of accumulated wealth,” adds Fox. “Finding just one of these items would be of significance. The fact that all were found together, associated with one single deposition event, suggests that whoever buried them was extremely wealthy and probably felt immediately and acutely threatened.
“Kath’s hoard can be dated on stylistic and comparative grounds to around AD 950, a time when the Isle of Man was right in the middle of an important trading and economic zone. But elsewhere to the east and west, Viking rule was coming to an end and perhaps this encouraged further Viking settlement on the Island. The Viking and Norse influence remained strong on the Island for a further three hundred years, long after much of the rest of the British Isles.”
The “Kath Giles” hoard has gone on display in the Viking and Medieval Gallery at the Manx Museum prior to valuation and further conservation work. The location of the finds site, which was documented to ensure there were no further objects remaining in the ground, will remain confidential.
Douglas, Isle of Man
The Manx Museum is bursting with artefacts and treasures unique to the Isle of Man. The Island’s 10,000 year history is presented through film, galleries and interactive displays. The perfect starting point on your journey of discovery around our Island and its Viking and Celtic past. - Introductory film to…