Archaeology and the NFA: A Beautiful Romance

Susie Dalton, former Archaeology student in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, wrote her MA dissertation on Treasure Trove in Scotland and the reporting of artefacts by metal detectorists. Here she writes on the role of the NFA in supporting museums to make acquisitions through the Treasure Trove process.

The National Fund for Acquisitions helps Scottish museums and galleries to acquire a wide range of items of cultural and historical significance. While archaeological artefacts take up a small proportion of the annual grant, they do account for a significant proportion of applications received; in 2013/14 35% of applications were for archaeological material although this accounted for only 9% of total spend. Many of the archaeological finds made in Scotland today by members of the public are made by metal detectorists due to a growth in popularity of the hobby since the 1980s.

Under Scottish law ownerless objects found by chance, or through activities such as metal detecting, field walking or archaeological excavation, become the property of the Crown and may be claimed as Treasure Trove.  While individuals have a legal responsibility to report their finds, the Treasure Trove Unit (TTU) works hard to promote awareness of the Treasure Trove system and advise which categories of object finders are required to report.  This has resulted in a 100% increase in reporting since 2011. Many of the items found and reported as Treasure Trove have the potential to make a significant contribution to our understanding of Scotland’s past and the TTU works to ensure they can be enjoyed by the public and for research. If an item found by a member of the public is claimed, it is advertised to the museums sector. Individual museums may apply for the object to be allocated to their collection if it falls within the remit of their collecting policy. The recipient museum is asked to fund an ex gratia payment to the finder, usually based on the market value of the object.  The NFA can offer a grant of up to 50% of the award. This means that the NFA offers crucial help to small museums local to the findspot of the artefact; museums that could otherwise miss out on exciting acquisitions owing to insufficient funding to meet the ex gratia award. As Dunbeath Heritage Centre manager Meg Sinclair put it:

In the past anything valuable that was found usually ended up going to Edinburgh […]These coins being displayed at the museum is a real coup for us.

Medieval coins of Edward I of England and Alexander III of Scotland discovered in Caithness

Medieval coins of Edward I of England and Alexander III of Scotland discovered in Caithness

Meg was referring to a hoard of medieval coins found by a metal detectorist in the Highlands in 2013. The coins, which date back to the 13th century, are now on display in the Centre thanks to NFA funding half the £2,210 ex gratia award and they are expected to contribute to increased visitor numbers.

Two fragments of gold lunula found in Dumfries and Galloway

Two fragments of gold lunula found in Dumfries and Galloway

A similar story can be found at the opposite end of the country in Dumfries and Galloway where the NFA helped Stranraer Museum to acquire a  remarkable find in 2013 – an early Bronze Age gold lunula (a kind of flat, disc-like necklace), the first found in Scotland in over a century. Contributing a grant of £1,500, the NFA made it possible for a small museum to add this impressive piece to its collections.

The NFA provides a lifeline to small museums which want to display the archaeological finds made in their area. While the majority of finds don’t require a significant proportion of the NFA’s budget, they do make a  considerable difference to small museums and their local communities, especially when many are facing increasing budget cuts. By  helping museums across the country to acquire and celebrate these finds, the NFA is allowing Scotland’s heritage to be enjoyed by all.  As the number of archaeological finds made and reported in Scotland continues to increase as a result of the TTU’s outreach work, the NFA has an important part to play in ensuring they continue to be seen and enjoyed by as many people as possible.

Susie Dalton

When the Bronze Age Boat Comes In

Late Bronze Age logboat from the River Tay at Carpow acquired by Perth Museum and Art Gallery in 2007 with an NFA grant of £500.

We’re delighted to have an opportunity to share in the celebrations of the NFA’s 60th anniversary and express thanks for the Fund’s long-standing support in developing the archaeology collection at Perth Museum and Art Gallery. Many of the objects acquired through Treasure Trove could be singled out but I have chosen what is one of the most exciting and popular acquisitions and certainly the largest!

Digital StillCamera

Excavation of the logboat at Carpow nearing completion

Following its discovery in 2001 this Bronze Age logboat was excavated in 2006 and declared Treasure Trove. It was allocated to Perth Museum and Art Gallery in 2007. Although the bow had been severely abraded by the tidal flows of the River Tay, the greater part of the boat had been protected by mud and peat deposits. Several prehistoric and later logboats are known from the River Tay but this was the first opportunity to excavate and study such a vessel to modern standards. Radiocarbon dating has established a date of circa 1,000 BC, making the boat 3,000 years old. At 9m long the logistical challenges of dealing with the boat were enormous. The Museum saw the acquisition of the boat as a vital and unique opportunity to add to its prehistory collection, one of the key strengths of which is its Bronze Age elements. The excavation of the boat was led by Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust and was followed by five years of conservation, carried out by National Museums Scotland.

