Category Archives: SCOTLAND

Iron Age Settlements Identified in Scotland

Iron Age Settlements Identified in Scotland

Archaeologists from Edinburgh have discovered more than 100 Iron Age settlements in southwest Scotland that date from the time of Roman occupation.

The team has been surveying an area north of Hadrian’s Wall to better understand the impact of Rome’s rule on the lives of indigenous people.

Researchers explored nearly 600 square miles around Burnswark hillfort, Dumfries-shire, where Roman legions campaigned as the Empire expanded northwards.

Previous archaeological research on the terrain between Hadrian’s Wall and the Empire’s more northerly frontier at the Antonine Wall had focused predominantly on the Roman perspective.

It had concentrated on the camps, forts, roads and walls that Rome’s empire built to control northern Britain – rather than sites associated with native tribes.

Immense firepower

The new study initially focused specifically on Burnswark – home to the greatest concentration of Roman projectiles ever found in Britain, and a testament to the firepower of Rome’s legions.

The research team went on to scour an area of 580 square miles beyond the hillfort, using the latest laser-scanning technology.

Although much of the area had been studied before, researchers found 134 previously unrecorded Iron Age settlements — bringing the total number known in the region to more than 700.

The survey’s discovery of so many small farmsteads is a significant finding, researchers say. Such settlements offer key insights into how the majority of the indigenous population would have lived.

Analysis showed sites were dispersed evenly across the landscape — with dense clusters in some places — suggesting a highly organised settlement pattern, researchers say.

Empire’s edge

Work on Hadrian’s Wall began in AD 122 and, for two decades, the defensive fortification between the Solway Firth and the River Tyne marked the northernmost border of the Roman empire.

In AD 142, having made further gains north, the Romans built a second defensive line called the Antonine Wall between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde.

A few decades later, however, this second wall was abandoned with the Empire drawing its frontier back south to Hadrian’s Wall.

The findings of this latest study by the University of Edinburgh, Historic Environment Scotland and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre have been published in the journal, Antiquity.

The study is part of a wider project called Beyond Walls, which is seeking to shed light on ancient sites, stretching from Durham in the south to the fringes of the Scottish Highlands in the north.

Exciting prospect

Study author Dr Manuel Fernández-Götz, of the University’s School of History, Classics and Archaeology, said: “This is one of the most exciting regions of the Roman Empire, as it represented its northernmost frontier.

“The land we now know as Scotland was one of the very few areas in Western Europe over which the Roman army never managed to establish full control”.

Fellow author Dr Dave Cowley of Historic Environment Scotland said: “The discovery of so many previously unknown sites helps us to reconstruct settlement patterns.

“Individually, they are very much routine, but cumulatively they help us understand the landscape within which the indigenous population lived.”

The 330-million-year-old fossil tree that’s stood the test of time

The 330-million-year-old fossil tree that’s stood the test of time

The fossil tree on the Museum’s east lawn is thought to have been in its current position since the 1970s, but it’s been part of the collection since 1873.  A large petrified tree that lived around 330 million years ago has been towering over visitors to the Museum for over 130 years, making it one of the longest-serving exhibits.

A Scottish tree

Craigleith Quarry was once the largest and most productive of Edinburgh’s quarries. The sandstone extracted in its 300 years of operation can be seen in the city’s historical architecture, including Edinburgh Castle. The quarry was infilled in 1995.

But the site is also well-known for its fossil trees, the first of which was discovered in 1826. The trunk that now resides on the Museum’s east lawn was uncovered in 1873, and found approximately 56 metres below the surface.

The fossil tree, Pitys withamii, lived during the Carboniferous Period, which lasted from around 359 to 299 million years ago. Many of the coal beds that Britain came to rely on formed at this time, made up of plants like P. withamii. 

When the fossil tree was alive it’s thought that it would have had fern-like fronds that were similar to this example of Sphenopteris foliage

The specimen was originally thought to be an ancient conifer but was eventually determined to be a type of seed fern (pteridosperm). In life, it would have featured large, fern-like fronds sprouting from the crown of its towering trunk and would have used seeds for reproduction. Seed ferns are an extinct group and their unique collection of characteristics is not seen in plants today.

