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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Thursday, July 20, 2017

transition transmission

Clifford Harper's cover for Undercurrents 20, 1977

I am giving a talk about the Galloway Levellers in October. For most people who know about them, their uprising was against the enclosure of the land and the clearance of the people (sometimes called peasants)  who had lived on the land for generations.

Although Marx didn’t mention the Galloway Levellers  in ‘Capital’ he explains the emergence of capitalism through a discussion of clearance and enclosure in 16th century England. He then throws in the Highland Clearances as a more recent example of the process.

The argument is that the first capitalists were landowners who created their capital by modernising farming to increase output from the land. The extra food produced could then be sold in the market at a profit. But to do this they had to get rid of the  peasants who were farming for self-sufficiency (= subsistence) not to produce a surplus for the market.

The capital created was then used to build factories which employed the peasants driven off the land. This could be done  cheaply,  since without access to land the dispossessed peasants now had the choice between working in factories or starving. They now had to buy  food they had previously grown for themselves.

The peasants became the proletariat, generating huge profits for the new industrial capitalists who replaced the feudal landowning elite as the new ruling class.

But the new system was not stable. The logic of capitalism is competition which forces capitalists to keep finding ways to produce more commodities more cheaply. Over time this would drive down wages to the point where the proletariat would have to choose between starvation or revolution.

By ‘seizing the means of production’ -the factories- from the capitalists, the proletariat could liberate the immense productive power of industry for the benefit of the many not the few. The economic and social pyramid of power would be levelled and the wealth of society would be evenly distributed and humankind would finally be liberated from scarcity and oppression.

Some problems.
Firstly, the equation of enclosure with clearance only applies when arable land is converted to livestock pasture. This happened in 16th century England when the wool industry was profitable, in early 18th century  Galloway when the cattle trade was profitable and again late 18th/ early 19th century in the Highlands when the land was cleared to create sheep farms.

But the big change which happened in 17th and 18th century England and later 18th century Scotland was the improvement of arable farming. This was a major change and did involve enclosures, but arable farming  was labour intensive. It did not involve mass evictions and clearance from the land- it relied on farm workers staying on the land.

This agricultural revolution increased output of food crops crops. The increase in food production led to an increase in the rural population- people who are better fed have children who are stronger and so infant mortality decreases while adults live longer, healthier lives. But as the rural population increased there were more people than needed to work the new improved farms. This drove wages down which encouraged young people to move from the countryside to the cities where wages were higher. In England this was one of the process which drove the growth of London.

Since the agricultural revolution came before the industrial revolution, the workers in the new factories came overwhelmingly from the surplus rural population, not from people cleared off the land by enclosures.  

Evidence from Wales shows that rural wages were higher in areas closest to the iron/coal districts where farmers had to compete with the wages paid to industrial workers. Further out, rural wages were lower. This created a gradual movement of rural workers towards the industrial districts via the higher wage rural areas. There was no need to force the Welsh ‘peasants’ off the land, they moved off the land in pursuit of higher wages.

Farm wages close to cities were also higher than in more distant rural areas, so a similar process occurred. People did not always move directly to the cities, but first moved from lower to higher farm wage areas before making the final move into the cities.

The Importance of coal.

During the 16th to 18th centuries  in England and the  18th century in Scotland, coal became a substitute for wood in many industrial process and for domestic heating. This was important because without the use of coal a shortage of wood would have choked pre-industrial economic growth. London, as a major example, relied on coal shipped by sea from Newcastle. Between 1600 and 1700 London grew from 200 000 to 600 000, overtaking Paris as the largest city in Europe in the 18th century, reaching 1 million in 1801.

The growth of London is significant because it stimulated the development of what was to become capitalism. Landowners around London found it was worthwhile to improve production -using methods developed by the Dutch - to feed the city.

London as a market even had an effect as far away as Galloway. In 1667 the English parliament banned the import of cattle from Ireland wich was running at about 60 000/ year. Of these 10 000 reached England from Ulster via Galloway (short sea crossing). Landowners in Galloway took advantage of the ban to start selling cattle from Galloway to England in the 1670s. Some of the landowners became capitalists by re-investing the profits from cattle sales to England to buy or lease more land to produce more cattle. Others cheated by smuggling in Irish cattle and passing them off as Scottish…

 Brick-making, glass-making, brewing and salt-making all shifted from using wood as fuel to using coal. Greater demand for coal led to two problems. Mines became deeper so water had to be pumped out. This led to the use of the first (atmospheric) steam engines. Around Newcastle the early mines close to the river Tyne became worked out. The new mines were further from the river so wooden rail roads were built to carry the coal from the mines to the ships.

Until about 1750, charcoal was used to smelt iron, but it then became cheaper to use coke instead of charcoal. By 1780 Watt’s improved steam engine was in use- it used less coal than previous steam engines but that made it more attractive as a source of power for pumping water, providing the blast for iron furnaces and -by 1800-  working cotton spinning mills. Steam powered ships and railway locomotives were developed over the next 25 years.

In 1700 the UK was producing   2.7 million tons of coal/year.
In 1750 the UK was producing   4.7 million tons of coal/year.
In 1800 the UK was producing  10.0 million tons of coal/year.
In 1850 the UK was producing  50.0 million tons of coal/year.
In 1900 the UK was producing 250.0 million tons of coal/year.

By 1860, if wood had been used as fuel in the UK instead of coal an area of 25 million acres of forest would have been needed, equal to the entire area of farmland in England.

The transition of the UK from a rural/ agricultural traditional economy to an industrial/urban capitalist economy would have been impossible without coal. No coal = no capitalism.

Economists like Adam Smith writing in the mid 18th century expected the agricultural revolution to produce economic growth which would stimulate industrial/ manufacturing growth.

But they expected this growth to tail away leading to ‘the stationary state’- the end of economic and population growth.

They did not expect and could not imagine the economic growth which took place in the 19th and 20th centuries and which is only slowly ending in the 21st.

This was because they believed that land was the foundation of the economy. The land produced food from arable crops and livestock, but also timber for fuel and building. Clothing  also came from the land  as wool from sheep, linen from flax and leather from animal hides. The land produced fodder for horses which ploughed the soil and transported people and goods.  

The land could be improved, could produce more, but there was an economic limit to improvement. This would happen when the cost of improving and maintaining the productive capacity of marginal/ poor quality land was greater than the value of what that land produced. This ‘law of diminishing returns’ was a limit on economic growth. As return on investment in improvement diminished, so the stationary state came closer.

This actually happened in Galloway. The population grew through the 18th century and early 19th century but then peaked in 1851. By then all the good quality lowland land had been improved, leaving only the poor quality uplands which were given over to sheep farming. The local industrial revolution did not progress beyond the water powered  cotton mill stage. Significantly there is no coal in Galloway.

In central Scotland where there was coal, the population continued to grow through the 19th century. In central Scotland the cotton industry moved from water to steam power. Central Scotland also had coal and iron ore and so developed as an industrial region.

