The intricate decoration of an ancient Anglo-Saxon silver cross buried for more than a millennium has been revealed for the first time, adding greater detail to one of Britain’s most remarkable archaeological finds.
The cross was found as part of the Galloway Hoard, a trove of treasures discovered by a metal detectorist in a field in western Scotland in 2014. Experts who used a porcupine quill to remove the dirt revealed the stunning metalwork, which is of such high quality that it is thought to have been commissioned by a high-ranking cleric or king.
The cross, decorated using black niello and gold-leaf, features engravings depicting each of the writers of the Gospels.
The Galloway Hoard is regarded as one of the richest and most significant finds of Viking objects ever found in the United Kingdom. Alongside the cross, there were rare silver bracelets and brooches, a gold ring and a bird-shaped gold pin.
“The pectoral cross, with its subtle decoration of evangelist symbols and foliage, glittering gold and black inlays, and its delicately coiled chain, is an outstanding example of the Anglo-Saxon goldsmith’s art,” Leslie Webster, the former Keeper of Britain, Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum, said in a statement.
The cross was made in Northumbria – what is now northern England and southern Scotland – in the 9th century for a high-ranking cleric, Webster added.
Similar Anglo-Saxon crosses are exceptionally rare, Webster said; the only other known example comes from the 9th century, but is far less elaborate.
The Galloway Hoard was the subject of a $2.5 million lawsuit by the Church of Scotland last year, with the church claiming it was entitled to a share of the treasure trove since it was discovered on its land.
It had been found by retired businessman and detectorist Derek McLennan in a field in the Dumfries and Galloway region of western Scotland.
The cross is engraved with decorations that, experts say, are highly unusual and may represent the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.