Despite its London home, the tree’s Scottish origins weren’t forgotten. In 1986 the MP for Edinburgh West contacted the Museum to enquire about returning the large specimen to Edinburgh to put it on public display. The Museum declined this request but noted that another Carboniferous trunk from Craigleith Quarry was already on public display at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. At 10.5 metres long, it is Scotland’s largest plant fossil.

A long-standing exhibit

The trunk has been housed in the Museum’s gardens for over 130 years, although it hasn’t always been in the same spot. The tree arrived at the Museum in six large pieces with numerous smaller fragments, and originally the trunk was displayed lying on its side. The section of the specimen on display today towers over visitors at six metres tall, but with all the pieces laid out together, it measured around 12 metres.

The fallen fossil tree after sustaining bomb damage during an air raid in 1940

The wood is petrified, meaning that it has been turned to stone. For petrified wood to form, organic material is replaced by minerals – in this case, iron and calcium carbonates – while the plant retains its original shape and structure. This fossilisation process has increased the weight of the specimen’s trunk to around three times that of normal wood. Its exact weight isn’t known but is estimated at around 11 tonnes.

The tree stood upright in 1887, but only the large pieces were assembled. It remained standing until November 1940, when it was knocked down and broken into several pieces by an air raid bomb.

The tree has since been moved further from Exhibition Road, which lies to the east of the Waterhouse building. It’s thought this happened in the 1970s when the Palaeontology wing was being built. 

The petrified tree is thought to have been moved to its current position during the construction of the Palaeontology wing, seen here on completion in 1977

How to clean petrified wood

The fossil tree’s condition is assessed yearly, but in the summer of 2019 Museum conservators gave the specimen its most intensive clean in over 15 years.

Working from inside their own scaffolding ‘treehouse’, the team had to move quickly so the tree wasn’t screened off from visitors for too long. Ultimately it took four full days of work, plus a few early mornings to clean it from top to bottom.

Conservators Lu Allington-Jones and Cheryl Lynn start work cleaning the fossil tree, hidden inside their treehouse

Senior Conservator Lu Allington-Jones says, ‘It was like being in our own private treehouse. We could hear the public talking outside it, but no one knew we were there or what we were doing.

‘It was challenging because no one seems to know when the tree was last cleaned, so we didn’t know how long it would take and we had a really small window.’

As they were dealing with a specimen displayed outdoors, the conservators faced challenges they wouldn’t normally encounter. Bird droppings had to be cleaned off using water and cotton swabs, algae were removed with soft brushes and ethanol, and moss and lichens were picked off with plastic and wooden picks.

Plants can cause a lot of damage to stone as their roots grow on the surface. This can cause flaking and cracks. Additionally, the water that plants retained on the surface of the stone can cause further damage when it freezes and expands in winter. A concrete-like material that is thought to have been used to fill gaps in the 1970s had started to crack, so the team had to strengthen it.

The conservators were also accompanied by a seemingly angry tube web spider (Segestria senoculata) and multiple plane tree bug nymphs (Arocatus longiceps), which are usually found in the plane trees that grow at the edges of the Museum’s lawn.

Algae, lichen and moss were just some of the unique challenges of working on the fossil tree

The team will continue to keep an eye on the tree’s condition. Lu says, ‘We’re going to leave the specimen open to the elements – we don’t want to add any coatings that might deteriorate. But we’ll take photos so we can monitor its condition in the future.’

Fossil trees in Hintze Hall

The specimen on the east lawn isn’t the only fossil tree displayed at the Museum. In Hintze Hall, four fossil tree specimens are also on show.

You can see fossil trees from four different geological periods in the Museum’s Hintze Hall

The trees are from four different geologic time periods, ranging from a Devonian specimen that is 385 million years old to a tree that is 25-56 million years old.

These four trees grew in vastly different climates and atmospheres, and their preserved structures can provide clues about the ancient environments they lived in. The Museum’s palaeobotany collection of fossil plants, algae and fungi spans 3.5 billion years of Earth’s history. Scientists can use these specimens, including fossil trees, to chart historic climate change and make predictions about the future of our planet. 