From a more modern perspective, the limit on the growth of pre-industrial economies was the amount of energy from the sun that plants could photosynthesise. 18th century improvement could  maximise this ‘solar harvest’ but not move beyond it. Coal is the product of millions of years of photosynthesis, a huge store of solar energy. It was this massive reserve of stored energy which powered the industrial revolution, breaking through the limits to growth.

Continuous economic growth fuelled by coal allowed the new capitalist class to buy off the proletariat through higher wages. It also allowed the UK to pay for food imports from other countries, exchanging iron for wheat. The percentage of workers on the land could be reduced without the country starving.

The global transition to fossil fuels.

In 1851 a ‘Great Exhibition’ was held in Hyde Park in London. It was huge celebration. Six million people, equal to a third of the British population, visited the Exhibition. In 1851, the  UK was the only industrial power in the world. It was a free trade state, with no import barriers- but it didn’t need any since there were no industrial competitors. Instead the UK exported manufactured goods and imported food and raw materials from around the world.

The Exhibition was huge success, but there were some background worries.  The UK did not just export finished goods. It also exported machinery for making those goods- like cotton spinning machines. It also sold steam engines and railway engines along with railway building materials. Some people wondered if other countries might begin to catch up with Britain.

The development of railway networks in countries with coal and iron ore was the key factor in the spread of industrialisation and industrial capitalism. By the 1890s, Germany and the USA had caught up with the UK and by the beginning of WW1 then overtook the UK in a key industry- steel. Germany was also ahead in the chemical and electrical industries. Mass production of automobiles started in the USA in 1908 with the model T Ford.

The global trade network pioneered by the UK in the 19th century extended beyond the British Empire. The first railway was built in Argentina in 1855 and railways encouraged the growth of agriculture, mainly beef and wheat, which were then exported. Japan’s industrialisation benefited from the disruption of British cotton exports in WW1, allowing the Japanese to sell their cotton to India and China. Even within the Empire, the disruption of trade during WW1 encouraged industrial growth. The first Tata steel works opened in India in 1914.

After WW1, the UK struggled to rebuild the trade it had lost. The UK cotton industry which had led the industrial revolution entered a decline which it was never to recover from. As a sign of things to come, in 1929 the Scottish steel industry, which had relied on ship-building as its main market, was in crisis. There was a plan to build a new modern steel works to replace the Victorian ones. The Tata company suggested an alternative. They could supply Scottish steel makers with 100 000 tons/year of Indian pig iron more cheaply than it could be produced in Scotland. The offer was not taken up but by 1930 India was producing 1 million tons of pig iron every year.

The economic depression of the 1930s followed by a second world war disrupted global trade. After the war, although the UK economy recovered in the 1950s, the USA was now the dominant capitalist power. The American’s fear of communism saw them support the rebuilding of west Germany and Japan as major industrial powers. The resulting surge in post-war global economic growth ended in 1974.

The post-war global economy had been built on cheap oil rather than coal. The cheapest oil came from Arab countries in the Middle East. In October 1973 a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. The USA supported Israel and in response  Arab oil producing countries cut oil supplies to the USA and its allies- including the UK and Japan. By 1974 the price of oil had jumped from $3/barrel to $9/barrel, triggering an economic crisis, despite the cuts being reversed in March 1974. Then the 1979 Iranian revolution and the 1980 Iran-Iraq war pushed oil prices even higher to $38/barrel.

This had two consequences. One was the political and economic shift to neoliberalism. This used the increase in inflation which followed the rise in oil prices to push through policies which reduced the power of organised labour in manufacturing industries  through mass unemployment. Although oil prices began to fall again through the 1980s as increasing supplies of oil from the North Sea, Mexico, Nigeria, Venezuela and Russia became available, this cheaper oil was used to cut transport costs from factories set up in low-wage countries rather than revive manufacturing in the UK and USA.

By 1998, adjusted for inflation, the oil price was lower than it had been since 1946. In the 1990s, the collapse of communism opened up new cheap sources of labour in eastern Europe and China. Through the 1990s and into the 21st century a new global market economy emerged. This was in some ways a reverse image of the global economy which had existed 100 years earlier, with China and India among the countries supplying a de-industrialised UK with manufactured goods.

The resulting neoliberal boom was unsustainable. The destruction of organised labour and the loss of manufacturing jobs in the older industrial economies kept wages low. To keep the globalised economy going, consumers were encouraged into debt. There were also worries that the increase in oil production, which along with coal, was fuelling the boom, would exhaust supplies of easily accessible oil. Oil prices would then rise choking off growth.

Oil prices did rise by 500% between 1998 and 2008 when the price of oil was higher than it had been in 1980. This triggered a global banking crisis and the price of oil fell rapidly.

The second consequence of the 1973/4 oil crisis was to encourage a proto-green movement -the radical or alternative technology movement. While governments promoted nuclear power as an alternative to dependence on oil and coal, the radical technologists favoured renewable sources of energy- hydro, wind and solar power. They supported a shift away from industrialised farming since it relied heavily on oil derived fertilisers and the internal combustion engine. They also supported a shift towards worker co-operatives and industrial democracy along with a shift to ‘socially useful’ production of goods and services.


 The radical technology movement was part of a wider ‘utopian’ cultural /political movement which emerged in the 1960s and expanded in the 1970s. The rightward shift under Thatcher in the UK first checked the expansion of this movement and then attempted to reverse it.

This had an effect on the radical technology movement even where, with wind power for example, the technology continued to improve. In the early 1990s, Margaret Thatcher’s former press secretary Bernard Ingham was a paid  supporter of nuclear power. Wind turbines were a cheaper and greener alternative to nuclear, so in 1992 Ingham helped set up an anti wind-farm protest group called Country Guardian and became its chair.

With support in the right wing press and linked to climate change denial, the anti-wind power groups have helped frustrate and delay the essential transition to a post-fossil fuel future.

The transition movement did not emerge directly from the radical technology movement. Rather it has emerged out of the permaculture movement which began in Australia in the 1970s. In 2004 permaculturalist Rob Hopkins became aware of ‘peak oil’ and began looking at ways for communities to make the transition to a sustainable, post-oil, future. The aim is for communities- towns and villages- to maximise their self-sufficiency through encouraging local food production, recycling and generally reducing reliance on long supply chains.

If, however, it is now accepted that climate change rather than peak oil is the future, then the limitations of the transition movement become apparent. Local production for local consumption is a necessary step, but if that exists side by side with business as usual outside the transition towns or even transition regions, the positive local outcomes will be overwhelmed by the impact of global changes. The transition to a post-carbon future must be a combination of national and international level changes. For example, even localised food production will be at risk from extreme weather events such as flooding or a prolonged drought.

In the UK and especially Scotland, the concentration of the population in former industrial districts makes it difficult if not impossible to achieve localised self-sufficiency in food. In pre-industrial Scotland, the staple cereal crop was oats since wheat was difficult to grow in most parts of the country. Bread made from wheat was a luxury which only the rich could afford. A return to an oat based diet would help reduce Scotland’s carbon footprint, but would also require a major cultural shift.

