About Orkney
 About the Site
 Search Site 
  The Skaill Viking Hoard


In March 1858, a boy named David Linklater chased a rabbit into its hole near St Peter's Kirk in Sandwick. Digging at the entrance to the warren, he came across a few pieces of silver in the earth.

Astounded by the find, young Linklater was soon joined by a number of local folk who had been waiting to gather tangles from the shore of the Bay o' Skaill.

Together, they unearthed, and appropriated, over one hundred items - the largest Viking treasure trove found in Scotland to date.

The full story appeared in The Orcadian newspaper on March 29, 1858:

Discovery of ancient silver relics
About three weeks ago, a young man found some pieces of silver rings lying near a rabbit hole in the vicinity of the parish church of Sandwick, but took no further notice of the matter, except to acquaint some of his neighbours of it.

On Thursday the 11th inst., a number of persons were down near the church, waiting for the landing of some seaweed, and one of them suggested that they should goand examine the spot where the silver had been found the previous week.

On arriving at the place, one of the men thrust a "ware" fork into the rabbit hole, and drew out a whole parcel of silver fibulae, torcs, etc, and then there commenced a regular scramble, each person endeavouring to secure as much as possible.

 Intelligence of the discovery having reached Mr Petrie, clerk of supply, on Saturday morning, the 13th inst., he succeeded, during the day, in obtaining full information on the subject, and, having acquainted Sheriff Robertson with the circumstances, made arrangements to go to Sandwick on Monday morning, to endeavour to secure so valuable a treasure.

On Monday the 15th inst., Mr Petrie went to Sandwick, and, by explaining to the finders the claims of the Crown, and advancing to them £7, and assuring them, farther, that every effort would be made to obtain full remuneration to them, he succeeded in inducing three of the finders of the treasure to hand over to him all that they admitted to be in their custody.

The share found by the fourth party had previously been lodged with his landlord, Mr Irvine, of Quoyloo, by whom it has since been handed over to Sheriff Robertson.

The articles recovered consist of large fibulae, torcs or collars of chain of twisted or rope patterns, armlets or bracelets, and a few coins.

The whole are of silver, and two of the coins are very perfect, and belong to the tenth century; one of them being of the reign of the Anglo-Saxon king, Athelstan, or "Edelstan", about the middle of the tenth century.

It is to be hoped that the officers of Exchequer will act liberally towards the finders of this valuable treasure, so that should any similar discovery be hereafter made, every temptation to concealment of relics of national value, in a historical point of view, may be removed."

Treasure trove

The 15lbs of silver that made up the hoard consisted of nine brooches, 14 necklets, 27 armlets and an assortment of ingots and silver fragments.

There were also a number of Anglo-Saxon and Arabic coins.

The fact that many of the objects had been "nicked" - presumably to test their quality - could indicate that they had passed through a number of hands before ending up in Orkney. In fact, the number of nicks on the items shows roughly how many times each piece had changed owner.

But the treasure did not remain with the finders long.

Scots Law dictates that any newly found object is crown property. So, after paying out a reward, Orkney's sheriff clerk at the time, George Petrie, took possession of the priceless hoard.

Eventually, the collection was transferred to Edinburgh where, like most of the important archaeological finds from Orkney, it remains to this day.