Today, a stunning collection of Viking Age artefacts discovered on the Isle of Man was declared Treasure by the Isle of Man Coroner of Inquests, Mrs Jayne Hughes.
The internationally significant find consists of a gold arm-ring, a massive silver brooch, at least one silver armband and other associated finds, buried around AD 950. It was discovered in late 2020 by metal detectorist Kath Giles whilst metal detecting on private land.
Allison Fox, Curator for Archaeology for Manx National Heritage said: “We received a telephone call from Kath late last year, and with Kath’s help, we were able to document the site and ensure there were no further objects remaining in the ground.”
Finder, Kath Giles said: “I knew I had found something very special when I moved the soil away from one of the terminals of the brooch, but then I found parts of the pin, the hoop and underneath, the gorgeous gold arm-ring. I knew straight away that it was a significant and exciting find. I’m so thrilled to have found artefacts that are not only so important, but so beautiful!”
The gold arm-ring is made from three plaited rods of gold, both ends merging into a flat lozenge-shaped band that has been decorated all over with a stamped design of groups of three dots.
Allison continued: “The arm-ring is a rare find. Gold items were not very common during the Viking Age. Silver was by far the more common metal for trading and displaying wealth. It has been estimated that gold was worth 10 times the value of silver and that this arm-ring could have been the equivalent of 900 silver coins”.
Earlier discoveries of Viking Age gold arm rings from the Island include one found with the Ballaquayle Hoard in Douglas in the 1890s, much simpler in design. Three Viking Age gold finger rings have previously been discovered on the Isle of Man and one complete gold ingot. These suggest that there may have been some gold-working on the Island during the Viking Age and that the Island was home to some particularly wealthy people back then. This gold arm-ring reinforces these theories.
The silver brooch is a type known as a “thistle brooch of ball type”. It is large – the hoop is c.20cm diameter and the pin is c.50cm long. Although bent and broken and with just some small pieces missing, the brooch is complete. It would have been worn at the shoulder to hold heavy clothing such as a cloak in place, with the point of the pin upwards. The brooch is one of the largest examples of its type ever discovered. It has intricate designs on the pin and terminals and as with the arm-ring, the brooch would have been an immediate visual indicator of the wealth of the owner. It may not have been for everyday use. The type is thought to have originated in the Irish Sea area – it is possible that the brooch was made on the Isle of Man.
The hoard also included the remains of at least one decorated silver armband, cut in antiquity.
Both whole and cut items of Viking Age gold and silver jewellery have previously been discovered on the Island. Most of these have been the result of deliberate deposition of “hoard” material, presumably buried during a time of threat, with the intention by the original owner to reclaim the artefacts at a later stage.
However, this arm-ring and brooch are the first of their type to be found on the Island and add significantly to the picture of wealth circulating on the Island and around the Irish Sea area in general over one thousand years ago.
Allison said: “Vikings arrived on the Isle of Man in the 800s, firstly trading and eventually settling. Kath’s hoard can be dated on stylistic and comparative grounds to around AD 950, a time when the Isle of Man was right in the middle of an important trading and economic zone. But elsewhere to the east and west, Viking rule was coming to an end and perhaps this encouraged further Viking settlement on the Island. The Viking and Norse influence remained strong on the Island for a further three hundred years, long after much of the rest of the British Isles.
The arm-ring, brooch and cut armband are all high-status personal ornaments and represent a large amount of accumulated wealth. Finding just one of these items would be of significance. 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”.
Allison continued: “Manx National Heritage would like to sincerely thank both the finder and landowners for all their support and assistance with this remarkable discovery”.
The “Kath Giles” hoard will go on display in the Viking and Medieval Gallery at the Manx Museum from today prior to valuation and further conservation work. The location of the find and details of the landowner will remain confidential to protect the integrity of the find site.