New images reveal the stunning detail of an Anglo-Saxon cross buried for more than a thousand years as part of the Galloway Hoard, one of the UK’s most important archaeological finds of recent times.

Previously encrusted in a millennium’s worth of dirt, months of painstaking cleaning and conservation work has revealed the intricate decorations on the cross, allowing scholars to view this detail for the first time before it is put on public display in a new exhibition.

The artefact is decorated in Late Anglo-Saxon style, using black niello and gold-leaf. In each of the four arms of the cross are the symbols of the four evangelists who wrote the Gospels of the New Testament - Saint Matthew, Mark (Lion), Luke (Cow) and John (Eagle). 

Experts believe it would have been worn by a high-ranking member of the early Christian Church in Scotland, but mystery surrounds its inclusion among the other items of the hoard. 

HeraldScotland:

The cross has been restored to its former glory

Dr Martin Goldberg, Principal Curator of Early Medieval and Viking Collections at National Museums Scotland said: “Our approach to developing further understanding of the Galloway Hoard involves the great patience, careful examination and pain-staking care of conservation, combined with wide-ranging research on the great variety of materials and objects in this outstanding hoard.

"The cross is a wonderfully visual representation of the work we have been doing to reveal new details about the Galloway Hoard.  

"The conservation work lets us see this object clearly for the first time in over a thousand years, but it also reveals a whole new set of questions."

The hoard, discovered in a Galloway fiald by metal detectorists, was buried in four parcels in two separate layers.

READ MORE: Galloway Hoard to go on display Kirkcudbright after National Museum of Scotland show

Silver bullion, hacksilver and ingots, formed the upper parcel along with the cross and its fine spiral chain, which analysis revealed had been recently worn, but was damaged.

Dr Goldberg said this posed the question of whether the cross was destined to be melted down into the types of ingots it was found with.

HeraldScotland:

Some of the artefacts from the hoard

Dr Goldberg said: "We can easily imagine this cross being robbed from a Christian cleric during a raid on a church - a classic stereotype of the Viking Age. But the complexity of this hoard forces us to reconsider simple stereotypes.  

"The cross is just one of many unusual features in the Galloway Hoard. Late Anglo-Saxon Christian metalwork is very unusual in Viking-age silver hoards.

"As well as silver bullion, the Galloway Hoard contains a large collection of brooches, bracelets, glass beads, pendants, curios, heirlooms and more gold than any other hoard surviving from Viking-age Britain and Ireland, as well as outstanding preservation of organic materials including Scotland’s earliest examples of silk."

He added: "Answers to the questions about the motives for burial can only be attempted once every object in the hoard is analysed and understood, along with investigation of the wider context. This work will continue for years.” 

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Dr Leslie Webster, former Keeper of Britain, Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum, said: “The pectoral cross was made in Northumbria in the later ninth century for a high-ranking cleric, as the distinctive form of the cross suggests.

"Anglo-Saxon crosses of this kind are exceptionally rare, and only one other – much less elaborate – is known from the ninth century.

"The discovery of this pendant cross, in such a remarkable context, is of major importance for the study of early medieval goldsmith’s work, and for our understanding of Viking and Anglo-Saxon interactions in this turbulent period.” 

The Galloway Hoard brings together the richest collection of rare and unique Viking-age objects ever found in Britain or Ireland. Buried around the end of the 9th century, the Hoard brings together a stunning variety of objects and materials in one discovery.  

The cross was buried in the top layer with a parcel of silver bullion. This was separated from a lower layer of three parts: Firstly another parcel of silver bullion wrapped in leather and twice as big as the one above.

A cluster of four elaborately decorated silver ‘ribbon’ arm-rings bound together and alongwith a small wooden box containing three items of gold came next; and thirdly a lidded, silver gilt vessel wrapped in layers of textile and packed full of carefully wrapped beads, pendants, brooches, curios, relics and heirlooms.

READ MORE: Name of Galloway Hoard item’s original owner discovered​

Research and conservation continues into these rare surviving organic materials and the inorganic objects they are combined with. 

The silver spiral chain wrapped around the cross was particularly intricate, made from wire less than a millimetre in diameter and wrapped around an organic core, preserved within the coiled silver and identified as animal gut.

Conservators improvised a cleaning tool by carving a porcupine quill, sharp enough to remove the dirt yet soft enough not to damage the metalwork.  

An Anglo-Saxon runic inscription on an arm-ring fragment has revealed the name ‘Egbert’, perhaps a person associated with the Hoard’s burial.

The Old English name, rather than a Scandinavian one, again causes us to question simple stereotypes about the identities of those involved with the Hoard’s accumulation and burial.

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More detailed scientific analysis is enabling greater precision about the date and composition of the material, which in turn offers clues to where the individual objects may have come from. 

The restored cross, and other items, is going on display in a new exhibition - Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure  - at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh from 19 February to 9 May 2021. 

The exhibition, which is supported by Baillie Gifford Investment Managers, will open at the National Museum of Scotland on 19 February 2021, and will tour thereafter to Kirkcudbright Galleries (summer 2021 to spring 2022) and Aberdeen Art Gallery thanks to funding from the Scottish Government. 

Following the tour, research into the contents of the Galloway Hoard will continue. Part of it will go on long-term display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh with a significant and representative portion of it also displayed long-term at Kirkcudbright Galleries.