The earliest hacksilver found anywhere beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire is to go on display in Edinburgh, three years after it was discovered by 14-year-old metal detectorist David Hall.
The exhibition, Scotland’s Early Silver, which opens on 13 October 2017, will show for the first time how silver, not gold, became the most important precious metal in Scotland over the course of the first millennium AD.
New research and recent archaeological discoveries will chart the first 1,000 years of silver in Scotland. The exhibition will showcase Scotland’s earliest silver, arriving with the Roman army, and show the lasting impact this new material had on local society. The research is supported by The Glenmorangie Company as part of a unique partnership.
The discovery of the Dairsie Hoard
David (now 16) from Livingston, has since visited researchers at the Museum to help catalogue the fragments of the Dairsie Hoard and learn about the insights they have yielded to museum experts. The Dairsie hoard dates to the late 3rd century AD and is the earliest ‘hacksilver’ from anywhere beyond the frontiers of the Roman Empire.
Hacksilver refers to objects literally hacked into pieces, converted from beautiful treasures into raw silver bullion. Archaeologists think this silver came to Fife as a gift or payment from the Roman world. The Romans could not just rely on the strength of their army – they also used diplomatic efforts to secure the empire’s borders by buying off surrounding tribes.
The Dairsie hoard has given National Museums Scotland staff an additional challenge. As well as being hacked-up by the Romans, the hoard had been shattered by ploughing. Conservators and curators have undertaken a daunting jigsaw puzzle, reconstructing four Roman vessels from over 300 fragments, as well as examining how they had been cut into packages of bullion.
'Internationally significant' find
Dr Fraser Hunter, Principal Curator, National Museums Scotland said: “New archaeological evidence is rewriting our understanding of Roman frontier politics, and silver was a key part of this. It’s a fascinatingly complex picture that shows interaction and realpolitik, with the Romans changing their approach to deal with different emerging problems, and local tribes taking advantage of Roman ‘gifts’.
"The Dairsie hoard is internationally significant. It’s the earliest evidence for a new phase of Roman policy in dealing with troublesome tribes, using bribes of silver bullion in the form of hacked silver vessels. It’s been great to show David Hall, the finder, the next steps in translating a find like this from the field, through the laboratories and on to public display.”
The hoard's finder David Hall added: “This was really my first proper find. I didn’t realise how important it was at first, but it’s been really exciting to be able to come and see what National Museums’ curators and conservators have been able to do to clean it up and to examine it to work out what it is. It looks really different now. It’s great to have unearthed a piece of history and I’m looking forward to seeing it on display at the Museum.”
Scotland’s Early Silver is at National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh from 13 October 2017 – 25 February 2018. Admission is free.The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication from NMS Enterprises Ltd - Publishing. For more information on NMS, visit their website.
(Images copyright National Museums Scotland)