Friday, April 21, 2017 4:15:00 PM
These days we take most of our gadgets for granted. Technology has advanced at such a rapid rate that much of the powerful science behind our modern devices goes unnoticed. For example, night or day the simplicity of telling the time takes no more effort than a glance at the watch on your wrist or at the illuminated digits of some appliance or gadget. Hundreds of years ago, for the majority at least, the state of the art for telling the time would have been a sundial. This is great if it happens to be shining during the day enough to cast a shadow, but one time when it’s guaranteed not to shine is during the pitch dark of the night.
Step up the Nocturnal. A nocturnal is a device made of two or more dials that in the northern hemisphere allows the local time to be determined at night by sighting the relative position of a reference star to the North Star. In the northern hemisphere, all stars will appear to rotate about the North Star during the night, and their positions, like the progress of the sun, can be used to determine the time.
April's find of the month then is a rare fragment of a 15th century medieval nocturnal.
The object which was found near Snetterton, is fully described at https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/842452. It would have doubled as the lid of a type of cylindrical compendium which also contained a magnetic compass and an equinoctial sundial. Almost complete examples are held by the Oxford Museum of the History of Science (inv. nos. 50896 and 46855) and the British Museum (acc. no. 1853.06181).
Tuesday, January 10, 2017 4:11:00 PM
January's Find of the Month carries a slightly tentative identification. This find, shown below, was discovered near Swaffham but similar, clearly related, objects have been found elsewhere in England and are thought to be components from composite swivels.
Swivels were relatively common in the Middle Ages and are understood to have had a range of uses, one of which was for animal leashes such as for hunting dogs. Hunting was an elite activity sponsored by the rich and the equipment used in pursuit of the sport were sometimes extremely opulent, not least for their favourite furry friend. The hunting illustration shown is a 15th century image of a stag hunt using horses and leashed dogs.
Smaller complete examples of swivels have been found and they are known to exist in a variety of different configurations. However, a complete parallel to this type has not yet been recorded, hence the tentative identification, nonetheless assembled fragments have surfaced with enough of the elements still attached to give some degree of confidence to the identity (See image below). The style and openwork decoration on the Norfolk-found example dates it to circa 12th century CE. The complete record for this object can be found at 'finds.org.uk/database' using NMS-593129 as the search reference.
Friday, August 19, 2016 10:30:00 AM
After the special artefact featured in July we are back to the more modest this month with a rather corroded handle terminal of a scale tang late medieval to early post medieval knife. The handle terminal is comprised of two sub-square copper alloy plates with curved ends that sandwich a remnant of the iron knife tang between.
One plate has a central circular depression which taken with a slight witness mark on the opposite plate is suggestive of a central rivet that passes through a coincident hole in the tang. Both plates are decorated with engraved images. One side can be interpreted as a left facing cowled head, possibly iconographic; however, the other side cannot be resolved.
The complete example of a knife shown is courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum collection; although it is not a close parallel in terms of the handle terminal design it's form and date are broadly indicative of type. Circa 1450-1550 AD. The object was found near Dereham in a cultivated field by an old spring. A full description can be found on the Portable Antiquities website (www.finds.org.uk) using the reference number NMS-833624.
Friday, June 03, 2016 3:19:00 PM
Something slightly more noble this month in the shape of a very nice small fragment of medieval to post-medieval inscribed silver gilt jewellery. Because it is more than 10% precious metal and is more than 300 years old it, is presently going through the Treasure process with the British Museum.
Found near Downham Market, it is probably the surviving part of a finger ring or ornate dress accessory and consists of a silver gilt heart-shaped body that has a similarly shaped cabochon rock crystal in its centre. There is a solder scar across the back with the rough remains of a collet where the heart would have originally been attached to the rest of the object.
The object may have originally been gifted as a love token as the border that surrounds the cabochon is inscribed with the cheery message 'mery + be'. The style and inscription are very similar to those found on some late medieval and early post medieval rings and help date it to the 15th- 16th century.
Friday, May 06, 2016 11:14:00 AM
This month we will take a look at one of the most plain and humble of finds made across the county; that of the lead spindle-whorl. The two examples illustrated were both found in the same field near Reepham and date from circa 1000-1600 CE.
These objects have been made in largely the same basic form since humans first learned to spin natural fibres into yarn. They were used exclusively in hand-spinning, attached to a spindle-stick to provide the weight necessary to give stretch on the fibres being spun, as well as creating the inertia to twist and spin the fibre into yarn. Whorls are relatively common discoveries and are found across the landscape, with eight examples being handed in for recording this month alone. In this period hand spinning was an exclusively female occupation and spindle whorls are sometimes recovered from pre-Christian female graves as grave goods. The use of spinning wheels which eliminated the need for spindle whorls started to be introduced around the 14th century but hand spinning in Norfolk went on well into the 16th century (Margeson 1993, p184).