This takes us to the underlying problem. The transition to a  carbon-neutral future is possible in theory, but very difficult in practice. It would be very difficult to make the transition without it being seen as a regression to the pre-industrial past or at least a permanent commitment to a ‘wartime’ economy where everything has to be rationed- including bread made from wheat…

Rationing and other limitations are accepted in wartime as temporary measures necessary for national survival. Neither peak oil nor climate change are such obvious threats to national survival as the German U-boats of world wars 1 and 2.  The transition movement  must therefore rely on the willingness of individuals to voluntarily ‘ration’ their consumption of goods and services.

If adopted widely, the focus on local production for local consumption would remove the mass market for mass manufactured goods. There would be a reversion to the pre-industrial economy which remove the voluntary aspect of transition. All that would be available would be food and goods which could be produced locally. Something similar occurred in the fifth century after the collapse of the Roman empire. In England the archaeology of this transition is marked by the absence of mass produced wheel-thrown Roman style  pottery and its replacement by varieties of locally produced and cruder hand made pottery.

What eventually replaced the Roman empire in Europe was feudalism. In the Marxist model of history, feudalism was in turn displaced by industrial capitalism which in turn will give way to socialism as part of the transition to communism. This progressive movement assumes that the benefits of industrialisation will be conserved, but equally distributed rather than concentrated in the hands of a ruling capitalist elite. That there will be abundance rather than scarcity.  

From a Marxist perspective, the transition movement is seen as capitalism with a green face, an attempt by the ruling class to re-introduce ‘scarcity’, thus imposing another obstacle for the proletariat in their attempt to secure the fruits of their labour.

To the extent that the transition movement was a response to fears of ‘peak oil’, this is a justifiable criticism. Climate change, however, is a different matter. Regardless of who controls the ’means of production’, if the ’energy of production’ is a fossil fuel, then there will be a contribution to global warming and climate change.

Any communist society will therefore have to immediately revolutionise the means of production, substituting renewable for fossil fuel energy as a power source. Failure to do so will condemn the new communist society to a future of scarcity and potential starvation. Unfortunately, unless a communist society emerges within the next 5 to 10 years, the opportunity to avoid a future of scarcity and probable starvation will have been lost.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Galloway Hoard: Demanding the Impossible

A Viking stronghold beside a river.

Was there ever any possibility that the Viking Hoard found in Galloway in 2014 would be allocated to the region?

To answer that question I have been looking at the way in which archaeological finds are allocated. I found that in early 2003, a review of allocations policy was published. The then Scottish Executive produced a response to the review. This stated very clearly that:

The National Museum of Scotland was established and is funded to fulfil a national function. Finds of international or national importance should be kept intact and offered to the NMS in the first instance. In other cases, the presumption will be that the find will be offered to the local museum. 

However, in 2004 the Scottish Executive produced a second  response. Regarding allocations policy this stated that ‘Finds of national or international importance should not simply be offered to NMS in the first instance.’

In 2008 a Code of Practice was produced by the Treasure Trove Unit which is based in the National Museum. The section on allocations states that the ‘overarching priority’ will be for finds to be offered to local museums.

But for finds of national importance, a footnote says that:

The role of National Museums Scotland  will be taken into account in considering allocations of nationally important material for which NMS has made an application. NMS will be required to demonstrate fully that there are clear advantages, in serving the national interest, in allocating a find to the NMS rather than to another institution.

Local museums are not ‘established and funded to fulfil a national function’. That is the role of the National Museum. In competition with the National Museum for a find of national importance, a local museum would have to demonstrate even more fully and clearly why local allocation would serve the national interest better than an allocation to the National Museum.

Within the framework of the Code of Practice, this is impossible. In which case, as soon as the National Museum made an application for the Galloway Hoard, the application by Dumfries and Galloway Council should have been ruled out.

If it had though, this would mean an effective return to the 2003 proposal that ‘Finds of international or national importance should be kept intact and offered to the NMS in the first instance.’ Which was then rejected, even by the NMS itself, in 2004.

As it stands then, the allocations section of the Treasure Trove Unit Code of Practice is misleading. It appears to give local applications for finds priority, but, in the small print of a footnote, finds of national importance which the National Museum is interested in are treated as a special case.

Two recent letters on the Galloway Hoard, based on above.

Letter published in Stranraer and Wigtown Free Press 24 May 2017

Letter published in Galloway Gazette 25 May 2017 

Galloway Viking Hoard Culture Committee 25 May

Watch from 27 minutes to 35 minutes

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Galloway Viking Hoard -a footnote to failure

From the 2016 Treasure Trove Code of Practice

First, an apology. The following is a pretty dense and complex post which looks in minute detail at the reasons why-as I conclude- there was never any chance that the Galloway Viking Hoard would be allocated to the new Art Gallery in Kirkcudbright rather than the National Museum in Edinburgh.

What I have found is that tucked away in a footnote to the guidelines the archaeological finds Allocations panel had to follow is a ’national interest’ clause which kicks in when the Panel have to decide where to allocate finds of ‘national importance’ which the National Museum has staked a claim to.

Digging through the digital archives, I found that in 2003, the Scottish Executive (as it was then called) had proposed that any find of national importance should be first offered to the National Museum-

The NMS was established and is funded to fulfil a national function. Finds of international or national importance should be kept intact and offered to the NMS in the first instance. In other cases, the presumption will be that the find will be offered to the local museum.

But a year later this had been changed to ‘Finds of national or international importance should not simply be offered to NMS in the first instance.’ But what should happen instead was not explained.

In 2008 a Code of Practice was published which contained the guidelines for allocating finds. This boldly stated as an ’overarching priority’ that finds should be allocated locally. Then there was an ‘unless…’  which covered finds of national importance. Attached to ‘national interest’ was a footnote. The footnote effectively re-instated the 2003 proposal that the NMS should have first claim on finds of national importance.

The 2008 Code of Practice was revised in 2016, but the section on allocations, complete with explosive footnote, was unchanged.

What this reminds me of is an observation made by Dr (now Professor) Menski when I was in his class on ‘Ethnic Minorities and the Law’ at the School of Oriental African Studies 27 years ago. Dr Menski explained that when analysing legislation, it is important to get beyond the ‘headlines’.

The example he used was the English Education Reform Act (1988). This contained the requirement that all pupils at state school should attend a daily act of worship ‘wholly or mainly of a Christian character.’ Margaret Thatcher was prime minister then and was keen to promoted her Christian values. See http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/keeping-faith-in-the-system-1566889.html

But then, several dense paragraphs down, a subsequent clause said ’except where it is not appropriate for the requirement for Christian worship to apply.’ This allowed head teachers of schools in areas where a significant number of pupils were not from ’Christian’ families to opt out of the headline requirement.

