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Viking treasure comes to isles

Silver dirham of the time of Al-Mustakfi as Imam al-Haqq, with Abu Hasan Muhammad; Arab (Abbasid), minted at Baghdad (945-6), found at Skaill. Photo National Museums Scotland

PART of the largest hoard of Viking silver to be found in Scotland is making an appearance at Shetland Museum and Archives on Friday.

The Skaill hoard is being brought to the isles on loan from National Museums Scotland to coincide with the return of the 17th Viking Congress, the international academic gathering that was first held in Shetland in 1950 and has not been back since.

The exhibition of the Orkney treasure trove is being sponsored by local firm Shetland Jewellery.

The hoard’s history is shrouded in mystery, but it was discovered in March 1858 when Orkney boy David Linklater was out catching rabbits and found some pieces of silver down a burrow.

The discovery was brought to the attention of the authorities after some neighbours discovered a whole parcel of silver ornaments, that ultimately consisted of 15lbs of silver bullion.

It consisted of 115 items of mostly jewellery, including nine brooches, 14 necklets, 27 armlets and an assortment of ingots and silver fragments.

Viking silver penannular ring brooch with thistle-shaped extremities and pinhead and an engraved pattern on one side, from Skaill. Photo National Museums Scotland

One of its 21 coins was a dirham minted in Baghdad in 945-6AD, indicating the hoard was buried in the late 10th century in the heyday of the Earldom of Orkney’s rule over the northern isles.

Another coin belongs to the reign of the Anglo Saxon king Athelstan who ruled in the 10th century.

The brooches could have been produced in the Isle of Man and there are bracelets constructed of strands of silver twisted together.

The hoard was concealed in a box of stone slabs, which scholars argue would have been for safekeeping though some believe it may have been a pagan ritual burial offering.

Silver pinhead, almost certainly from the Skaill hoard: elaborately ornamented pin-head without its shaft, from the large 'ball-type' penannular brooch, from the second half of the 9th century or first half of the 10th century. National Museums Scotland

Part of the collection goes on display on Friday 26 July and will remain in Shetland until Lerwick Up Helly Aa in January.

Jilly Burns, of National Museums Scotland, said it was “hugely important” to make the national collections available as widely as possible.

“We hope that the Skaill Hoard will prove as fascinating and popular with visitors as our other recent loans to Shetland Museum and Archives,” she said.

The 17th Viking Congress is held at Mareel on Sunday 4 August and will include a public lecture day with free tickets. Details are available at http://www.shetlandamenity.org/viking-congress