Tullie House to show finds from Viking burial ground - Museums Association

Tullie House to show finds from Viking burial ground

The Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle is jubilant after securing the right last month to display nationally …
Felicity Heywood
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The Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle is jubilant after securing the right last month to display nationally significant finds from a Viking burial ground.

The burial ground in Cumbria contained the graves of four men and two women along with tortoise brooches, swords and riding equipment. It is the first such find in England. The graves are particularly significant because they provide evidence that the Vikings settled in the UK. It is believed the graves date from the early tenth century.

The site came to the attention of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in April when a local metal detectorist uncovered a couple of tortoise brooches. Faye Simpson, the local PAS representative, said she knew immediately that the jewellery was associated with Viking female burials. Two excavations followed, with the final one completed in June revealing the largest amount. This excavation was funded by £85,000 from English Heritage (EH), which only agreed to support the work if the objects were donated.

Tim Padley, the keeper of archaeology at Tullie House, said a legal agreement between the museum, the landowner and the finder will allow the majority of the objects to be donated to the museum. 'It is very important that they stay in the locality otherwise we would end up with two-tier archaeology objects in museums,' Padley said. 'Everyone would go to London and not bother to come to Carlisle.'

Three silver rings found in one of the six graves are classified as treasure and therefore will be considered under the Treasure Act. The objects to be displayed at Tullie House will first go through investigations, such as X-ray, conservation and classification processes, which are likely to take about two years said Simpson at the PAS.

Padley said the finds show the great success of the PAS: 'That is what brought this site to the attention of archaeologists. Without PAS or the outreach work it does, we would not have known about it at all.'

Padley is now working on an action plan that includes fundraising and liaising with English Heritage on the timescale of the conservation of the objects. He revealed that the timescale could allow other museums, such as the British Museum, to bid for the items. 'There is always that concern, but the British Museum (BM) has a very nice pair of tortoise brooches. This is a Cumbrian find.' he argued. Leslie Webster, the keeper of the department of prehistory and Europe at the BM, who attended the site and gave advice, agreed. 'We try not to grab everything,' she said. 'More often than not these days we tend to take the back seat in terms of regional collecting.'

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