Curator's Choice: The National Museum of Scotland

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My curatorial choice is a 4000-year-old necklace, found only last summer in a reservoir in Peeblesshire. At the time, water was rapidly destroying the Bronze Age cemetery on the site and the museum stepped in to excavate it before it vanished completely. Vandals were also a problem at this particular grave and I did not think much would survive. However, to my surprise, small black disc beads from a necklace began to appear and so we lifted the remains into a soil block and took them to the laboratory.

The necklace proved to be a complicated one, with an outer string of cannel coal beads and an inner one of lead beads. This was the first time that lead as old as this had been found in Britain. It has made me rethink many of my ideas and opened up a treasure-trove of new discoveries and insights into this period of history, when metals were just starting to be used.

Although the acid soil had destroyed most of the bones, fragments of tooth enamel remained, enough to show that the necklace had been buried with a young child. Pollen analysis showed that meadow-sweet flowers had been strewn on the body at burial, giving us a vivid picture of a tragic moment in a small community.

There is still a lot of work to do, such as finding the source of the lead and cannel coal, and working out the best way to display such a fragile object so as to evoke its enormous importance. Ultimately I hope the necklace will be displayed at the new Museum of Scotland.

Fraser Hunter is a curator in the Archaeology Department of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The museum is open Mon- Sat 10-5pm, Sun 2-5pm (031-557 3550)