Treasures from the Glenmorangie Research Project at National Museums Scotland
The Norrie’s Law hoard is very unusual and important. In early medieval Scotland, silver was the most important precious metal, used to make prestigious and impressive objects such as brooches and chains. The Norrie’s Law hoard tells us about the use and reuse of this precious resource – about the source of the raw material (late Roman silver, such as plate and coins) and how it was recycled and remade into new types of powerful objects.
The Norrie’s Law hoard is mostly made up of hacksilver – parts of objects that have been deliberately cut up ready to be traded or exchanged, or melted down and made into something new. Until recently, this was the only hoard of its kind from Scotland – other hacksilver hoards, such as the one found at Traprain Law, contained only Roman silver.
Because the hoard was found during the 19th century, it lacks the kinds of information that modern archaeological excavation of the findspot could provide. The only way to date the burial of the hoard is to examine the objects themselves. Ongoing research by the Glenmorangie Research project is beginning to suggest the hoard was buried around the 6th century AD.
The treasure was discovered on 4 July 1958 by a schoolboy called Douglas Coutts, who was taking part in excavations of the medieval church that had once existed on the island. Coutts found the treasure in a wooden box, buried under a slab marked with a cross. It is generally assumed that the treasure was hidden beneath the floor of an earlier chapel.
The treasure may have belonged to a local religious community, or it may be the valued items of an aristocratic family. The pieces are not all of the same date, and the collection may have been put together over several generations. Without access to safe deposit boxes, burying your valued items in the ground at times of stress was probably the best option.
There are also twelve brooches in the treasure. In early historic Scotland, brooches such as these did much more than act as cloak fasteners. The size and quality of the decoration signified the wearer’s status and position in society. The number and quality of the brooches found strengthens the suggestion that the treasure came from an aristocratic household.
With thanks to The Glenmorangie Company.
Text and images © National Museums Scotland.