Scottish Gold

Scottish Gold
14 March – 15 June 2014
Hunterian Art Gallery
Admission £5.00/£3.00

This major new exhibition features a spectacular array of Scottish gold items from the Bronze Age to the present. Focussing on the occurrence of gold in Scotland and Scottish gold mining, Scottish Gold offers a unique opportunity to learn about the precious metal as part of the natural history of Scotland and its historical uses.

Drawing on The Hunterian’s rich collections of mineralogy, archaeology and history and supported by key loans from around the UK, Scottish Gold features a large selection of the finest Scottish gold specimens and objects made and used in Scotland.

For the first time, several of the largest known Scottish gold nuggets are displayed together and the surviving gold torcs from the large hoard found at Law Farm, Moray, in 1857 have been reunited. Other key objects include a gold chain and badge of Order of the Thistle, Scottish gold coinage and medals, and superb racing cups.

Image: Gold flakes and masses of gold in quartz © The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2014.

‌Natural History

Gold is a noble metal. Shining, beautiful, alluring and as old as the universe, it is all around us. Gold is present in minute quantities all over the earth, in sea water, in animals and even in humans.

Nuggets and flakes of gold are found widely in river deposits, washed out from the parent rock. Only in the few places on Earth, where gold appears in a more concentrated form, notably California, South Africa and Australia, can it be extracted and refined in any quantity. Even Scotland has its own deposits, including Leadhills in Lanarkshire, where the metal has long been mined and panned.

‌Mankind first exploited gold more than 6000 years ago. It was in use in Scotland before the end of the third millennium BC and from the late first millennium BC gold was turned into coin both to store and transfer wealth. The malleability of gold allows it to be wrought into a great variety of objects from royal crowns to simple wedding rings.

The many other useful properties of gold include its softness, conductivity, inertness and solubility. Gold plays a frequent and important role in decoration, electronics, communications and medicine. Since we first started to use gold, its appearance on a table, in costume and jewellery, on buildings and sculptures has enabled a monarch, an institution, a community or a person to demonstrate both wealth and prestige.

Map of Scotland with the main locations from which gold has been obtained (red stars) with the major geological fault zones (grey lines) © The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2014.
Sutherland breccia that contains up to 12g per tonne of gold © The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2014.

‌Gold Treasures from Scotland

Scottish Gold features a range of intriguing objects made for an increasing number of purposes and relating to specific events or people throughout Scottish history.

‌‌The exhibition begins with prehistoric ornaments, including beautiful gold lunulae, torcs and penannular bracelets. Roman and Viking items feature gold coins and jewellery and include a stunning crossbow fibula found in Moray.

‌‌Golden treasures associated with Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots, Charles I, James VI and Queen Victoria tell the story of Scotland’s economy, politics and society. ‌‌‌

‌In the 21st century, the medieval mace of the University of Glasgow remains in use on great occasions. Another mark of authority, the collar of the Deacon of the Incorporation of Goldsmiths of Edinburgh, is itself a reminder of the living heritage of gold in modern Scotland.

Gold and enamel miniature reliquary © Blairs College.
James VI and I portrait badge, c.1620 © The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2014.

Must See Items

‌Below is a selection of some of the most fascinating tems on display in the Scottish Gold exhibition.

Law Farm Hoard
‌This gold ribbon torc is part of the hoard discovered in 1857 on Law Farm, Moray. At least 36 torcs were found under a cairn of rocks by a ploughman and although some are thought to have been lost or destroyed, a number are now in museums around the UK. Considered to be the largest hoard of prehistoric gold ever found in Scotland, they have been reunited in the Scottish Gold exhibition for the first time in over 150 years.‌

‌‌Forteviot Dagger
‌This recent find dates to the Early Bronze Age and was found on a recent major ‌excavation carried out by the University of Glasgow. The dagger is crafted from a variety of materials but its gold decoration is one of earliest uses of gold in Scotland. Dated somewhere between 2100 BC and 1950 BC, it was found in a burial site that had survived in a remarkable state of preservation.‌

‌James V 'Bonnet Piece'
‌‌The gold ducat of James V is considered to be one of the most magnificent of Scottish coins. Made of gold from Crawford Moor, the ducat or ‘bonnet piece’ bears a splendid portrait of the monarch wearing a bejewelled bonnet.‌ It is particularly noteworthy as it was the first gold coin to bear an actual date - 1539. ‌‌

‌Although Charles I ascended the throne of Great Britain in 1625, two coronations were required. The King’s Scottish Coronation did not take place until 1633, when he finally travelled  to Scotland. The ceremony took place in the refurbished abbey church at Holyrood and this small ampulla, a unique gold vessel, contained the sacred oil used to anoint him.‌
‌Iron Age gold torc from the Law Farm hoard © The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2014.
‌Dagger from Forteviot, Perth and Kinross © 2013 Andy Holland.
James V ducat or bonnet piece, 1540 ©The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2014.
‌‌‌Ampulla used at the Scottish Coronation of Charles I, 1633 © National Museums Scotland.‌


Further Information

Scottish Gold by Dr Neil Clark
Published to accompany the Scottish Gold exhibition and available at a special discounted price to all exhibition ticket holders. This book is the first to chart the intriguing story of gold in Scotland and includes its remarkable uses from prehistoric times to the present day. (RRP £14.99).



Scottish Gold will be accompanied by a varied events programme including exhibition tours, a one day symposium, various workshops, gold panning demonstrations and a gold panning expedition to Leadhills. A special series of lunchtime talks will take place every Wednesday for the duration of the exhibition, featuring fascinating gold-related topics.

Scottish Gold Tours
Daily (excluding Mondays)
Hunterian Art Gallery

Scottish Gold daily tours let by our student MUSEs.
Tours last approximately 30 minutes and are included in the exhibition ticket price (£5.00/£3.00 concession).

Gold Panning Workshops
Saturday 7 June 2014
12.00pm - 2.00pm
Hunterian Art Gallery

Free drop-in activities for all the family.
Sessions last approximately 30 minutes.

Gold Panning Field Trip to Wanlochhead
Suitable CPD for teachers for CfE and Outdoor Learning
Friday 16 May 2014
9.00am - 4.15pm

Programme details:
9.00am Meet at Hunterian Art Gallery, minibus departs Glasgow
10.30am – 12.00pm Arrive at Wanlochead, visit to Hidden Treasures Museum and lead mine
12.00pm - 12.45pm Lunch
12.45pm - 2.00pm Panning for gold with expert and Hunterian curator Dr Neil Clark 
2.00pm Depart from Wanlochead
3.30pm Arrive at Glasgow, tour of Scottish Gold exhibition, Hunterian Art Gallery
4.15pm End

£100 per person. Booking essential - email
Cost includes: expert guide; travel; lunch; Gold panning licence; materials; entry into the mine, the Hidden Treasures Museum and the Scottish Gold exhibition; copy of Scottish Gold book by Dr Neil Clark.

Image: Feather brooch by Andrew Lamb, 2000. Photo courtesy of Professor  E. Moignard.