BGH scanner reveals Viking hoards secret

editorial image

The astonishing secrets of a 9th-century bronze pot have been revealed – thanks to a unique collaboration between the Borders General Hospital and Historic Scotland.

The vessel, covered in mud and verdigris, was one of more than 100 artefacts discovered earlier this year by metal detectorist Derek McLennan in Dumfries and Galloway.

When the find was made public by Scotland’s Treasure Trove Unit last month, it was described as “one of the most significant Viking hoards ever discovered in Scotland”.

The haul included an array of gold objects, silver ingots and decorative brooches.

One item, however, remained an enigma – a small pot with a sealed lid which the experts believed contained more objects.

They knew from its ornate exterior that it hailed from the west European Carolingian period and, more than likely, from that dynasty’s artistic renaissance between 780 and 900AD. But they had no idea what treasures lay within.

That was when the call was made to Dr John Reid, consultant radiographer at the BGH, a keen amateur archaeologist and chairman of the Trimontium Trust in Melrose.

“The conservationists did not want to guddle about and compromise this precious object,” explained Dr Reid.

The request for hi-tech help came from Richard Welander, head of collections with Historic Scotland, who was aware of the previous deployment of the BGH’s CT scanner in archaeological research – Dr Reid had used the state-of-the-art equipment to supervise the scanning of the remains of a Roman soldier’s head discovered at Newstead.

Dr Reid told the Southern: “I’d like to assure readers that this work takes place outwith normal hours and in no way impedes the important work we do for our human patients.

“The scanner is both rapid and accurate, with the ability to produce 120 visual slices, and is accurate to within half a millimetre.”

Thus, with the permission of hospital chief Calum Campbell, the pot was brought in for an evening scanning session, witnessed by Mr Welander and Mr McLennan.

And they watched in awe as the monitoring screen revealed the presence of five silver brooches, smaller gold ingots and ivory beads coated with gold – all wrapped in an organic material, possibly leather.

“When I saw the results, I was reminded of the words of Sir Howard Carter when Tutankhamun’s tomb was opened in 1922 – ‘I see wonderful things’,” said Mr Welander.

“We are all so grateful to the Borders General Hospital and Dr Reid for allowing us to forensically examine one of the key objects of the hoard. As with human patients, we need to investigate in a non-invasive way before moving onto delicate surgery.

“In this case, that will be the careful removal of the contents and the all-important conservation of these items.”

Meanwhile, a short video of the pot being scanned at the BGH is currently available on YouTube under the title “Scanning Viking Hoard”.