Unknown symbols are written by the lost ‘painted people’ of Scotland unearthed

Unknown symbols are written by the lost ‘painted people’ of Scotland unearthed

What seemed like an eventful evening turned into an emotional discovery for the history books after archaeologists in Scotland came upon a stone covered with ancient geometric carvings. The symbols were etched in stone by the Picts, Scotland’s indigenous people, about 1,500 years ago.

The 5.5-foot-long (1.7 meters) stone is covered with Pictish symbols.

The 5.5-foot-long (1.7-meter) stone artefact was discovered in Aberlemno, a parish and small village in the Scottish council area of Angus. The site was already famous for four previously discovered Pictish carvings from between 500 AD and 800 AD, which exhibit a range of symbols, from Pictish symbols to overtly Christian iconography. 

Fierce people who a strong culture

For a very long time, the ancient Roman Empire wanted to seize Scotland, known during Roman times as Caledonia. The province was the site of many enticing resources, such as lead, silver, and gold. It was also a matter of national pride for the Romans, who loathed being denied glory by some ‘savages’.

Despite their best efforts, the Romans never really conquered the whole of Scotland. The farthest Roman frontier in Britain was marked by the Antonine Wall, which was erected in 140 AD between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde, only to be abandoned two decades later following constant raiding by Caledonia’s most ferocious clans, the Picts.

The name given to these northern people means ‘Painted Ones’ in Latin. The Picts constituted the largest kingdom in Dark Age Scotland until they disappeared from history at the end of the first millennium, their culture having been assimilated by the Gaels. But although not very much is known about these people who dominated Scotland for centuries, evidence suggests that Pictish culture was rich, perhaps with its own written language in place as early as 1,700 years ago, a 2018 study found.

It’s unclear what the geometric symbols carved in the newly found stone at Aberlemno represent, which include abstract symbols in the shape of a comb and a mirror, a crescent, double discs, and triple ovals. According to Gordon Noble, excavation leader and a professor of archaeology at the University of Aberdeen, the most plausible explanation is that the symbols represented Pictish names, although there’s no hard evidence at the moment to back this claim. Some of these symbols overlap with one another, which suggests some were added later in different time periods.

Excavation leader Gordon Noble works at the site.

A tearful discovery

Archaeologists excavate the Pictish-carved stone in Aberlemno, Scotland.

The extraordinary find was made while the archaeologists were surveying the site as part of a five-year investigation into early medieval kingdoms in northern Britain in Ireland. Researchers had deployed geophysical equipment to the area, which they used to look for signs of any potential object of interest beneath the ground without having to dig an inch. The radar eventually picked up an anomaly that looked like it might be something interesting, perhaps the remains of a settlement, and the archaeologists were eager to work.

Unfortunately, this was early 2020 when the pandemic was sweeping Britain and there were still many frightening unknowns. The archaeologists would have to wait a couple of months before they could get back to Aberlemno — and all that anticipation eventually paid off.

At the bottom of the pit they dug, the archaeologists hit a stone, which they expected to be the remnants of some wall. But when they brushed the dirt off, everyone freaked out. The stone was covered in symbols, definitely of Pictish origin.

“There are only around 200 of these monuments known. They are occasionally dug up by farmers ploughing fields or during the course of road building but by the time we get to analyse them, much of what surrounds them has already been disturbed,” Noble said in a statement.

“To come across something like this while digging one small test pit is absolutely remarkable and none of us could quite believe our luck.”

Dr. James O’Driscoll, the researcher who was the first to discover the stone, described his excitement:

“We thought we’d just uncover a little bit more before we headed off for the day. We suddenly saw a symbol. There was lots of screaming. Then we found more symbols and there was more screaming and a little bit of crying!”

“It’s a feeling that I’ll probably never have again on an archaeological site. It’s a find of that scale.”

The researchers recounted their initial reaction to this priceless moment in the video below.

The marvellous carved stone was dated to the 5th or 6th century AD, not that long after the last Roman legionnaires left Britain for good.

Interestingly, the stone was found below the foundation of a huge building from the 11th or 12th century. The researchers aren’t sure why the building was built directly on top of the settlement layers extending back to the Pictish period. Perhaps the stone was simply lost and the people who built the building were simply not aware of its existence. Only 200 Pictish stones have been found in total.

