Whenever I’m in Edinburgh, I find myself drawn to the National Museum in Chambers St.
One of the greatest finds of treasure in Scotland can be found here – over twenty kilos of silver, discovered on the top of Traprain Law: As far back as the second century, the latter held a large hill fort covering some forty acres – the royal headquarters of an early Scottish tribe, the Gotodini. The treasure was believed to have been paid by the Romans – a bribe to keep the tribe from raiding over Hadrian’s Wall into Britain. For the most part, the silver had been hacked into pieces: its value lay in its weight. Skilled local craftsmen would have melted the silver, refashioning the items to suit their own function and styles.
This period is often regarded as primitive but such an array of items shows the extraordinary beauty and utility of the artifacts.The horn or Carnyx, resembling a boar’s head, was used as a trumpet to terrify enemies, to impel warriors to superior acts of valour, or for ceremonial purposes. It certainly impressed the Romans during the invasion of Caledonia (one of the early names given to Scotland). This one was found dismantled and buried in a peat bog. And who wouldn’t want one of these beautiful and functional bowls in their home today?
I love this this caricature of a Pictish gentleman on a horse, apparently having a wee dram on the way home.The poor horse looks so weary as if he’s been waiting for hours for his owner to finish his night out!
Below are statues – a unique and eerie rendition by sculptor, Eduardo Paolozzi. Within their angular bodies, metal figures hold exquisite jewellery from the period to highlight the contrast between old and new forms. I know some folk don’t warm to them but these characters drawn in stone intrigue me. Their extraordinary impact draws me back to the museum time and again. I fancy they might come alive at night with creaks and groans, and deep growling voices!
Moving forward to 1831, a wild Atlantic storm shifted layers of sand and debris to uncover these quirky chess pieces from beneath the sand hills of Uig on the western fringe of the Hebridean Isle of Lewis. During the Viking period, these enigmatic items carved from ancient walrus ivory were abandoned. Having walked those white, sandy beaches, I’ve often wondered about the elusive details of such a drama. Why did the owner bury these precious items, and then fail to return? One of Scotland’s many mysteries!
Next time, more of my favourite pieces at Scotland’s National Museum…