Mrs Thatcher and her Cabinet colleagues were pleased that they had done their bit to promote Christianity, but never realised that the Act contained a ‘buried’ clause which negated their intentions.

Likewise, who ever drafted the allocations section of the 2008 Code of Practice managed to slip in a footnote which negated the ‘overarching priority’ apparently given to ‘enhancing local heritage interpretations’ by allocating archaeological finds locally.

Very clever. Not so clever is the fact that Dumfries and Galloway Council and the thousands of people who supported the Galloway Viking Hoard Campaign have wasted public funds (in the Council’s case) and much time and energy (in the Campaign’s case) in pursuit of an impossible outcome.

I could be wrong. There may have been some way in which the Galloway bid could have trumped the Edinburgh bid. But if there was, neither the Council nor the Campaign could find it.
Realistically, as soon as the hoard was found in 2014 and its national and international significance was recognised, there was no way that a request for allocation made by the National Museum of Scotland could be rejected if the Code of Practice was followed.

Note: I only discovered the 2003/ 2004 Scottish Executive Response to Treasure Trove Review documents half way through writing this.

The Doomed Pursuit of the Galloway Viking Hoard 

In March 2017, confirmed again in May, an Archaeological Allocations panel made the unanimous decision that a hoard of Viking era material found in a field in Galloway/ south west Scotland would be given to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. A rival bid, which would have seen the hoard displayed in Kirkcudbright, near where it was found, was rejected.

1. Does this find meet any or all of the ‘national importance’ criteria?

1.1 Yes, the Galloway Hoard meets the criteria.

2. Has the National Museum of Scotland made an application for the Galloway Hoard?

2.2 Yes, it has.

3. Can the National Museum of Scotland “demonstrate fully that there are clear advantages, in serving the national interest, in allocating a find to the NMS rather than to another institution”?

3.1 Given the outcome of the process, the answer is must be ‘Yes’.

Problem Number One
Details of the bids made, which would include the NMS’  demonstration of ‘clear advantages, serving the national interest’   and the Allocations panel’s reasons for accepting the NMS bid have not been made public.

It might be possible to challenge this secrecy on the  principal of ‘procedural fairness’.  This is one of the criteria listed by the a 2016 Scottish parliament briefing as potential grounds for a Judicial Review.

Judicial review is the process by which a court reviews a decision, act or failure to act by a public body or other official decision maker. It is only available where other effective remedies have been exhausted and where there is a recognised ground of challenge.

Duty to give reasons (page 26 of above)
Statutes often require that decisions made under them should be supported by reasons. It is often said that, statutory requirement apart, there is no general duty to provide reasoned decisions. However, as Munro observes (2007, para 14.30) developments in this area have been such that the sum of exceptions to the general principle probably outweighs the principle itself. Generally speaking, the more important or fundamental the nature of the individual’s right or interest in question, the more likely the principle of procedural fairness will require reasons to
be given. 

Problem Number Two
More seriously, could the process of allocation have been biased in the National Museum of Scotland’s favour?

Rule against bias (page 25)
No-one may be the judge of his or her own cause. This strikes at decision making where the decision maker is connected with the party to the dispute or the subject matter of it. In this context, justice should not only be done, but should be seen to be done. Consequently, appearance of bias may be as relevant as actual bias (as well as being more common).

The Allocations Panel (SAFAP) is linked to the Treasure Trove Unit which is based at the National Museum of Scotland. They are funded by the Scottish government via the National Museum

10. The operational expenses of the SAFAP and TTU comprise mainly staff costs and Administration costs which amounted to around £80,000. These costs are met by grant-in-aid from the Scottish Government to the National Museums of Scotland, which houses the TTU. (page 14 on link

The key question is - was the NMS involved in drafting the Treasure Trove Unit’s Code of Practice? In particular, was there NMS input in to the section which cover the Allocations panel? [See below]

And of absolutely critical importance, did the National Museum have any involvement in the drafting of this section?

Footnote 5  The role of National Museums Scotland (NMS) will be taken into account in considering allocations of nationally important material for which NMS has made an application. NMS will be required to demonstrate fully that there are clear advantages, in serving the national interest, in allocating a find to the NMS rather than to another institution.

Effectively, for the Hoard to have had any chance of being allocated to Dumfries and Galloway, their ‘local’ bid would have  had to demonstrate that it could  better ‘serve the national interest’ than the NMS bid.

Note:- trying to answer my own questions I have found that in 2002 a Review of Treasure Trove Arrangements in Scotland was carried out, published in 2003. Chapter 6 paragraphs 6.28 to 6.49 discussed allocations policy in depth.

The then Scottish Executive responded  in October 2003 and then again in November 2004. The relevant part of the 2003 Response stated that finds of national importance should first be offered to the NMS.

The NMS was established and is funded to fulfil a national function. Finds of international or national importance should be kept intact and offered to the NMS in the first instance. In other cases, the presumption will be that the find will be offered to the local museum. As part of its national role, the NMS will look for opportunities to work collaboratively with local museums, providing support and advice and loans of objects for exhibitions. 
 See http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2003/11/18314/27549

But in the November 2004 response, this had been changed to read-

Finds of national or international importance should not simply be offered to NMS in the first instance. This view was strongly expressed in the responses, including that from NMS.
See http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2005/01/20480/49406 

Unfortunately I cannot find the ‘strongly expressed’ responses, but there was clearly resistance to offering finds of national importance directly to the National Museum.

Then in 2008 a Treasure Trove Code of Practice was published. Appendix L of the Code of Practice, which covered criteria for contested applications is word for word the same as Appendix M in the current (2016) Code of Practice. What is now Footnote 5 is Footnote 4 in the 2008 Code of Practice.

There are only 4 footnotes in the 2008 Code of Practice and 5 in the 2016 Code of Practice. In both versions, the other footnotes are one line references to publications.  The footnote in question is therefore an anomaly. Including its contents directly in the text would have made the section on allocations criteria much clearer.

Looking at the difference between the 2003 Scottish Executive Response and the 2004 Response, the footnote has the effect of restoring the ‘national importance/ National Museum, first refusal’ link present in 2003 but banished in 2004.

Was there ever any possibility that Dumfries and Galloway Council’s attempt to have the Galloway Hoard allocated the new Kirkcudbright Art Gallery would succeed?

The short answer is no.

Why, then, did Dumfries and Galloway Council devote so much money, time and energy in pursuit of a different outcome?

From the discussion above regarding the origin of Footnote 5, the problem is that there is a contradiction within the Allocations policy. Originally, in 2003 the then Scottish Executive proposed a straightforward policy where finds of national importance would automatically be first offered to the NMS.

This proposal met with opposition, so it was dropped in 2004. But in 2008 it was effectively re-instated, but surreptitiously in the form of a footnote, not as part of the main body of the text.

If it had been included as part of the main text in the 2008 Code of Practice and again in the 2016 Code of Practice, it would have been much more obvious to Dumfries and Galloway Council that it would not be possible to contest the allocation of the Galloway Hoard once the NMS had indicated its desire to acquire the Hoard.

