Viking pot scanned in hospital

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A HOSPITAL machine normally used to save lives has helped crack the secret of a 1,200-year-old Viking piggy bank.

A tightly-sealed bronze pot was recently discovered in southern Scotland as part of a Viking haul described as the “most significant” found anywhere in the UK.

Experts had no idea what the pot, found in Dumfries and Galloway, contained and feared removing the lid could damage both the pot and the contents within.

So they enlisted the help of imaging experts at Borders General Hospital in Melrose who gave them access to their £2m CT scanner, normally used to spot everything from cancer to fractured bones.

 

A CT scan cross section of the innards of the Viking pot. The circular shape in the upper right corner is said to be an ornate bead. The dome object to its left is a bone or ivory bead, and the coil curling from the bottom left to the centre is five brooches. But the rectangular shape at the centre remains a mystery
A CT scan cross section of the innards of the Viking pot. The circular shape in the upper right corner is said to be an ornate bead. The dome object to its left is a bone or ivory bead, and the coil curling from the bottom left to the centre is five brooches. But the rectangular shape at the centre remains a mystery

The amazing images revealed that the pot was the 9th Century equivalent of a piggy bank.

The vessel is believed to include five silver brooches, smaller gold ingots and ivory beads coated in gold – all wrapped in organic matter – possibly a leather bag.

Experts are now trying to work out whether to open the pot and, if so, how they can do that without causing damage.

A massive haul of Viking artefacts including gold, silver ingots, decorative broaches and Viking arm rings was discovered in September this year at a location which is being kept secret.

It was described as “one of the most significant Viking hoards ever discovered in Scotland” when announced by Scotland’s Treasure Trove Unit.

Historic Scotland called upon the help of consultant radiologist Dr John Reid at the Borders General Hospital (BGH) to scan the pot.

Dr John Reid who conducted the CT scan of the Viking pot
Dr John Reid who conducted the CT scan of the Viking pot

Dr Reid, himself a keen amateur archaeologist, was happy to make the CT scanner available for the job.

With his expert help a scan was able to reveal the likely contents of the pot.

Dr John Reid said: “This is part of one of the most notable Viking finds in the UK – not just Scotland.

“Vikings would put hoards into the ground for safe keeping – it represents a double tragedy.

“Vikings often pillaged their material. An early Christian cross was found at the site. Vikings were Pagan so this would have most likely been taken from a monk or a priest – they targeted monastic sites.

“It’s tragic in that sense but also a tragedy for the Viking because he’s obviously died of disease, or in battle before he’s been able to reclaim or use the hoard.”

Dr Reid said he found radiology and archaeology to be similar: “Helping to predict what was in the pot was like my day-to-day work.

“In work I’m trying to predict what what is in someone’s abdomen so a surgeon is prepared before an operation.”

He added: “This is a fascinating find. It’s going to represent a truly amazing discovery.”

Stuart Campbell, from Scotland’s Treasure Trove Unit said: “At the moment the pot has been scanned and there will be a meeting to discuss the excavation of the pot.

He described how the pot could be opened: “It will be done under controlled conservation, how we do this is something that will be discussed at the meeting.

“Works will be in the hands of very skilled conservationists.”
Richard Welander ,head of collections at Historic Scotland said: “As with human patients, we need to investigate in a non-invasive way before moving onto delicate surgery.

“In this case, that will be the careful removal of the contents and the all-important conservation of these items.”

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