Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Two Pictish Hoards: Norrie's Law and St. Ninnian's Isle

Hoard from Norries' Law, near Fife, 6th or 7th century, consisting mostly of hack silver. This was found in 1819 by workmen who spirited away much of it before the landowner found out what was going on. So some of the silver was probably melted down and re-used, which is appropriate in a way because that is what hack silver was for.

One of the fascinating things about this hoard is the pairs of objects, one of which is old and worn, the other new; presumably the new is a copy of the old. This, combined with the large amount of hack silver, makes this look like the contents of a silversmith's workshop.

Notice the two brooches, one old when it went the ground, the other new.

Detail of silver pins with enameled heads

Detail of plaque

And a famous hoard from St. Ninian's Isle, 8th century. Discovered in 1958.

Pennanular brooch, silver gilt

Mount, silver, and detail

Silver bowl, and detail

Scabbard end with Latin inscription.



JEL said...

I have always wondered about hacksilver, inasmuch as the barbarians often take objects of great beauty and "civilized" manufacture and chop them up, eventually recasting them into objects which they must have grasped were inferior in workmanship. I recognize the need to divvy up the loot among a number of raiders, but couldn't they have given some raiders coin (which they certainly seized too) livestock, or something else and kept the silver unhacked? There seems almost a vandalistic (small "v" vandalistic) joy in the hacking.


John said...

It is indeed a strange habit, especially when some of the hacked pieces were kept in hoards and then buried in the ground, mixed with complete objects.

I made an interesting discovery reading 17th-century probate inventories, which is that they valued silver entirely by weight; I have never seen a silver item given extra value for artistic merit, and some of these people (like Governor Berkeley of Virginia) were gentlemen of breeding and education. Could Vikings have done the same? It seems crazy, given the amount of effort they invested in making beautiful things with gold and silver, but I'm not sure what other interpretation makes sense.