Indeed, it is impossible to see how any local/regional museum could counter the ‘serving the national interest’ clause buried in the footnote. As the original Scottish Executive Response stated
“The NMS was established and is funded to fulfil a national function.” No other museum can make this claim.

This raises a final question. The Treasure Trove Unit have know since summer 2015 that Dumfries and Galloway Council intended to apply for the Galloway Hoard to be allocated to the Kirkcudbright Art Gallery.

The Treasure Trove Unit should have informed the Council that unless Dumfries and Galloway could demonstrate that the national interest would be better served by an allocation to the region rather than to the National Museum in Edinburgh, their bid would fail.

This did not happen. As a result public funds were ‘misused’ in support of a bid which had no realistic or reasonable chance of success. Likewise the Galloway Viking Hoard Campaign was doomed to failure even before it had begun.

Appendix - the relevant section of the current Code of Practice

Appendix M: Criteria for allocation in the event of multiple applications
Criteria for the allocation of Treasure Trove in the event of multiple
applications from accredited museums

The overarching priority when allocating Treasure Trove is:
Enhancement of local heritage interpretations
There is a presumption that Crown-claimed material will be allocated locally unless a convincing argument for allocating it elsewhere is presented.

The other criteria (unranked) for allocation that must be considered in these circumstances are:

National importance (see footnote 5)

Material may be defined as being of national importance if any or all of these criteria is or are fulfilled:
 it is a rare or unique type in a Scottish context or part of an assemblage
containing such material; or
 it is of particularly high quality within its type; or
 it provides information of major significance (e.g. concerning the
methods used in its manufacture or the nature of its subsequent use)
not normally found on objects of its type; or
 the contextual information concerning the object or assemblage is of an
exceptional nature.

Footnote 5  The role of National Museums Scotland (NMS) will be taken into account in considering allocations of nationally important material for which NMS has made an application. NMS will be required to demonstrate fully that there are clear advantages, in serving the national interest, in allocating a find to the NMS rather than to another institution.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Dumfries and Galloway Viking Saga Trail

Vikings in the landscape and in history.

Map Key
1. Kilmorie Cross, Kirkcolm- Viking/ Christian carved cross.
2. Ruthwell Cross- Anglo-Saxon cross with runic inscription.
3. Nithsdale Cross- Anglo-Saxon cross and Viking grave nearby.
4. Whithorn- Irish (Dublin) Viking connection.
5. Trusty’s Hill- possible Viking/Pictish carved stone.
6. Threave- Iron Age, Roman, Viking, Viking-Gael, Medieval centre of power.
7. Kirkcudbright-Viking grave, Viking Hoard display
8. Annandale- Anglo-Saxon, Norman, Bruce family castle and lands.
9. Carrick-Viking-Gael, Bruce family lands
10. Buittle- Viking-Gael, Balliol family castle and lands.

From Kirkcolm in the Rhinns to Ruthwell in Annandale, the discovery of Dumfries and Galloway’s Viking Hoard has opened up a new perspective on the region’s rich and complex history.

Without the Vikings, the region may well have remained part of the Kingdom of Northumbria to be absorbed into Norman England in the eleventh century- as Annandale and Eskdale nearly were. Alternatively, the region might have been absorbed into a Dublin dominated Irish Sea Viking kingdom- as much of Wigtownshire briefly was.

Instead, by introducing Gaelic speakers to the region, the Vikings helped create a ‘Greater Galloway’ in the south-west. As this Viking-Gaelic region was absorbed into Scotland, the descendents of Fergus of Galloway and Robert de Brus of Annandale became entangled in a power struggle which lies at the heart of Scotland’s story.

Vikings in Kirkcudbright
The presence -in whole or part- of a Viking Hoard in Kirkcudbright will attract visitors to the town. As well as the hoard, the visitors to the new art gallery will discover a set of paintings. Many of these paintings reflect the landscape of Galloway as it was over 100 years ago.

Over the past 100 years the landscape has changed. The expansion of forestry in the uplands and the intensification of dairy farming in the lowlands have changed the appearance of the landscape as well as the lives of those who making their living from the land.

Go back over 1000 years and the difference between the landscape as it was then and as it is now becomes even greater. Only the boldest features -the coastline, the rivers and hills- would be familiar. The farmed landscape, the roads, villages and towns, marshes and even some lochs, would all have been very different.

However, dotted here and there across Galloway and Dumfries are a few fixed points around which the region’s history has revolved.

For example the Kilmorie Cross at Kirkcolm near Stranraer combines Christian and Norse mythological elements drawn from the story of Sigurd the dragon-slayer. It is dated to the tenth century and shows that Viking settlers in this area of rich fertile soils had become Christian. It is therefore a near contemporary of the Hoard.

Kilmorie Cross, Kirkcolm

In the east of the region at Ruthwell is an older cross, a product of the Northumbrian church. It also has a fragment of an Old English poem, ‘The Dream of the Rood’ carved in runes on it. This is of great historic significance.

Gauin doun the sides ther a poyem carved in runes in the Auld Angles leid. Cryed the Dream o the Rood (rood bein the auld word for cross) this is noo the auldest text in Auld-Angles that we ken belangs Scotland. It is fae this self an same Auld-Angles tongue that the Scots spoken the day in modren Scotland is sprung. [Centre for the Scots Leid]

Ruthwell Cross with runic inscription.

Close to Thornhill in Nithsdale there is another, later Northumbrian carved cross. At Carronbridge nearby, a Viking was buried with his sword a few yards from a Roman road. Was the Viking part of a raiding party? Possibly, but the sickle he was also buried with suggests a more settled lifestyle.

Nithsdale (Thornhill) Anglo-Saxon Cross

At Whithorn there Northumbrian bishops from Pehthelm in 730 to (possibly) Heathored in 833. The church at Whithorn was destroyed by fire around 850, probably the result of a Viking raid.

Northumbrian control of Galloway and Dumfriesshire was disrupted by the Vikings. However, until the discovery of the Galloway Hoard, direct signs of Viking power in the region were few and slight. These signs included a Viking grave found in Kirkcudbright and Dublin Viking style houses dated to the early eleventh century.

Few, if any, locations in Dumfries and Galloway share the historic depth - over 1500 years- of Whithorn as a continuously occupied settlement. More typical of the ebb and flow of the region’s history is Trusty’s Hill beside Gatehouse of Fleet. This hill fort is most famous for its Pictish carvings.

Recent careful analysis of the carvings has suggested that although inspired by Pictish symbols the images on the stone were not carved by Picts. One of the images (on right) shows , a ‘dragonesque’ creature pierced by a spiked object, might be the Norse Fafnir; a greedy dwarf who became a dragon and was killed by Sigurd.

Trusty’s Hill rock carving

Kilmorie, Ruthwell, Nithsdale, Whithorn and Trusty’s Hill are locations where there was and still is good quality farm land. Such fertile soils could produce a surplus of food, supporting the people who cultivated the land as well as their churches and rulers.

