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Vikings used Britain’s earliest silk to preserve their hoards, as experts say material is treasure in its own right

Vikings used Britain’s earliest silk to protect their riches, scientists have found, as they say the wrappings are “treasures in their own right”. Scientists have been given a £1 million grant to discover the history of a hoard of Viking wealth found in Dumfries and Galloway. National Museums Scotland (NMS) will carry out the three-year project, entitled “Unwrapping the Galloway Hoard”, in partnership with the University of Glasgow to examine the objects in detail. The 10th-century treasure trove, which was found by a metal detectorist in a field in Dumfries and Galloway in 2014 and acquired by NMS in 2017, will go on display in an exhibition next year. The research will involve precise dating of the items and, it is hoped, identification of their places of origin, which are thought to range from Ireland to the Byzantine empire and perhaps beyond. Unwrapping the riches was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the scientists, who were fascinated by the materials used. Susanna Harris, lecturer in archaeology at the University of Glasgow and co-investigator on the project, said as well as the silver familiar with most Viking-age hoards and the much rarer gold, the Galloway collection also features an “unprecedented array” of other materials such as bronze, glass and rock crystal. There is also the “outstandingly rare preservation of organic materials” such as wood, leather, wool, linen, and silk, she said. “Many objects are wrapped in textiles, including Scotland’s earliest examples of silk, which could have travelled thousands of miles to reach Scotland,” Ms Harris said. “These types of wrappings rarely ever survive and are archaeological treasures in their own right. “The unusual survival of organic material like textiles will allow us to apply a range of scientific techniques that usually aren’t possible for the precious metals that tend to dominate treasure hoards.” The textiles can be chemically tested for dye to help reconstruct lost colours which have faded over the centuries since burial, or they can be radiocarbon dated to help reconstruct the history of the objects before they were buried. The Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure exhibition will open at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh on February 19, and will then tour to Kirkcudbright Galleries and Aberdeen Art Gallery.

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