Last December, retired police officer and metal detecting enthusiast Kath Giles made a stunning discovery while exploring a tract of private land on the Isle of Man: a trove of 1,000-year-old Viking jewelry.
As Tobi Thomas reports for the Guardian, the cache includes a gold arm ring, a large silver brooch, a silver armband and a number of other artifacts dated to around 950 A.D.
“I knew I had found something very special when I moved the soil away from one of the terminals of the brooch, [and] then I found parts of the pin, the hoop and underneath, the gorgeous gold arm-ring,” says Giles in a statement.
After Giles unearthed the objects, she promptly contacted Manx National Heritage, an organization responsible for protecting and conserving historical artifacts on the island, which is a British dependency located off the northwest coast of England.
All archaeological discoveries made on the Isle of Man must be reported to Manx within two weeks, notes BBC News. If experts deem the artifacts treasure, Giles may receive a finder’s fee. (Current guidelines define treasure very narrowly, but as Caroline Davies writes in a separate Guardian article, the United Kingdom government is working to expand these parameters in order to better protect the country’s national heritage items.)
Some of the finds—including the gold-plaited arm ring, which is engraved with groups of three tiny dots—are particularly unique.
“Gold items were not very common during the Viking Age,” says Allison Fox, an archaeologist at Manx, in the statement. “Silver was by far the more common metal for trading and displaying wealth. It has been estimated that gold was worth ten times the value of silver and that this arm ring could have been the equivalent of 900 silver coins.”
Another highlight of the trove is a silver “thistle brooch of ball type,” according to the statement. It features a large hoop that measures about 8 inches in diameter and a 20-inch-long pin. The accessory’s owner would have used it to fasten thick garments while showcasing their wealth, as Ashley Cowie points out for Ancient Origins.
According to Historic U.K., Vikings initially came to the Isle of Man between 800 and 815 A.D. The island later became an important trading post, connecting Dublin, northwest England and the Scottish Western Isles.
“Kath’s hoard can be dated on stylistic and comparative grounds to about 950 A.D., a time when the Isle of Man was right in the middle of an important trading and economic zone,” says Fox in the statement. “The Viking and Norse influence remained strong on the island for a further 300 years, long after much of the rest of the British Isles.”
Most of the recently uncovered items were “high-status personal ornaments,” notes the statement. A member of the nobility likely hid the stash ahead of an invasion.
“The fact that all were found together, associated with one single deposition event, suggests that whoever buried them was extremely wealthy and probably felt immediately and acutely threatened,” says Fox in the statement.
Last week, the artifacts went on temporary view at the Manx Museum, where they’ll remain prior to valuation and conservation work.
“At the moment,” Fox tells the Guardian, “we know its historic and cultural value to the history of the Isle of Man, but its financial value will be assessed in the future.”
Giles’ discovery arrives amid an uptick in interest in metal detecting. Last year, the U.K. government recorded 47,000 archaeological finds in England and Wales, according to a statement released by the British Museum. Officials reported that Covid-19 restrictions led to an increase in finds, with many pandemic-worn Brits seeking respite outdoors. Finds included gold coins inscribed with the initials of Henry VIII’s first three wives, rare Saxon pennies and a copper Roman furniture fitting.