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Community / Experts inspect folk’s archaeological ‘treasures’

Treasure Trove Unit officials analysed and collected archaeological finds from around Shetland this weekend from Neolithic periods right up to the 18th century

Janel Fontaine (Treasure Trove officer), Jenny Murray (Shetland Museum), George Prew (Treasure Trove officer) and Emily Freeman (Treasure Trove manager) looking over objects brought in to the Treasure Trove Unit at the weekend. Photo: Sarah Cooper for Shetland News

AFTER a busy Saturday morning at the Shetland Museum & Archives, archaeological experts were already working their way through a collection of Dutch and Scandinavian coins, Neolithic and Bronze Age tools, as well as some pieces of potentially medieval jewellery.

Members of Scotland’s Treasure Trove Unit (TTU), based at the National Museum of Scotland were in the isles this weekend for two drop-in events in Lerwick and Yell.

Treasure Trove manager Emily Freeman said Shetland has a ‘very different archaeological landscape’ to the Scottish mainland with lots of finds being unique to the isles.

People in Shetland often come across artefacts when peat-cutting, ploughing fields, or by walking around old sites. Metal detector enthusiasts also find old coins and jewellery.

Curator of Collections Jenny Murray said: “A man brought in these items, his house is built on an archaeological site so when he digs his garden things come up.

“He’s found a club handle which is probably Bronze Age or Neolithic. The other items are points, which were part of a plough. They often broke when they hit with another stone.”

site axe found in Muckle Roe.

Meanwhile, a felsite axe was found in a garden in Muckle Roe.

The stone is specific to Shetland, Murray explained: “Felsite was quarried during the Neolithic period mostly from Northmavine and then traded all throughout Shetland.

“We find them all over Shetland, and they made stone axes and knives with them. Felsite is unique to Shetland. The only time we find a felsite axe outside Shetland is if a collector has taken them away previously.”

Speaking about previous finds from Shetland TTU officer George Prew said: “We get a lot of coins primarily Scandinavian or Dutch, but some Spanish, Portuguese, and German, dating from around the 14th century to 18th century.

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“We’ve had felsite items which are specific to Shetland, and an interesting zoo-morphic Dutch knife stop.”

He added: “Shetland and Orkney both have quite different material cultures from each other, and both very different from Scotland so it’s a really interesting area to be looking at.”

The officers hosted a session at Shetland Museum & Archives on Saturday and then went to the Old Haa Museum in Yell on Sunday.

In Scotland if a person happens to find an archaeological object through metal-detecting, excavation, or even simply walking through a field, it is considered a property of the Crown and should be claimed through Treasure Trove. They can determine if the find has archaeological significance or value.

If the item is claimed by the Crown, accredited museums can apply for it and the original finder may receive an award for the find. However, if the item is not claimed the Treasure Trove can return it to the original finder.

Three times a year the Scottish Archaeological Finds Allocation Panel (SAFAP) meets to discuss items of potential value and determine the allocation and value of these objects.

Finders can waive the ex-gratia award to allow the museum to acquire significant items they might not afford otherwise.

The TTU last visited Shetland in 2018 and hopes to do visits more regularly in the future after outreach visits began again in 2022 following the pandemic.

There is a dedicated Treasure Trove case on display at the Shetland Museum showcasing previous finds across the isles which includes beads, Neolithic tools, Pictish discs, and pieces from an Iron Age rotary quern.

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