“The discovery of this new Pictish symbol stone and evidence that this site was occupied over such a long period will offer new insights into this significant period in the history of Scotland as well as help us to better understand how and why this part of Angus became a key Pictish landscape and latterly an integral part of the kingdoms of Alba and Scotland,” Professor Noble said.

Study Explores Mobility in Early Medieval Scotland

Study Explores Mobility in Early Medieval Scotland

Isotope analysis of ‘bodies in the bog’ found at Cramond reveals several crossed a politically divided Scotland, meeting their end hundreds of miles from their place of birth. For decades, the skeletal remains of nine adults and five infants found in the latrine of what was once a Roman bathhouse close to Edinburgh have fascinated archaeologists and the public alike.

Burial 1 – facial reconstruction of man who may have come from Loch Lomond
Dr Orsolya Czére with extracted bone collagen
Dr Orsolya Czére examines demineralised bone collagen during the extraction process

Discovered in Cramond in 1975 they were originally thought to be victims of the plague or a shipwreck from the 14th century. Then radiocarbon dating showed them to be some 800 years older, dating to the 6th century, or early medieval period. New bioarchaeological work led by the University of Aberdeen has brought to light more details of their lives and has revealed that several of the group travelled across Scotland to make Cramond their home.

Their investigations change our understanding not only of this important site but of the mobility and connections of people across Scotland in the early medieval period, when the country was broadly divided between the Scotti in Dál Riata to the west, the Picts in most of northern Scotland and the Britons in the south. The researchers examined the bones and teeth of the group unearthed from what was once the latrine of a bathhouse in a Roman fort, leading to them being coined ‘the bodies in the bog’.

Using isotope analyses they were able to look at the diet and origins of each of the adults in the group. Professor Kate Britton, the senior author of the study, said they were surprised to discover that despite being buried in close proximity to each other – leading to assumptions that they were one family – some were brought up hundreds of miles apart.

“Food and water consumed during life leave a specific signature in the body which can be traced back to their input source, evidencing diet and mobility patterns,” she added.

“Tooth enamel, particularly from teeth which form between around three and six years of age, act like little time capsules containing chemical information about where a person grew up.

“When we examined the remains, we found six of them to bear chemical signatures consistent with what we would expect from individuals growing up in the area local to Cramond but two – those of a man and a woman – were very different.

“This suggests that they spent their childhoods somewhere else, with the analysis of the female placing her origins on the West coast.”

“The male instead had an isotopic signature more typical of the Southern Uplands, Southern Highlands or Loch Lomond area so it is likely he came to Cramond from an inland area.”

Tooth enamel, particularly from teeth that form between around three and six years of age, act like little time capsules containing chemical information about where a person grew up.

~Professor Kate Britton

The findings, published in the Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences journal, provide one of the first insights into early medieval population mobility in Scotland.

Dr Orsolya Czére, post-doctoral researcher and lead author of the study, added: “This is a historically elusive time period, where little may be gleaned about the lives of individuals from primary literary sources. What we do know is that it was a politically and socially tumultuous time.

“In Scotland particularly, evidence is scarce and little is known about individual movement patterns and life histories. Bioarchaeological studies like this are key to providing information about personal movement in early medieval Scotland and beyond.

“It is often assumed that travel in this period would have been limited without roads like we have today and given the political divides of the time. The analysis of the burials from Cramond, along with other early medieval burial sites in Scotland, are revealing that it was not unusual to be buried far from where you had originally grown up.

“Previous studies have suggested that those buried here were of high social status, even nobility. What we can say from our new analyses was that these were well-connected individuals, with lives that brought them across the country”

“This is an important step in unravelling how these different populations of early medieval Scotland and Britain interacted.”

Despite evidence of geographical mobility, social tensions may still have been high. Several of the skeletons at Cramond indicate that some of the individuals may have met with violent ends.

Osteoarchaeologist and co-author Dr Ange Boyle from the University of Edinburgh said: “Detailed osteological analysis of the human remains has determined that a woman and young child deposited in the Roman latrine suffered violent deaths. Blows to the skulls inflicted by a blunt object, possibly the butt end of a spear would have been rapidly fatal. This evidence provides important confirmation that the period in question was characterised by a high level of violence.”