Hand-spinning has the advantage of using basic and mobile equipment enabling it to carried out on the move whilst performing other tasks. The Luttrell Psalter a manuscript written and illustrated in East Anglia sometime between 1335-1340 CE shows a woman carrying hand-spinning equipment whilst feeding the chicks. The whorl can be seen attached to the spindle stick above her left hand.
You can find an interesting link on the subject showing hand-spinning in action just here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocbRbd54Hiw
Margeson, S.; Norwich Households; The Medieval and Post-Medieval Finds from Norwich Survey Excavations 1971-1978. East Anglian Archaeology. Report No.58, 1993 p184.
Wednesday, July 01, 2015 9:00:00 AM
With the odd exception, we take for granted in today’s world that the coinage we use to pay for goods is genuine and up to a standard. In the distant past this was not so. Silver and gold coinage was essentially bullion – a silver penny was made of a pennyworth of silver. Unfortunately, the criminal fraternity would remove thin slivers of metal from the coin edges in a process called clipping.
Coin design and some very gruesome penalties tried to prevent this activity, but it was rife for many centuries from Roman times onwards. It was only when coins were manufactured by milling rather than striking in the latter part of the 17th century that the process started to decline. Accordingly, since the weight of a coin was critical to its acceptance in the next transaction, traders and the like had a need to weigh coinage and other valuable goods against a known standard.
This month’s find then is a medieval folding balance used for just such a purpose. It was found by a metal detectorist in a ploughed field. (See find reference NMS-EE36EB).
Unfortunately, as is the case for many artefacts found on cultivated land it is rather damaged, but one of the two folding arms is almost fully intact, as is the central pointer. The two arms when folded out would have had balance pans attached to loops at their ends to contain the standard and the coin or goods being checked.
The balance pointer would indicate the degree of equilibrium. The lower image shows a more complete example that gives a better idea as to how it was configured. The balance dates from circa 1300-1400 and you can just imagine some of the animated and colourful discussions that may have taken place in its near vicinity over its long history!
Monday, September 01, 2014 9:02:00 AM
This is a lead bulla, a seal attached to papal documents to prove their authenticity. One face gives the name of the Pope, the other reads SPA SPE above the heads of Saint Paul and Saint Peter. The design changed very little for hundreds of years and one bulla looks very like another except for the name of the Pope, which makes them easy to date. Unfortunately, lead is easily damaged and worn, so some are hard to read. This example is quite clear, and was identified by Dr Tim Pestell (Norfolk Museums Service) as a bulla of Boniface IX (1389 - 1404).
NMS-B74F61 / NHER 59724
Monday, June 30, 2014 2:00:00 AM
A composite lead alloy disc brooch with integral pin, probably made and worn in the late 15th – early 16th century.
This brooch was a relatively cheap, mass produced piece of jewellery made of lead because it could be worked quickly and easily. It may originally have been painted to make it look more decorative. It is likely that similar brooches were very common in the late medieval period, but they are rarely recorded in Norfolk now because they break so easily into tiny fragments which are impossible to recognise if they are found at all. More examples have been recorded in London where fragile objects like this are better preserved under layers of deep urban deposits (See Egan and Pritchard, 2002, 261, fig.169 and 262, fig.170).
High quality jewellery made of copper alloy, silver or even gold might be impressive to look at, but this brooch is probably more representative of the type of dress accessory worn by the majority of people whose portraits were never painted, whose lives are rarely detailed in history books and who we would know very little about if we didn’t record archaeological finds.
Find out more here: NMS-247B85
Egan, G and Pritchard, F. (2002) Dress Accessories 1150 – 1450, fourth addition, The Boydell Press, Bury St Edmunds
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 2:01:00 PM
April's find of the month is a Medieval lead ampulla, found in Woodton.
Ampullae are small lead flasks that were produced in large numbers, filled with holy water at shrines and carried away by pilgrims as a souvenir of their visit. Once filled, the top of the soft lead vessel was sealed by crimping it closed, but many recorded examples were deliberately opened so the water could be used for its beneficial effects.
This 15thearly 16th century example was probably produced and sold at Walsingham, North Norfolk. It is decorated as a scallop shell on one side, and the other face shows an R beneath a lily in a lily pot.
The R may stand for the Lady Richelde of Fervaques, the 'founder' of the shrine at Walsingham, the lily symbolises the annunciation and the Virgin's purity, and the scallop shell represents pilgrimage.
Saturday, March 01, 2014 2:09:00 PM
In the late 13th and early 14th century it was a popular fashion to convert coins into brooches. Most medieval coins featured a cross as part of the design on the reverse (tails), and it was this face that was displayed as a symbol of Christianity and not the king’s head. Wealthier people used silver coins, sometimes gilded, with silver fittings on the back.
This brooch represents a cheaper version, with a copper alloy jetton (a kind of counter which also circulated as small change) with iron fittings riveted to it, and shows how the fashions of the rich were copied by people with more limited resources.
Find out more here