Friday, February 02, 2018 10:58:00 AM
For February's Find of the Month we have selected a rather unusual post-medieval nutcracker to show you. It was discovered in a field near King's Lynn in West Norfolk and is exceptional in both its preservation and its unusual form. It is designed around a miniature of a tripod cooking pot or cauldron, of a type that was in use from circa CE 1200-1700.
Cleverly the nutcracker uses the miniature pot as the container for the nut. A threaded shaft with an openwork handle enters from the side which when turned crushes the nut against the side of the pot.
Screw threaded nutcrackers did not appear until the 17th century so this example probably dates from circa CE 1600-1800
The full record on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database for this lovely object can be found at: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/879671
Thursday, August 24, 2017 5:36:00 PM
This month we have a rather nice zoomorphic (animal-shaped) enamelled Roman strap fitting to show you. At first glance it looks very much like a plate brooch, but an examination of the fittings on the reverse show this not the case. Instead of hinged lugs and an opposing catchplate, characteristic of a brooch, the fitting has two T-shaped projections for attaching it to a strap.
It is made in the shape of a right facing boar. The facial features are moulded in relief and one ear is projecting slightly from the top of the head. The eye is recessed and inlaid with black enamel. The mouth is shown by a groove just below the snout with a moulded tusk projecting from the edge. A series of fine grooves across the head indicate the texture of bristles. The head is divided from the body by a line of punched holes. The body has a recessed area filled with blue champlevé enamel and three spots of white enamel; one at the shoulder, one at the top of the foreleg and one, larger spot on the flank. This last spot has a central hollow with traces of a red substance within. The finder notes that it originally had a dark-coloured enamel filling when discovered, but this dropped out and was lost in the soil. The large hole in the centre of the find would have originally held a loop for a pivoting copper alloy ring. Both of the legs end in cloven trotters. Two projecting stubs at the rear of the animal indicate the position of the missing tail.
The boar is a relatively common figure in Roman iconography, with many examples recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database including: WILT-5D5B17 & SUSS-DB2C32. The banners of several Roman legions depicted a boar. Notably the XX legion used a jumping boar. The boar is said to be a symbol of strength and an embodiment of the warrior spirit.
The full record can be found at www.finds,org using the reference NMS-F70707 in the search field.
Tuesday, June 20, 2017 11:48:00 AM
June's find of the month is a rather nice and very unusual copper alloy Roman brooch. It is of a type that is representational of an object, which are collectively known as skeuomorphic brooches.
Figure 1. Roman Patera brooch
This particular example (Figure 1) was found near Marham in Norfolk and is very unusual in that it represents a small Roman vessel called a Patera (see Figure 2). The exact purpose of the Patera in Roman life is not entirely clear but it is believed that they were used as simple cooking utensils and/or ceremonially to pour libations or make offerings of food to a chosen deity. There are many other types of representational brooches produced by inventive Roman craftsmen; these include for example amphora, horse and riders, axes, and sandal soles.
Figure 2. Examples of Roman Paterae
To date, there is only one other Patera brooch recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database which was found on the Isle of Wight. Both records can be viewed in full at www.finds.org.uk using the search reference NMS-2104DA for the Norfolk example, and IOW-1EE0B7 for the Isle of Wight example.
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.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016 10:25:00 AM
July's Find of the Month is very unusual in several respects. First, we are breaking the mould slightly as, in our enthusiasm to show it to you, the Portable Antiquities record is not yet complete and the object is still undergoing research. Secondly, because of its rarity and the circumstances under which it was recovered.
It was found with a metal detector in a field in North Norfolk buried in a hoard together with a number of Roman pots. It was included within a concretion of tools, soil and iron oxide that was excavated complete. The object was then fully revealed in a controlled off-site stage excavation of the concreted assemblage. Shown in figure 1 below is the mass from which the object emerged, a tiny part of it can just be seen at the edge in the one o’clock position.
The find that emerged is shown above in figure 2 and below in figure 3, and along with the other artefacts that emerged is now undergoing further research before being recorded onto the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. It has been identified as a Roman farrier’s tool called a Butteris and it was used to maintain and pare horses’ hooves.
The more usual form of a Roman butteris is a plain construction of iron, but this example has a wonderful composite design with a copper alloy moulded handle and an iron blade. The copper alloy handle appears to have some associated symbolism, as the eagle terminal and the projecting human head are repeated on other examples such as the smaller butteris handle shown in figure 4 that was found in Belgium.
As a result of a much worn Roman nummus coin found in the assemblage, the deposition of the hoard can be placed right at the end of the Roman occupation of Britain. Credit is due to the finders who realising the significance of what they had found contacted the Historic Environment Service to enable a controlled excavation to be carried out.
Wednesday, April 06, 2016 1:01:00 PM
Our chosen find this month was found on the Suffolk border and is a type of Saxon brooch that has a growing population on the Portable Antiquities Scheme Database.
The number of these brooches recorded by the scheme and the identification and recording team at Gressenhall is now approaching 90. These brooches are found as far away as the Welsh border, but interestingly the distribution is proving to be very much centred on East Anglia.
The brooch is a late Saxon disc type dating to circa 850-1000 AD and depicts a backwards facing beast. It often, but not always, features ring and dot decoration as part of the design.
The map below is a form of geographic map plot called a ‘heat map’ and gives a colour-contoured representation of the distribution, where red depicts the highest density. As you can see East Anglia seems to be home to the beastie.
Wednesday, March 09, 2016 3:20:00 PM
March's find of the month surfaced from ploughed land near Thetford. The object is a late 16th to 17th century post medieval sword hanger, which would have attached the scabbard - containing the sword - to a belt, using straps and rivets. This type is made from copper alloy, and it is very unusual to find a complete example.
The foliate decoration makes fragments readily identifiable and the individual hooks and various pieces are very common finds across the fields of Norfolk and England. Given the type was so prolific it is surprising that a search failed to find a single original picture or surviving example of a hanger actually in use.
There were many images of more sophisticated examples often made of silver, but perhaps, as the accessories of the common post-medieval man, this type would be used until worn-out or broken making it less likely for complete examples to survive. As such the owners would not be of sufficient social status to feature in portraits nor would their trusted long-serving possessions merit subsequent preservation like their more opulent equivalents.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016 2:59:00 PM
This month we are going back to the Bronze Age to a time when the production, fabrication, development and use of metals was very much in its infancy. The late Bronze Age knife or razor shown below was found near Swaffham and was probably cast in a two-piece clay mould around 800 to 700 BC.
The metal is Bronze which is comprised of copper and tin alloyed together, but it probably also contained a deliberate addition of lead, as the metal-workers of the time had already discovered that this made the metal more fluid when molten and therefore improved the casting process (1). As the drawing shows the leaf-shaped blade is still in surprisingly sharp condition.
Full details of the knife can be seen at www.finds.org.uk using search reference NMS-5BFE67.
Ref 1: A Sample Analysis of British Middle and late Bronze Age material using Optical Spectrometry, M Brown and A Blin-Stoyle.