John Lawson, the City of Edinburgh Council archaeologist, co-author and lead archaeologist on the investigations at Cramond, says the new findings further underline the importance of the Cramond site.

“This paper has been the result of a fantastic collaboration between ourselves and our co-authors from Aberdeen and Edinburgh Universities. The final results from the isotopic research have confirmed the initial 2015 results giving us archaeological evidence and a window into the movement of elite society in the 6th century.

“In particular it is helping us to support our belief that Cramond during this time was one of Scotland’s key political centres during this important period of turmoil and origins for the state of Scotland. Whilst it has helped us answer some questions about the individuals buried in the former Roman Fort’s Bathhouse, it has also raised more. We hope to continue to work together to bring more findings to publication as these have a significant impact on what is known about the history of Scotland and Northern Britain during the Dark Ages.”

The study was funded by Edinburgh City Council and the University of Aberdeen and research by Professor Britton and Dr Czere is supported by the Leverhulme Trust and AHRC respectively.

Pictish Carved Stone Unearthed in Scotland

Pictish Carved Stone Unearthed in Scotland

Archaeologists have uncovered a Pictish symbol stone close to the location of one of the most significant carved stone monuments ever uncovered in Scotland.

The team from the University of Aberdeen hit upon the 1.7metre-long stone in a farmer’s field while conducting geophysical surveys to try and build a greater understanding of the important Pictish landscape of Aberlemno, near Forfar.

Aberlemno is already well known for its Pictish heritage thanks to its collection of unique Pictish standing stones the most famous of which is a cross-slab thought to depict scenes from a battle of vital importance to the creation of what would become Scotland – the Battle of Nechtansmere.

The archaeologists were conducting geophysics surveys of the ground early in 2020 in an effort to better understand the history of the existing stones as part of the Leverhulme Trust-funded Comparative Kingship project.

Taking imaging equipment over the ground, they found anomalies that looked like evidence of a settlement. A small test pit was dug to try and establish whether the remains of any buildings might be present but to their surprise, the archaeologists came straight down onto a carved Pictish symbol stone, one of only around 200 known.

Their efforts to establish the character of the stone and settlement were hindered by subsequent Covid lockdowns and it was several months before they were able to return to verify their find.

The team think the stone dates to around the fifth or sixth century and, over the last few weeks, they have painstakingly excavated part of the settlement and removed it from its resting place – finding out more about the stone and its setting. 

Professor Gordon Noble who leads the project says stumbling upon a stone as part of an archaeological dig is very unusual.

“Here at the University of Aberdeen we’ve been leading Pictish research for the last decade but none of us has ever found a symbol stone before,” he said.

“There are only around 200 of these monuments known. They are occasionally dug up by farmers ploughing fields or during the course of road building but by the time we get to analyse them, much of what surrounds them has already been disturbed.

“To come across something like this while digging one small test pit is absolutely remarkable and none of us could quite believe our luck.

To come across something like this while digging one small test pit is absolutely remarkable and none of us could quite believe our luck”

~Professor Gordon Noble.

“The benefits of making a find in this way are that we can do much more detailed work in regard to the context. We can examine and date the layers underneath it and extract much more detailed information without losing vital evidence.”

Research fellow Dr James O’Driscoll who initially discovered the stone describes the excitement: “We thought we’d just uncover a little bit more before we headed off for the day. We suddenly saw a symbol. There was lots of screaming. Then we found more symbols and there was more screaming and a little bit of crying!

“It’s a feeling that I’ll probably never have again on an archaeological site. It’s a find of that scale.”

Like the other stones at Aberlemno, the new discovery appears to be intricately carved with evidence of classic abstract Pictish symbols including triple ovals, a comb and mirror, a crescent and V rod and double discs. Unusually the stone appears to show different periods of carving with symbols overlying one another.

The stone has now been moved to Graciela Ainsworth conservation lab in Edinburgh where a more detailed analysis will take place. Professor Noble hopes that it could make a significant contribution to understanding the significance of Aberlemno to the Picts.