Place name evidence suggest that the Vikings, like the Northumbrians before them, did not extend their settlements beyond the lower parts of river valleys and the coastal fringe of Dumfries and Galloway. However, the Viking Hoard was found well beyond the areas identified as Scandinavian settlements by place name research.

On the other hand, not far from where the Hoard was found, the medieval castle of Threave still dominates the good quality farmland of Balmgahie, Kelton and Crossmichael parishes. Threave is from the Brittonic word ‘trev’, equivalent to the Scots ‘Mains’ meaning the home farm of an estate.

Threave Castle- Historic Environment Scotland

But there is nothing like the Kilmorie Cross at Threave, no imposing Northumbrian monuments, no mysterious rock carvings like those on Trusty’s Hill.

However, among the treasures of the National Museum are the Torrs Pony Cap and Carlingwark Cauldron. Along with the complex of Roman forts and marching camps at Glenlochar, they are signs that Threave was ‘a centre of paramount wealth and power’ 2000 years ago. The Romans built their forts at Glenlochar to control the area. Archibald the Grim followed the Romans when he chose Threave as the site for his new castle in 1370.

Glenlochar Roman fort

A Viking warlord setting up camp in the district would therefore have been able to draw on the long standing wealth of the land to feed himself and his followers. No centre of Northumbrian power in the district has been found, but the complex archaeology of the Hoard find site might contain evidence of such a power centre, taken over by Vikings.

The survival untouched of the Galloway Hoard for over 1000 years suggests its owner died elsewhere and never returned. Otherwise a Viking kingdom may have emerged in the lower Dee valley.

Wigtownshire did become part of a Viking kingdom. Its ruler was
Echmacarch Rognvaldsson, described as ‘King of the Rhinns (of Galloway)’when he died in 1165. Also known as Echmacarch mac Ragnaill, his Viking-Gaelic kingdom included Whithorn but not eastern Galloway. Echmacarch had previously been king of Dublin and the Isle of Man as well.

In 852 an Irish monk described a new group of warriors fighting in Ireland. These were the Gall-Ghaidheal. Gall, ‘foreigner‘ is the word the Irish used to mean Vikings. Ghaidheal means Gaelic-speaking. There are very few other mentions of these Viking-Gaels in Irish records. The last time they appear is in 1234 when the death of Alan of Galloway ‘ri Gall-Ghaidheal’- king of the Viking-Gaels - was recorded.

The Gall part of Galloway also means ‘Viking’. The first Viking-Gaelic king to rule all of Galloway was Alan’s great-grandfather Fergus who reigned between 1110 and 1160. Fergus’ kingdom was only the southern part of a Gaelic speaking ‘Greater Galloway’ which stretched north through Ayrshire into Renfrewshire and east through Nithsdale into Annandale.

The first district Fergus ruled was the lower Dee valley, either from Kirkcudbright or, more likely, from a fortified base on Threave island. Later Fergus’ kingdom grew westwards and northwards to include the fertile lands of the Rhinns, Machars and Fleet valley along with the livestock rearing and deer hunting districts of the upland districts including Carrick in south Ayrshire.

While Fergus was building his kingdom, King David I secured eastern Dumfriesshire for his Scottish kingdom in 1124 by granting Annandale to a Norman knight- Robert De Brus.

Annandale Charter 1124

Fergus had two sons, Gille-Brigte and Uhtred. After Fergus’ death in 1161, they ruled jointly until 1174 when Gille-Brigte had his brother gruesomely mutilated- blinded and castrated. Uhtred died of his wounds, allowing Gille-brigte to rule alone until his death in 1185.

Gille-Brigte’s grandson was Niall, Earl of Carrick. He had no male heirs so his daughter Marjorie inherited Carrick. Marjorie was the mother of Robert Bruce who became King of Scots in 1306.

Uhtred’s grandson Alan had no male heirs. His youngest daughter Devorgilla of Galloway was the mother of John Balliol who became King of Scots in 1292.

When King Robert I died in 1329, his infant son became King David II. But in 1332, King John Balliol’s son Edward seized the Scottish throne, triggering a renewal of the Scottish Wars of Independence. Edward Balliol died in 1367 and David II in 1371.

Remains of Buittle castle, Balliol stronghold.
Their deaths did not quite bring Dumfries and Galloway’s Viking saga to an end. King David II had been unable to control Galloway’s Viking-Gaelic clans- the McDowalls, McCullochs and Mclellan’s. Instead they transferred their loyalty to Archibald the Grim who revived Fergus’ kingdom as a new, Douglas, Lordship of Galloway.

This new lordship survived until 1455 when King James II finally secured Galloway and its Gaelic inhabitants for the Scottish Crown. By 1560, when John Knox preached the Reformation to the common people of Galloway and Nithsdale, he was able to do so in Scots and Bible English. 700 years of Viking-Gaelic heritage had finally and silently faded away.

Lands taken by James II in 1455 from last Lord of Galloway 

Monday, March 13, 2017

History and the Galloway Viking Hoard

The complex Norse/Christian symbolism
of the Kilmorie Cross from near Stranraer in Galloway .

