Posts in Category: Lead

May - In a spin 

Friday, May 06, 2016 11:14:00 AM Categories: Clothing Craft Lead Medieval Tool

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. 

Photo of two medieval spindle-whorls

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).


Image of a woman spinning from the Luttrell Psalter

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  

Bibliography

Margeson, S.; Norwich Households; The Medieval and Post-Medieval Finds from Norwich Survey Excavations 1971-1978.  East Anglian Archaeology. Report No.58, 1993 p184.

January - In a fever 

Friday, January 01, 2016 10:18:00 AM Categories: Lead Metal Saxon

January's Find of the Month is one that if found by most people would be rejected and probably consigned to the recycling bin. It is only after a very close inspection that the nature of the object changes quite dramatically. On the face of it, it is nothing but a corroded and bent sheet of lead, but in a raking light a row of straight-line intersecting characters are just discernible incised into the surface. To a trained eye this is recognisable as a runic inscription, a form of early alphabet used before the adoption of the Latin alphabet.  The word Rune means 'mystery' or 'secret' in Old Germanic languages and runes played an important role in ritual and magic, with ancient inscriptions being found across Europe and Scandinavia.

Photograph of lead plaque bearing runic inscription

The inscription on this pierced lead sheet can only be partially made out and there are a number of possible interpretations of the meaning.  Dr Gaby Waxenberger of the Runes Research centre in Munich has evaluated the object and believes it was probably intended as a charm to ward off fever or some other disease and dates to circa 700-800 AD in the Middle Saxon culture.


Detail of runic inscription

The inscribing of lead is not restricted to the Saxons, the practice was also commonplace during the Roman period with a good deal of inscribed lead being found at the sacred springs in Roman Bath.  

So if you happen to find a piece of folded lead look at it closely before disposal, it may just be a message from centuries past.

The artefact was found in a cultivated field not far from Fakenham. Full details can be seen at www.finds.org.uk using find reference NMS-63179C.

September - We gave this our seal of approval! 

Monday, September 01, 2014 9:02:00 AM Categories: Lead Medieval Metal Religion

Photograph of lead bulla

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

July - Can you pin it down? 

Monday, June 30, 2014 2:00:00 AM Categories: Accessories Brooch Lead Medieval

A composite lead alloy disc brooch with integral pin, probably made and worn in the late 15th – early 16th century.

Photograph of lead alloy disc brooch

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

Bibliography

 

Egan, G and Pritchard, F. (2002) Dress Accessories 1150 – 1450, fourth addition, The Boydell Press, Bury St Edmunds

April - Pulling your lead 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 2:01:00 PM Categories: Lead Medieval Metal Pilgrimage Religion

Photograph of lead ampulla

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.

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