Jawbone of a porpoise

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found on St Ninian's Isle, Dunrossness, Shetland

Postcard of Jawbone of a porpoise.
© National Museums Scotland

Jawbone of a porpoise

This lower part of a porpoise's jawbone was found in a hoard also containing 28 silver objects, placed in a box and buried on St Ninian's Isle at Dunrossness in Shetland sometime between 750 and 825. The hoard probably belonged to a Pictish chief.

The owners of the hoard placed the right-lower half of a mature porpoise's jawbone in the hoard. It has been stained green with copper-oxides. The bone is intact save for the teeth and a slight crack in the thinnest part of the bone.

The inclusion of part of the jawbone of a porpoise in a hoard which otherwise contained highly ornate and expensive metalwork has been the subject of some speculation. It must have had some symbolic meaning which is unclear to us today.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-100-036-445-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  X.FC 296
Date: 8th century
Buried between 750 and 825
Material: Bone, porpoise; stained green; teeth missing
Dimensions: 8.10" L
What: Jaw, porpoise's / portion
Where: Scotland, Shetland, St Ninian's Isle
Description: Right half of the lower jaw of a porpoise, stained green, found at St Ninian's Isle with a Pictish hoard, 8th century
  • Small, A., Thomas, C., & Wilson, D. M. St. Ninian's Isle and its Treasure. London: Oxford University Press,1973 
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