Logboat conservation nearing completion

The logboat undergoing conservation at the National Museums Collection Centre

In 2012 the boat made a triumphant return to Perthshire when it was displayed for 12 months in Perth Museum, where it was seen by 100,000 visitors. The exhibition told the story of the logboat, addressing discovery, excavation and conservation and its Bronze Age significance, including making and potential use. The latter could have encompassed ferry, cargo vessel, fishing and/or wild-fowling craft and a platform from which to make offerings to the river.

Bronze Age swords

Late Bronze Age swords from the River Tay

Rodent-nibbled hazelnut recovered from boat

A 3,000 year-old rodent-nibbled hazelnut recovered from the stern of the logboat

It was a double thrill to display both the boat and all the Bronze Age metalwork so far found in the River Tay (and in the collections of National Museums Scotland, Perth, Fife and Dundee museums). Much of this metalwork may have been deliberately placed in the river as offerings and the boat may have ended its working life as just such an offering.

Carpow logboat on display at Perth Museum

The Carpow logboat on display at Perth Museum and Art Gallery

The entire Carpow logboat project demonstrates the value of working in partnership to secure and interpret our shared past. NFA was a vital supporting partner to the core team of Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust, Perth Museum and Art Gallery, National Museums Scotland and Historic Scotland, making a critical contribution to the preservation of the boat and the sharing of its story.

Mark Hall
History Officer
Perth Museum and Art Gallery

Medieval Token of Love

Medieval heart-shaped silver brooch acquired by Fife Cultural Trust in 2012 with an NFA grant of £250

Medieval heart-shaped silver heart

Medieval heart-shaped silver brooch

This heart-shaped silver brooch lay underground in Fife for hundreds of years until 2012 when it was discovered by a metal detectorist who reported the find to the Treasure Trove Unit. Under Scots Law objects whose original owner is unknown become the property of the Crown. For archaeological finds this law is used to ensure that finds of cultural significance are allocated to museums for public benefit. The finder is eligible for an ex gratia reward to recognise their contribution. Experts at the Treasure Trove Unit identified the brooch as a medieval love token, perhaps given by a husband to his wife. The reverse is inscribed ‘+ihesus nazren’, an abbreviation of the inscription ‘IHESUS NAZARENUS REX IUDEORUM’ which was often inscribed on jewellery in the belief that it would protect the wearer from harm.

Similar brooches dating from the 15th century have been found but this brooch is unusual in dating from the previous century. Brooches of this type are decorated with floral designs and engraved on the back. Examples from the 15th century have French inscriptions but this example has Lombardic lettering. The style of the brooch pin is similar to others from this date with a bar and collar resembling the hilt of a sword.

In 2013 the brooch was claimed as Treasure Trove and offered to museums in Scotland for their collections. Fife Cultural Trust made a successful bid and the brooch was added to the collections with the help of a grant from the NFA. It is now on display in Moments in Time, the local history exhibition at Kirkcaldy Galleries which opened in June 2013.

Jane Freel
Museums Curator
Fife Cultural Trust

Treasure Trove Scotland

A World of Heraldry

Medieval harness pendant acquired by Dumfries Museum in 2005 with an NFA grant of £75

Today the tales of King Arthur and his knights of the round table are as popular as ever. Stories full of kings and battles for honour, such as Game of Thrones, continue to attract huge audiences; but it is when you actually see or, if you are very lucky, handle genuine pieces of heraldry that the reality of such tales is realised.

Medieval harness pendant

Medieval harness pendant found at New Abbey, Dumfries and Galloway

Thanks to the NFA just such a piece of heraldic history can be seen on display at Dumfries Museum. This copper alloy and enamel pendant, discovered in Kirkconnel near New Abbey, Dumfries, has been dated to the 14th century. The shield-shaped pendant bears a lion rampant on a blue field with a red bend. Despite its age the design and the vibrant colours are still clearly visible. Pendants with armorial bearings were attached to horse gear and used by owners and their retainers as a form of identification. Research carried out by the Treasure Trove Unit did not reveal which family the arms belonged to which may suggest they belonged to an English family.

Medieval harness pendant found in the parish of Dalry

Medieval harness pendant found in the parish of Dalry

Dumfries and Galloway is very fortunate because the region houses more than one example of this type of pendant; the Stewartry Museum in Kirkcudbright has a similar one. Found in the parish of Dalry and dated to c1300 AD, this bronze pendant is also from a horse’s harness and is decorated with a lion rampant. Again no one has yet been able to definitively identify it but it may have belonged to a member of a local lord’s retinue.

Who owned these arms may be the key to unlocking their stories but until we can discover this the imagination is given license to fill in the gaps. It may be that these objects have been part of tales of chivalry, pilgrimage, tournaments or battles. Of course it might be that they have seen a life far less thrilling, but the most exciting thing about these pendants is that they give us some insight into the medieval world of arms and heraldry. They are examples of the colour and pomp that surrounded wealthy families during the medieval period, thereby making this time just slightly more accessible to us in the 21st century. And finally, perhaps the mystery currently surrounding them adds to their worth as museum artefacts, because just now they are full of possibilities.

Kayleigh Scott
Collections Intern
Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura
Dumfries and Galloway Council