MHG3800 - Pictish Silver Chain, Torvean


The find spot of a massive Pictish silver chain found in 1808 by workers digging the Caledonian Canal. Such chains were symbols of high status, worn between 400 and 800 AD, and are generally attributed to the Picts.

Type and Period (2)

  • FINDSPOT (Roman to Early Medieval - 400 AD to 800 AD)
  • FINDSPOT (Culture, Pictish - 300 AD to 900 AD)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

Canmore description:

NH64SE 14 6542 4346.

(NH 6542 4346) Silver Chain found A.D. 1808 {NAT}
OS 6"map, (1938)

A massive silver chain found near Inverness in 1809, was presented to the Antiquaries' Museum as Treasure Trove In 1837. It was discovered in the course of the formation of the Caledonian Canal, at the base of a high gravelly ridge known as Tor a Bhean (Torvaine). The chain, 18 inches in length and weighing about 93 ounces, is formed of a double series of large plain unormamented circular rings, 16 pairs of rings with a single ring at one end - 33 in all; not including the large grooved link which is now wanting (NSA gives the date of discovery as 1808).
J A Smith 1875; The Scot's Magazine 1810; NSA (A Rose, A Clark, R Macpherson) 1845; D Wilson 1863. <1>-<3>

This chain is tentatively dated to the 6th - 8th century AD.
A J H Edwards 1939; R B K Stevenson 1955. <4><5>

Found 1 Jan 1808 in the side of a large flat cairn 2 ft deep. It was hinted that a ball and bar, also of silver, were also found.
J Barron 1900; Information from A M Robertson to OS 1 May 1974. <6>


The find was featured in the Inverness Journal on 1 January 1808:
"Some labourers, while digging in the eastern corner of Torvean, on the line of the Caledonian Canal, lately discovered a massy silver chain, in the side of a large, flat cairn, about 2 feet below the surface. The chain consists of 33 circular links, formed of a perfectly cylindrical body, half-an-inch thick, neatly joined without solder. They are linked in pairs, each of which is about 2 inches in diameter, except those at the extremities, which are 21 inches. A link at one of the ends has, since the discovery of the chain, been taken away; but as the remaining one is of the same dimensions with those at the other end, we may conclude that the chain was then entire. Its whole length is 18 inches, weighing about 104 ounces. There were two detached fragments which formed part of a flat and very massy ring, which had been broken after it was found; but from its form, and the appearance of wearing on the outside, it had evidently moved on some bolt. It was neatly channelled round, leaving a prominent astragal on every side. Both the chain and ring are of excellent workmanship; and whether we attend to the uniform thickness and polish of the links, the ingenuity with which they are joined, or the perfect symmetry of the whole, we cannot but pronounce it to have been the work of an artist of no inconsiderable skill." <7>

The find is in the National Museum of Scotland (X.FC 148) and features, with a picture, in their online catalogue. It is described as follows:
"This massive silver chain was found at Torvean in Inverness-shire. It is one of ten surviving heavy silver chains, of a type found only in Scotland and generally attributed to the Picts. They were symbols of high status, worn between 400 and 800 AD. The chain has 16 pairs of silver rings, plus a single ring at one end. It is incomplete, lacking its penannular terminal ring, which was lost soon after the chain was found. It is the heaviest of the ten surviving examples, weighing 2.88 kilograms. Although commonly attributed to the Picts, only three chains, including this one, have been found in the Pictish kingdom proper. They were almost certainly badges of high rank - perhaps the equivalent of 'crown jewels' in a land of many kings.".
The catalogue may be accessed via the link at the bottom of this record. <8>

An illustration of the chain can be found in the PSAS article in <1>. This article may be found and viewed using the Archaeology Data Service index (link at bottom of this record). <9>

Sources/Archives (14)



Grid reference Centred NH 6542 4345 (4m by 4m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NH64SE
Geographical Area INVERNESS

Finds (1)

  • CHAIN (Pictish - 300 AD to 900 AD)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (0)

External Links (3)

Comments and Feedback

Do you have any more information about this record? Please feel free to comment with information and photographs, or ask any questions, using the "Disqus" tool below. Comments are moderated, and we aim to respond/publish as soon as possible.