Roman silver discovered in Fife set to go on national display

Metal detectorist David Hall examines the Dairsie Hoard of Roman era silver he unearthed in Fife, with Glenmorangie Research Fellow Alice Blackwell at the  National Museum of Scotland.   Neil Hanna Photography.
Metal detectorist David Hall examines the Dairsie Hoard of Roman era silver he unearthed in Fife, with Glenmorangie Research Fellow Alice Blackwell at the National Museum of Scotland. Neil Hanna Photography.

A hoard of Roman silver discovered in Fife three years ago is set to go on show for the first time in a new exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland this October.

The finding was made in Dairsie by metal detectorist David Hall when he was just 14.

David, from Livingston, has since visited researchers at the Museum to help catalogue the fragments of the Dairsie hoard and learn about the insights they have yielded to museum experts.

The Roman silver dates to the late 3rd century AD and is the earliest ‘hacksilver’ from anywhere beyond the frontiers of the Roman Empire.

Hacksilver refers to objects literally hacked into pieces, converted from beautiful treasures into raw silver bullion. Archaeologists think this silver came to Fife as a gift or payment from the Roman world. The Romans could not just rely on the strength of their army – they also used diplomatic efforts to secure the empire’s borders by buying off surrounding tribes.

But the discovery has given National Museums Scotland staff an additional challenge. As well as being hacked-up by the Romans, the hoard had been shattered by ploughing.

As a result, conservators and curators have undertaken a daunting jigsaw puzzle, reconstructing four Roman vessels from over 300 fragments, as well as examining how they had been cut into packages of bullion.

Dr Fraser Hunter, principal curator, National Museums Scotland, said: “New archaeological evidence is rewriting our understanding of Roman frontier politics, and silver was a key part of this.

“It’s a fascinatingly complex picture that shows interaction and realpolitik, with the Romans changing their approach to deal with different emerging problems, and local tribes taking advantage of Roman ‘gifts’.

“The Dairsie hoard is internationally significant. It’s the earliest evidence for a new phase of Roman policy in dealing with troublesome tribes, using bribes of silver bullion in the form of hacked silver vessels.

“It’s been great to show David Hall, the finder, the next steps in translating a find like this from the field, through the laboratories and on to public display.”

David said: “This was really my first proper find. I didn’t realise how important it was at first, but it’s been really exciting to be able to come and see what National Museums’ curators and conservators have been able to do to clean it up and to examine it to work out what it is. It’s great to have unearthed a piece of history and I’m looking forward to seeing it on display.”

The exhibition, Scotland’s Early Silver, will show for the first time how silver, not gold, became the most important precious metal in Scotland over the course of the first millennium AD. New research and recent archaeological discoveries will chart the first thousand years of silver in Scotland.

The exhibition will showcase Scotland’s earliest silver, arriving with the Roman army, and show the lasting impact this new material had on local society. The research is supported by The Glenmorangie Company.

The exhibition is free and runs from October 13 to February 25, 2018.