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History / St Ninian’s treasure petition heading towards 1,000 signatures

Bowl of silver, decorated with four pairs of grotesque animals, interlocking, Pictish, from St Ninian's Isle, 8th century. Photo: National Museums Scotland

A PETITION which asks for the St Ninian’s Isle treasure to be returned to Shetland is quickly reaching 1,000 signatures.

It comes as councillors continue to discuss a fresh Shetland Museum service collections policy for the next five years.

The policy regulates the acquisition and disposal of items to and from the collection.

The collection has grown to nearly 200,000 objects, and 98 per cent of its housed in the museum store at Staney Hill in Lerwick.

At a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s policy and resources committee on Monday, economic development manager Tommy Coutts said the 98 per cent figure was fairly normal for museums.

The store is regularly visited by people with an interest in the items, such as researchers.

As it is reaching capacity, it is expected that a separate report will go in front of councillors in the future discussing options.

The policy has been discussed by elected members as Shetland Amenity Trust operates museum services on behalf of the council.

Back in 2019 Shetland News took a trip to the museum store to have a look around, highlighting the range of items – from “dried plants, model boats and cannons to antiquated clothes, fossils and ancient human remains”.

‘Aladdin’s cave’ of museum artefacts runs out of space

The store opened in 1998 and it has been described as an “Aladdin’s cave”.

It comes as momentum builds around Scott Nicolson’s St Ninian’s Isle treasure petition, which at the time of writing sits at 995 signatures.

The petition aims to see the historic treasure, uncovered at St Ninian’s in the 1950s, permanently housed in Shetland instead of Edinburgh.

Speaking at the first airing of the new museum policy last week, the amenity trust’s cultural heritage manager Jacqui Birnie suggested that whilst the treasure was important to Shetland, it was also significant nationally.

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She also suggested the replicas on show in the Shetland Museum may look better for visitors.

Referring to the recent political debate around the Elgin Marbles, Lerwick councillor Stephen Leask quipped with a smirk that maybe it was time for the St Ninian’s treasure – and the Oxna bangle – to return to Shetland.

The updated museum policy, which will get its final airing in front of the full council next week, does not appear make this any more likely.

But in a statement given last month to Shetland News, National Museums Scotland suggested it was “open to discussion” about forms of collaboration and sharing of its national collection.

The St Ninian’s treasure has visited Shetland twice in the past on a temporary loan.

The treasure find consists of 28 silver and silver-gilt decorated objects, thought to have been made during the second half of the eighth century. It includes bowls, a spoon, decorative pieces from swords and 12 brooches.

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