“The stone was found built into the paving of a huge building from the 11th or 12th century. The paving included Pictish stones and examples of Bronze Age rock art. Excitingly the 11th-12th century building appears to be built directly on top of settlement layers extending back to the Pictish period” he added.

“The cross-slab that stands in the nearby church at Aberlemno has long been thought to depict King Bridei Mac Bili’s defeat of the Anglo Saxon King Ecgfrith in 685, which halted the expansion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to the north.

“The settlement of Dunnichen, from which the battle is thought to have taken its name, is just a few miles from Aberlemno. In recent years scholars have suggested another potential battle site in Strathspey, but the sheer number of Pictish stones from Aberlemno certainly suggests the Aberlemno environs was a hugely important landscape to the Picts.

“The discovery of this new Pictish symbol stone and evidence that this site was occupied over such a long period will offer new insights into this significant period in the history of Scotland as well as helping us to better understand how and why this part of Angus became a key Pictish landscape and latterly an integral part of the kingdoms of Alba and Scotland.”

The project has had help from Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service and the Pictish Arts Society to get the stone lifted and to the conservation lab, with radiocarbon dating funded by Historic Environment Scotland.

Bruce Mann, Aberdeenshire Council Archaeologist, said: “We have been providing a service to Angus Council for many years and I can say this is one of the most important discoveries made in the area in the last thirty years. To find prehistoric rock art re-used in the floor of this building would be exciting in its own right, but to have the Pictish symbol stone as well is just amazing.”

Researchers will now be working with the Pictish Arts Society to develop a fundraising campaign for the conservation and display of the stone.

Unique Medieval Vessel Restored in Scotland

Unique Medieval Vessel Restored in Scotland

When the Galloway hoard was unearthed from a ploughed field in western Scotland in 2014, it offered the richest collection of Viking-age objects ever found in Britain or Ireland. But one of the artefacts paled in comparison with treasures such as a gold bird-shaped pin and a silver-gilt vessel because it was within a pouch that was mangled and misshapen after almost 1,000 years in the ground.

Now that pouch has been removed and its contents restored, revealing an extraordinary Roman rock crystal jar wrapped in exquisite layers of gold thread by the finest medieval craftsman in the late eighth or early ninth century. About 5cm high, it may once have held a perfume or other prized potion used to anoint kings, or in religious ceremonies. It had been carefully wrapped in a silk-lined leather pouch, reflecting its significance.

The hoard, which included about 100 objects, was buried around AD900 and contained artefacts from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Ireland and as far away as Asia. It was unearthed by a metal detectorist on what is now Church of Scotland land in Kirkcudbrightshire.

The rock crystal jar was part of the Galloway hoard, unearthed in Kirkcudbrightshire in 2014.

After a fundraising campaign to raise £2m, it was acquired by National Museums Scotland in 2017.

Dr Martin Goldberg, NMS’s principal curator of early medieval and Viking collections, described the jar as “really beautiful” and all the more exceptional because his research has led him to conclude that the rock crystal carving was in fact, Roman. It was perhaps 600 years old by the time it was transformed into a gold-wrapped jar.

He said: “So it’s a really surprising and unique object.”

Dr Leslie Webster, former keeper of Britain, prehistory and Europe at the British Museum, said: “Rock crystal is unusual in itself. It … was greatly prized in the antique world for its transparency and translucency, and so it’s associated with purity. So it was, I think even in its time, very, very special.

“I’ve seen a lot of Anglo-Saxon finds over the years in my professional career, some of them amazing. But this absolutely knocks them all into a cocked hat.”

The base of the rock crystal jar.

The restoration has revealed an unexpected Latin inscription on the jar’s base. Spelt out in gold letters, it translates as “Bishop Hyguald had me made”. This is crucial evidence that some of the hoard’s material may have come from a church in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, which included Dumfries and Galloway and stretched as far north as Edinburgh and as far south as Sheffield.

At the start of the 10th century, Alfred the Great was pushing back the Danes, laying the foundations of medieval England and Alba, the kingdom that became medieval Scotland. It is unclear whether the hoard was buried by a Viking – Norse sagas refer to riches being buried to be accessed in the afterlife – or someone fearing Viking raids at a time when ecclesiastical treasures were being robbed from monasteries.

