Ancient silver “piggy bank” adds to Isle of Man Viking history
A metal detector with a flair for Viking Age artifacts has once again found gold. Or more precisely, minted money. These discoveries helped spark renewed interest in the Viking history of the Isle of Man.
Metal Detector Strikes Again: Unearthing Isle of Man Viking Treasure
Kath Giles, a retired police officer living on the Isle of Man, found an impressive and very ancient treasure of silver coins from the Viking Age, while searching a farmer’s field with her metal detector in April 2021. It was possible to identify when the coins in the collection were minted, as they were all imprinted with dates. These dates covered a period of 35 years, from 1000 to 1035 AD.
During this time, the Isle of Man was under the authority of the King of Norway and various associates. This state of affairs was forced upon the island’s inhabitants by the Viking invaders, who began arriving on the island as looters from the Isle of Man in the 8th century.
Incredibly, a few months ago The Guardian reported that metal detector Giles discovered a cache of gold and silver jewelry more than 1,000 years old while searching the same area. These luxury items also date back to when the Isle of Man was part of the Scandinavian-administered Kingdom of Islands, a semi-independent confederation that also included several small islands located near Scotland.
Allison Fox, Curator for Archeology at the new MNH Viking Gallery, and Kath Giles, the metal detective who discovered the silver treasure, exhibiting artifacts that date back to the Viking Age on the Isle of Man. ( Manx national heritage )
Viking Isle of Man Hoard declared an archaeological “treasure”
In each case, Giles’ findings were only revealed after a public inquiry officially declared each collection an archaeological treasure. This happened in February 2021 with his first find, and in July 2021 with his second.
This designation means that the discoverer cannot claim ownership of his findings. Instead, they must turn them over to government authorities. From that point on, these finds become Crown possession and are typically displayed in museums and / or made available to scientists and academics for study.
However, there is no reason to be sorry for Kath Giles. Discoveries designated as treasures are assessed for their value, and the researcher then receives a reward based on that value. Each of her finds is worth a small fortune, which means she’ll end up with a nice sum of money in the bank once final settlements are made.
For now, the collection of silver artifacts from the Viking Isle of Man will be on display in the new Viking Gallery within the Manx Museum in Douglas, the capital of the Isle of Man. It will then be transported to London for evaluation by the Treasure Valuation Committee.
This Viking coin found on the Isle of Man depicts King Sihtric Silkbeard, the Norse King of Dublin circa 989 to 1036. ( Manx national heritage )
An incredible collection of Long Lost Times coins
This most recent Viking Age silver coin treasure consisted of a total of 87 silver coins, plus 13 silver arm ring coins, which were also used as currency in the 11th century. They were struck in four places: England, Germany, Dublin (an independent kingdom at the time) and the Isle of Man itself. The silver objects represent Kings Cnut and Sihtric Silkbeard.
Talk with the BBC, Manx National Heritage Archeology Curator Allison Fox called the rare piece treasure a “wonderful find.” She believes that further study of silver coins could help shed light on the “complex economy of the Viking Age” that developed in the Irish Sea region between the 9th and 13th centuries. , when the region was part of the great Nordic Empire.
It appears that the silver coins were intentionally buried by their owner in the 11th century. This could have been done to prevent theft or to keep them in reserve for future times of need. Archeology reports that US coin expert Kristin Bornholdt-Collins helped verify the identity and age of the silver coins. She told the BBC News that the coin hoard may have functioned as a “piggy bank” on the then Viking Isle of Man.
Over time, new Viking coins were said to have been added to the collection, which would explain the 35-year gap between the most recent and the oldest coins. The oldest of the coins dates back to the late 900s. None of the coins were rare in the 11th century, Bornholdt-Collins said, and all were of what was widely in circulation at the time.
The diversity of the pieces in terms of their dates and different places of origin could have been a coincidence. But it also raises the possibility that the coins represented a true collection, put together by a former collector driven by a love of coins.
The Isle of Man Viking treasure included this decorated silver armband. ( Manx national heritage )
Are other Viking treasures waiting to be discovered?
Viking voyages changed the fortunes of the Isle of Man. They introduced Nordic culture to the British Isles, influencing the development of the region for nearly 500 years. Over the years, Norwegian rulers have often felt the need to intervene in the affairs of the Isle of Man, in order to secure their control against local rebels.
One of the major developments occurred in 1079, when Dublin-based conqueror Godred Crovan took control of the island. This Nordic-Gaelic leader eventually became King of Dublin, establishing himself as one of the greatest rulers to emerge from the Scandinavian involvement in the British Isles.
The descendants of Godred Crovan helped preserve order after his death. The Isle of Man remained in the possession of Norse rule for another 200 years after Godred Crovan assumed a leadership role, based on respect for his rule and that of his ancestors. It was not until 1266 that the King of Norway finally decided to sell the island to Scotland, thus ending the centuries-old Scandinavian political presence in the Irish Sea region.
The Isle of Man is a small area. Its total area is only 221 square miles (572 square kilometers). Yet it has always been considered an attractive place for Vikings and Nordic kings for centuries. The discovery of Isle of Man Viking Artifacts from those ancient times has helped to renew interest in this period in the island’s history and will likely send many more metal detectors to the island’s fields in search of more exciting discoveries.
Top image: Newly discovered silver Viking artifacts on the Isle of Man Source: Manx national heritage
By Nathan Falde