|The complex Norse/Christian symbolism |
of the Kilmorie Cross from near Stranraer in Galloway .
Reblogged from http://www.gallowayvikinghoard.com/about/
The View from a Leading Scottish Historian
Ted Cowan FRSE, Emeritus Professor of Scottish History and Literature, formerly Director of the University of Glasgow’s Dumfries Campus
The Galloway Viking Hoard is much more than simply a trove of precious jewellery – it is a window into another time. And this is partly why it is so important that its home should be in the region where it was found. The future of the hoard, which currently hangs in the balance, also highlights why it is unfortunate that National Museums Scotland appears so intent on relieving Galloway of its curatorship.
Among my favourite pieces are the party brooches, decorated with little face – caricatures that it is suggested represent horn blowers and hung-over boozers. Each of the more than 100 items in the hoard tell stories and raises questions. There is an enamelled Christian cross, a bird-shaped gold pin, plus pendants and arm rings. The leathers and cloth in which they appear to have been so carefully wrapped are just as unique and significant. It dates from an era, lasting some 400 years, when we were at the crossroads of the Viking world that extended northwards to Svalbard, the “cold coast”.
The Vikings were remarkable. They had developed sophisticated ships, clinker-built, highly flexible at sea and capable of drawing only three feet of water. Thanks to these they sailed vast distances. They carved a rune stone in Upernavik, Greenland, 800 kilometres above of the Arctic Circle. They travelled south to the Mediterranean and North Africa and eastward to Constantinople bringing them into contact with the Silk road to China. They sailed west beyond Iceland to Greenland and North America.
One of their outposts survives at L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Viking artefacts have been found on the west side of Hudson’s Bay, on Ellesmere Island and on Baffin Island where the possible discovery of a Viking settlement has recently been announced. Perhaps their greatest achievement was to extend the horizons of the world as it was then understood.
Among the most concerning aspects of the NMS claim for the hoard is that they will “save it for the nation”. Scotland’s regions are not backwaters. Being placed in one of hundreds of glass cases in Chambers Street is not superior to having pride of place in a specially designed exhibition area at a brand new and secure gallery in Kirkcudbright.
The Vikings arrived in Scotland at the end of the eighth century as predators seeking booty, bling, slaves and later, land, settling in Shetland, Orkney, the Hebrides, Caithness and Sutherland. We know more about the Vikings than any of the other peoples of early medieval Scotland but have lacked detailed information about their activities in Galloway. This is another reason why the discovery of the Galloway hoard is so important,
As we understand, by now, it contains not only Viking objects such as a huge collection of arm rings but material from Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England, as well as more exotic and distant places. It is fascinating to speculate on who might have buried it and when. Was this someone travelling from west to east, or on the north/south route? Was she or he a local who deposited these precious items in expectation of a raid? The hoard has reasonably been dubbed “Viking” because of some of its contents, but was there necessarily anything else about it that was Viking?
It has never been more important than it is now, with current political uncertainties and declining revenues, that the authorities exercise their influence to make sure that the hoard is destined for Kirkcudbright’s new gallery. Edinburgh’s museums already hold riches galore, while the city is oversubscribed with festivals, art shows and exhibitions almost every week of the year.
And also the record of NMS in Galloway is not good. Its closure of the Shambellie Museum of Costume was hard to bear locally.
Galloway is an important part of Scotland but the inhabitants believe they are too often ignored and the issue of the hoard shows why. However, the people of the area near where the hoard was found are a determined lot – fighters and with a proud identity. The novelist S. R. Crockett, was the literary creator of Galloway. Writing of his native ground he encouraged Galwegians to take great pride in their history and heritage. The region’s Covenanters fought and died for their faith in opposition to the tyranny of the Stewart kings. John Macmillan a local Cameronian minister was deposed by the Kirk in 1703 but with the support of his congregation he survived in his post for a further 40 years. When antiquarian Joseph Train attempted to present a relic known as St John’s Chair to Sir Walter Scott, the folk of Dalry, in the Glenkens, revolted. They loudly and fiercely defended their heritage. Train had to withdraw and the Chair remains in the village to this day, a worthy inspiration and example.
In light of all this I sincerely hope that due respect is given to the fact that the regions are not outposts, but are as much the nation of Scotland as Edinburgh. The hoard should have its home in Kirkcudbright.