Goldberg said that silk was then a particularly luxurious and exotic material: “It’s come from Asia, so it’s travelled thousands of miles. It’s an example of how precious they thought this object inside was,” he said.

Although Bishop Hyguald may have been a prominent figure in Northumbrian ecclesiastical circles, church chronicles of the period are incomplete, partly because of the Viking invasions.

Goldberg expressed excitement at finding the name. “So much of the past is anonymous, especially when you’re looking at very early history,” he said. “There are very few names to work with. But this is adding new information, building a much richer picture.”

The rock crystal design resembles the capital of a Corinthian column, with carved lobes that look like foliage, he realised. “It’s almost a perfect model of a Corinthian column, but the scale is minute,” he said.

There is the possibility that this jar still bears trace elements of the potion it once held and that its precise chemicals can be revealed.

Goldberg said: “The type of liquid that we would expect would be something very exotic, perhaps a perfume from the Orient, something’s that’s travelled in the same way that the silk has. There were certain types of exotic oil that were used in anointing kings and ecclesiastical ceremonies.”

Ninety-seven of the hoard’s artefacts are included in a touring exhibition, titled The Galloway hoard: Viking-age treasure. It is at Kirkcudbright Galleries, near the site of its discovery, until 10 July, transferring to Aberdeen Art Gallery from 30 July to 23 October. The jar is undergoing final work but, from Monday, a new film and digital model will be featured.

Viking sword discovered on Papa Westray, Orkney has ‘many stories to tell’

Viking sword discovered on Papa Westray, Orkney has ‘many stories to tell’

A Viking sword found at a burial site in Orkney is a rare, exciting and complex artefact, say archaeologists. The find, made in 2015 on the northeast coast of Papa Westray, is being carefully examined as part of post-excavation work.

The sword was found at a Viking burial site on Papa Westray, Orkney

Archaeologists have now identified it as a type of heavy sword associated with the 9th Century. The relic is heavily corroded, but x-rays have revealed the sword’s guards to be highly decorated.

Contrasting metals are thought to have been used to create a honeycomb-like pattern.

Archaeologists examining the weapon said it had “many stories to tell”.

The remains of a scabbard, a sheath for the blade, was also found.

AOC Archaeology’s Andrew Morrison, Caroline Paterson and Dr Stephen Harrison suggested there was more information still to be gleaned from the finds.

The sword’s upper and lower guards are highly decorated

In a statement, the team said: “To preserve as much evidence as possible, we lifted the whole sword and its surrounding soil in a block to be transported to the lab and forensically excavated there.

“It’s so fragile we don’t even know what the underside looks like yet, so our understanding is sure to change in the coming months.

“The iron in the sword has heavily corroded, with many of the striking details only visible through x-ray.”

The excavations at Mayback revealed a number of finds, including evidence of a rare Viking boat burial, and a second grave with weapons, including the sword.

Archaeologists said the graves maybe those of first-generation Norwegian settlers on Orkney.

AOC Archaeology has been working with Historic Environment Scotland on the research.

Excavation planned along the river after 1200 prehistoric tools found in Scotland

Excavation planned along the river after 1200 prehistoric tools found in Scotland

A river in Aberdeenshire has yielded more than 1,200 Mesolithic tools. The flints, which were discovered by researchers and volunteers just three days ago, were used by people who had lived along the Dee 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.

Finds include a broken piece of a hammer-shaped object called a mace head.

Archaeology group Mesolithic Deeside now hopes to uncover more clues to prehistoric life at the site at Milton of Crathes.

It has organised a week-long excavation from 11-14 November.

Flints, pieces of worked stone, have been found at Milton of Crathes in the past.

A broken piece of a mace head has been among the finds at the site

The tools are thought to have been used as scrapers for turning raw animal hide into clothing, and as blades for cutting.


Mesolithic Deeside co-secretary Sheila Duthie said: “When I started finding flints over 20 years ago, I could never have imagined contributing to such a massive project which is, without doubt, broadening our understanding of prehistoric human activity on Deeside.”

“My ideal pastime is footerin’ in flat fields with fine folk finding flints, fair or foul.”

Flints are worked pieces of stone and are thought to have been used for scraping and cutting