Ancient Silver “Piggybank” Adds to Viking History Isle of Man

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Ancient Silver “Piggybank” Adds to Viking History Isle of Man

A metal detectorist with a nose for Viking era artifacts has struck gold again. Or more precisely, struck silver. These discoveries have helped to spa

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A metal detectorist with a nose for Viking era artifacts has struck gold again. Or more precisely, struck silver. These discoveries have helped to spark a renewed interest in the Viking history of the Isle of Man.

Metal Detectorist Strikes Again: Unearthing Viking Isle of Man Treasure

Kath Giles, a retired police officer living on the Isle of Man, found an impressive and very old hoard of silver Viking era coins , 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, since they were all imprinted with dates. Those dates covered a 35-year period, from 1000 to 1035 AD.

During this time, the Isle of Man was subject to the authority of the King of Norway and various associates. This state of affairs was forced on the island’s people by Viking invaders, who began arriving on the island as plunderers of the Isle of Man in the 8th century.

Incredibly, just months earlier The Guardian reported that metal detectorist Giles had discovered an over 1,000-year-old cache of gold and silver jewelry while searching in the same area. These luxury items could also be traced back to the time when the Isle of Man was part of the Norse-administered Kingdom of the Isles, a semi-independent confederation that also included several small islands located near Scotland.

Allison Fox, Curator for Archaeology at new MNH Viking Gallery, and Kath Giles, the metal detectorist who discovered the silver hoard, presenting the artifacts which date back to the Viking era on the Isle of Man. ( Manx National Heritage )

Viking Isle of Man Hoard Declared an Archaeological “Treasure”

In each case, Giles’ discoveries were only revealed after a public inquest had officially declared each collection an archaeological treasure. This happened in February 2021 with her first find, and in July 2021 with her second.

This designation means that the finder cannot claim ownership of their discoveries. Instead, they must turn them over to government authorities. From that point on such discoveries become a possession of the Crown and are usually put on display at museums and/or made available for scientists and academics to study.

Nevertheless, there is no reason to feel sorry for Kath Giles. Discoveries that are designated as treasures are assessed for value, and the finder is then given a reward based on that value. Each of her finds is worth a small fortune, meaning she will end up with a tidy sum of money in the bank once the final settlements are made.

For now, the silver artifact collection dating back to the Viking Isle of Man will be placed on display at the new Viking Gallery within the Manx Museum in Douglas, the capital of the Isle of Man. It will then be taken to London for valuation by the Treasure Valuation Committee.

This Viking coin discovered on the Isle of Man depicts King Sihtric Silkbeard, the Norse King of Dublin circa 989 to 1036. (Manx National Heritage)

This Viking coin discovered on the Isle of Man depicts King Sihtric Silkbeard, the Norse King of Dublin circa 989 to 1036. ( Manx National Heritage )

An Amazing Coin Collection from Long Lost Times

This most recent Viking era silver coin hoard included a total of 87 silver coins, plus 13 pieces of silver arm rings, which were also used as money in the 11th century. They were minted in four locations: England, Germany, Dublin (an independent kingdom at that time), and on the Isle of Man itself. The silver artifacts depict the kings Cnut and Sihtric Silkbeard.

Speaking with the BBC, the Manx National Heritage Curator of Archaeology Allison Fox called the rare coin hoard “a wonderful find.” She believes a closer study of the silver pieces could help increase knowledge about the “complex Viking Age economy” that developed in the Irish Sea area between the 9th to 13th centuries, when the region was part of the greater Norse empire.

It appears the silver coins may have been intentionally buried by their 11th-century owner. This could have been done to prevent theft, or to keep them in reserve for future times of need. Archaeology reports that the American coin expert Kristin Bornholdt-Collins helped verify the identity and age of the silver pieces. She told the BBC News that the coin hoard may have functioned as a “piggybank” on the then Viking Isle of Man.

Over time new Viking coins would have been added to the collection, which would explain the 35-year gap between the newest and oldest coins. The earliest of the coins dates back to the late 900s. None of the coins were rare in the 11th century, Bornholdt-Collins stated, and all were consistent with what was widely in circulation at the time.

The diversity of the coins with respect to their dates and different places of origin could have been a coincidence. But it also raises the possibility that the coins did represent a true collection, put together by an ancient collector motivated by a love of coins.

The Viking Isle of Man hoard included this decorated silver armlet. (Manx National Heritage)

The Viking Isle of Man hoard included this decorated silver armlet. ( Manx National Heritage )

Are More Viking Treasures Waiting to Be Found?

Viking voyages changed the fortunes of the Isle of Man . They brought Norse culture to the British Isles, influencing development in the region for nearly 500 years. Over the years Norwegian rulers often felt the need to intervene in Isle of Man affairs, in order to secure their control against rebellious locals.

One of the major developments occurred in 1079, when the Dublin-based conqueror Godred Crovan seized control of the island. This Norse-Gaelic leader eventually became the king of Dublin, establishing himself as one of the greatest leaders to emerge from the Norse involvement in the British Isles.

The descendants of Godred Crovan helped preserve order after his death. The Isle of Man remained under Norse authority possession for another 200 years after Godred Crovan assumed a leadership role, based on the respect his rule and the rule of his ancestors. Only in 1266 did the king of Norway finally decide to sell the island to Scotland, terminating the centuries-long Norse political presence in the Irish Sea region.

The Isle of Man is a small territory. Its total area is just 221 square miles (572 square kilometers). Yet it was still considered an attractive location to the Vikings, and to Norse kings, for centuries. The discovery of Viking Isle of Man artifacts from those ancient times has helped renew interest in that period of the island’s history, and will likely send many more metal detectorists out into the island’s fields seeking more exciting discoveries.

Top image: Newly discovered silver Viking artifacts discovered on the Isle of Man Source: Manx National Heritage

By Nathan Falde

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