Reblogged from http://www.gallowayvikinghoard.com/about/

The View from a Leading Scottish Historian

Ted Cowan FRSE, Emeritus Professor of Scottish History and Literature, formerly Director of the University of Glasgow’s Dumfries Campus
The Galloway Viking Hoard is much more than simply a trove of precious jewellery – it is a window into another time. And this is partly why it is so important that its home should be in the region where it was found. The future of the hoard, which currently hangs in the balance, also highlights why it is unfortunate that National Museums Scotland appears so intent on relieving Galloway of its curatorship.
Among my favourite pieces are the party brooches, decorated with little face – caricatures that it is suggested represent horn blowers and hung-over boozers. Each of the more than 100 items in the hoard tell stories and raises questions. There is an enamelled Christian cross, a bird-shaped gold pin, plus pendants and arm rings. The leathers and cloth in which they appear to have been so carefully wrapped are just as unique and significant. It dates from an era, lasting some 400 years, when we were at the crossroads of the Viking world that extended northwards to Svalbard, the “cold coast”.
The Vikings were remarkable. They had developed sophisticated ships, clinker-built, highly flexible at sea and capable of drawing only three feet of water. Thanks to these they sailed vast distances. They carved a rune stone in Upernavik, Greenland, 800 kilometres above of the Arctic Circle. They travelled south to the Mediterranean and North Africa and eastward to Constantinople bringing them into contact with the Silk road to China. They sailed west beyond Iceland to Greenland and North America.
One of their outposts survives at L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Viking artefacts have been found on the west side of Hudson’s Bay, on Ellesmere Island and on Baffin Island where the possible discovery of a Viking settlement has recently been announced. Perhaps their greatest achievement was to extend the horizons of the world as it was then understood.
Among the most concerning aspects of the NMS claim for the hoard is that they will “save it for the nation”. Scotland’s regions are not backwaters. Being placed in one of hundreds of glass cases in Chambers Street is not superior to having pride of place in a specially designed exhibition area at a brand new and secure gallery in Kirkcudbright.  
The Vikings arrived in Scotland at the end of the eighth century as predators seeking booty, bling, slaves and later, land, settling in Shetland, Orkney, the Hebrides, Caithness and Sutherland. We know more about the Vikings than any of the other peoples of early medieval Scotland but have lacked detailed information about their activities in Galloway. This is another reason why the discovery of the Galloway hoard is so important,
As we understand, by now, it contains not only Viking objects such as a huge collection of arm rings but material from Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England, as well as more exotic and distant places. It is fascinating to speculate on who might have buried it and when. Was this someone travelling from west to east, or on the north/south route? Was she or he a local who deposited these precious items in expectation of a raid? The hoard has reasonably been dubbed “Viking” because of some of its contents, but was there necessarily anything else about it that was Viking?
It has never been more important than it is now, with current political uncertainties and declining revenues, that the authorities exercise their influence to make sure that the hoard is destined for Kirkcudbright’s new gallery. Edinburgh’s museums already hold riches galore, while the city is oversubscribed with festivals, art shows and exhibitions almost every week of the year.
And also the record of NMS in Galloway is not good. Its closure of the Shambellie Museum of Costume was hard to bear locally.
Galloway is an important part of Scotland but the inhabitants believe they are too often ignored and the issue of the hoard shows why. However, the people of the area near where the hoard was found are a determined lot – fighters and with a proud identity. The novelist S. R. Crockett, was the literary creator of Galloway. Writing of his native ground he encouraged Galwegians to take great pride in their history and heritage. The region’s Covenanters fought and died for their faith in opposition to the tyranny of the Stewart kings. John Macmillan a local Cameronian minister was deposed by the Kirk in 1703 but with the support of his congregation he survived in his post for a further 40 years. When antiquarian Joseph Train attempted to present a relic known as St John’s Chair to Sir Walter Scott, the folk of Dalry, in the Glenkens, revolted. They loudly and fiercely defended their heritage. Train had to withdraw and the Chair remains in the village to this day, a worthy inspiration and example.
In light of all this I sincerely hope that due respect is given to the fact that the regions are not outposts, but are as much the nation of Scotland as Edinburgh. The hoard should have its home in Kirkcudbright.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Fighting for a Viking Hoard


"To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw a perfume on the violet, to smooth the ice, or add another hue unto the rainbow, or with taper-light to seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish, is wasteful and ridiculous excess." W. Shakespeare

In August last year, Dr Fraser Hunter, Principal Curator of Iron Age and Roman collections at the National Museums of Scotland, took a small team of archaeologists to Torrs farm near Castle Douglas in Dumfries and Galloway. The objective of the dig was to find out more about where the Torrs Pony Cap came from and why it was placed on the edge of a loch over 2000 years ago.

Torrs Pony Cap- National Museum of Scotland 

 Dr Hunter explained the background to the dig in a blog post-

Our blockbuster Celts exhibition is full of amazing objects. As you walk from case to case, your eyes are caught by one magnificent object after another, from Ireland, France, Germany, Bulgaria. One that keeps catching my own eye is the curious bronze pony cap from Torrs, near Castle Douglas in Galloway, in south west Scotland. It’s one of the star pieces in our own collections…The Castle Douglas area is rich in such finds – visitors to the exhibition, or to our Early People galleries, can marvel at the massive bronze cauldron from Carlingwark with its hoard of iron and bronze objects, or the hoard from Balmaclellan or the wonderful enamelled horse harness fitting from Auchendolly.

 http://blog.nms.ac.uk/2016/08/27/chasing-celtic-art-on-the-trail-of-a-pony-cap/   and

The Pony Cap was discovered in 1812  Local antiquarian Joseph Train then acquired it and passed it on to Sir Walter Scott who put it on display in his house at  Abbotsford before the Pony Cap found a final resting place in the National Museum in Edinburgh. The Carlingwark Cauldron was found in Carlingwark Loch in 1868 and the Balmaclellan Mirror in 1861. The Auchendolly harness fitting was found in 1885.

Carlingwark Cauldron- National Museum of Scotland

Auchendolly harness fitting -National Museum of Scotland

Balmacllellan Mirror- National Musuem of Scotland 

Described as an Iron Age centre of ‘paramount power and wealth’,
when the Romans invaded southern Scotland 2000 years ago, they built a total of three forts and six marching camps near Castle Douglas to control the Galloway Glens district. However, the Roman remains have only been investigated once, for two weeks in the 1950s. Only Threave Castle a mile down river from the Roman forts and  built by Archibald the Grim to overawe the ‘wild men’ of Galloway in 1370 has been the subject of  thorough archaeolical investigation.

Dr Hunter’s expedition to Galloway is  therefore first time that an archaeological assessment of the  Iron Age in the area has been carried out in an attempt to place the ‘Celtic’ treasures in their context of people and place.

While many hundreds of thousands of visitors have marvelled at the objects on display in Edinburgh, their experience has been primarily aesthetic. These are beautiful objects. They are powerful displays of skilful artistry. They are also objects which have floated free from their physical relationship with a particular time and place. They have become abstractions, no longer rooted in the historical reality of Galloway 2000 years ago.

Two hundred and two years after the Torrs Pony Cap was discovered, an even more impressive set of objects were discovered in Galloway, a hoard of artefacts from the Viking period 1100 years ago. Will these too be assimilated into the National Museums’ collection? In a process - as the soil of a muddy field in Galloway is carefully removed- which will divorce them from their earthy/ concrete context?

Uncovering the Galloway Hoard- BBC image

The National Museums of Scotland have said
We have submitted an application to Treasure Trove to acquire the hoard for the benefit of the nation. The hoard is of considerable national and international significance and acquisition by National Museums Scotland would save it for the nation in the long term and ensure that the hoard is seen by people from Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, the rest of the UK and internationally.

[Note- in response to a campaign to keep the hoard in Galloway, the NMS position appears to have softened. To keep the pressure please sign this petition https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-the-viking-hoard-for-galloway ]

The alternative is for the hoard to find a home in a £3.1 million art Gallery currently under construction in Kirkcudbright, a few miles from where the hoard was found. In Kirkcudbright  it will also be a benefit for the nation and be saved for the nation. Galloway and Kirkcudbright are no less part of the nation than Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Visitors to a national museum in a capital city expect to see a range of significant and important objects on display- like the Torrs Pony Cap and the Carlingwark Cauldron. But the massing together of so many important objects has the effect of diminishing their individual and particular impact on visitors. Nor does the National Museum need the help of the Hoard to boost its visitor numbers…

The National Museum of Scotland overtook Edinburgh Castle to become the most popular visitor attraction in Scotland last year.
Figures from the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) have shown that, in total, 1.81 million people visited the Edinburgh museum - a 15.5% rise on the previous year. Six of the top ten Scottish visitor attractions are in Edinburgh.

In contrast, the impact of encountering the Galloway Viking Hoard in Kirkcudbright will be much greater. There will be no distractions to diminish their powerful presence. The unexpected presence of such a nationally and internationally important display of  wealth and power in such a seemingly insignificant location will provoke the question ‘Why here?’

The need to answer this question will provide a unique opportunity to explore the impact of the Vikings on the people they encountered and the places they raided and settled.

There is a real challenge here. Much work has been done to conserve and analyse  the contents of the hoard, but very little on its context.

In 902, the Irish managed to drive the Vikings out of Dublin, but fifteen years later the Vikings returned.  It is possible that the Galloway Hoard belonged to one of the more powerful of the Dublin Vikings who fled across the Irish Sea to Galloway, buried his prize possessions but then died or was killed elsewhere and so never returned to retrieve them.

The exact location of where the hoard was found remains an official secret. Only the immediate vicinity of the hoard was excavated in 2014. A geophysics survey of the surrounding area was carried out. The results showed that there was a larger settlement, but without a larger scale and expensive archaeological excavation, the relationship between the buildings and other features the geophysics survey showed and the hoard is unclear.

Was there an existing, possibly Christian religious, site there which was then occupied by Vikings? Another key questions how long did the Viking occupation last?

The Galloway Hoard itself cannot answer such questions. It will take several seasons of expensive archaeological excavation of the find site to provide the answers. The results will then have to be connected with the history of the Irish Sea Vikings as well as the history of Galloway.

For now, I will return to the treasures of Iron Age. Dr Hunter’s dig on the Torrs hill fort threw up a puzzle. The walls of the hill fort had been built and rebuilt, but there were no signs of occupation, of people actually living in it. But, which Dr Fraser does not mention, two miles west across the marshes and Carlingwark Loch from the Torrs fort, aerial photography and  a geo-physics survey have shown that there was a large Iron Age roundhouse on Meikle Wood Hill.

Google maps- Castle Douglas area

I was there recently with Gavin, an archaeologist and Jacquie, a landscape architect, from Northlight Heritage. A small group of us were exploring the landscape and its heritage around the still imposing remains of Threave castle on its island in the Galloway Dee. Jacquie pointed out a cluster of very tall trees in the distance across the river and said they were indications of a big house and its planned gardens. From the direction I realised Jacquie was pointing towards Balmaghie House. I was impressed!

As we walked upstream to the Osprey viewing platform I could see Greenlaw House, built in the 1760s and which looks across the fields to Threave Castle. Even closer, on the other side of the river the early nineteenth century Threave Mains farmhouse stood out as a more imposing building than the early eighteenth century Kelton Mains farmhouse.

All of these imposing and not so imposing buildings are low-lying but although it is only 68 metres high, Meikle Wood Hill rises above the marshes and floodplain on a drumlin. A large roundhouse on its summit would have been a prominent, even dominant, feature of the surrounding landscape, a veritable  Iron Age panopiticon.

Reflecting on the Torrs Pony Cap, the Carlingwark Cauldron,  the Auchendolly harness fitting and the Balmacellan mirror, one historian has described the Castle Douglas area 2000 years ago as  ‘a centre of paramount wealth and power’. Could the roundhouse on Meikle Wood Hill have been the centre of this centre?

If so then it would have matched the still visible presence of Threave Castle and the now invisible Roman forts and marching camps at Glenlochar to the north- and which themselves have been built in response to the power and wealth of the Castle Douglas area. The ultimate source of all these signs of wealth and power being the produce of the land and rivers combined with human labour. The original, but hardly primitive, accumulation of capital.

If you can imagine all these Iron Age Galloway treasures gathered together and buried in a field they would become a Hoard of ‘paramount wealth and power‘, awaiting re-discovery.  In a sense they are a hoard awaiting re-discovery. They are waiting to be reconceptualised, for the complex concentration of meanings and understandings they conserve to be reconnected to their source and origin in a particular and specific cultural landscape.

Alienated and disconnected from their place of origin, the Torrs pony cap, the Carlingwark cauldron and their comrades have become fetishised commodities, glittering star attractions within the vaults of the Chambers street museum, adding a ‘Celtic’ lustre to the attractions of Edinburgh, to the city’s capital.

The National Museum of Scotland already has a Galloway Hoard. Looking at what they have done with it, how it has been ’curated’, the efforts they have made to use the resources of the Museum to develop an understanding of the dynamics of the Iron Age in south-west Scotland, to work with the Museums Service  and Education Department of Dumfries and Galloway will give an insight into the future of the Viking hoard if it ends up in Edinburgh.

If raw gold and silver and copper had been found in a field in Galloway, a mine would have been sunk and the wealth extracted. But once the vein was exhausted, the flow of wealth would cease. In contrast, once cooked, once transformed by the skill of labour into attractive artefacts, the gold and silver and copper become an ever renewable resource. Their aesthetic appeal acting as a magnetic attraction, drawing observers and their gaze to the objects again and again without in anyway diminishing the power of their appearance.

New Kirkcudbright art gallery and potential hoard home- now under construction.

The presence of the Viking Hoard in the new Kirkcudbright art gallery will attract an ever recurring inward flow of visitors. The Hoard will also itself become the source of an outward flow of information, knowledge and power. The undivided concentration of paramount wealth and power in such an unassuming locality will act as a disruptive anomaly, silently questioning and confounding taken for granted assumptions about the past, the present and the future. About the  history of the Irish Sea Vikings and Galloway, about the current political relationship between core and periphery in Scotland and the longer term social and economic processes which, unless reversed hold out a bleak future for the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.

The Stewartry of Kirkcudbright had a population of 29 211 in 1801. In 1851 the population had risen to 43 121, its highest ever level. The population then began to fall until today there are only  24,000 people in Stewartry. Currently 1 in 4 people are over 65 years old. There are more people over 65 years and fewer under 25 than anywhere else in Dumfries and Galloway.

It is a demographic time bomb. Along with 1 in 10 people in the Stewartry district where I live I am a carer. I also rely on Sandy Rogerson and his fellow workers to help me care for my adult son Callum . Most carers and care workers are looking after older people. Many of the older people have come here to retire because it is such beautiful 'unspoilt' rural area. At the same time many younger people are leaving -as I did when I was 19- for the same reasons. Over the next 20 years our working age population will drop by 22% while the number of older people will increase- by 161% among the oldest group. It is an impossible future. There will not be enough carers to go round unless everyone becomes a care worker.

Our main industries are farming, forestry and tourism. Our dairy farms are the most intensively worked in the UK. [The average UK dairy herd is about 350 cattle. Around Castle Douglas we have several 1000 strong dairy herds.]  About a third of the area is blanketed in sitka spruce. We are maxed out on farming and forestry. The only industry apart from caring which has the potential to grow is tourism. Which is why we need a dead Viking's hoard to bring some life back to the region.


For more on the history and background of the Vikings in Galloway see



The location of the hoard  is NOT shown on this map.