Posts in Category: Tool

July - Cut Above 

Monday, July 31, 2017 4:38:00 PM Categories: Flint Neolithic Prehistoric Tool

July’s Find of the Month is a rather large and magnificent example of a Neolithic polished flint axehead.  It weighs in at a hefty 1.6Kg and is 256mm long.

Polished axes were produced by taking a flaked axehead and rubbing it against sandstone to remove the flake scars. Water was used to cool the axe during this process, and sand was sometimes added to make it quicker. A functional flaked axe can be made (by an experienced knapper) in about 20 minutes, however it can take up to 40 hours to completely polish a large axe (Butler 2005: 141-2).


Photograph of Neolithic polished flint axe

The blade end of an axe was polished to improve its strength. The protruding angles and holes created by the flaking process can easily catch on wood while chopping, which can cause the axe to break. Polishing the axe removes the points where this impact could cause problems and also reduces friction, allowing a smoother chopping motion. Polishing the butt of the axe can actually make it less efficient, as the smoother surface would allow it to slip out of the handle more easily. It is thought that polishing areas other than the blade was mainly done for aesthetic reasons.

Although this example has not been entirely ground and polished to remove all the flake scars its aesthetic appeal is enhanced by a beautiful orange and off-white mottled patination. There is a very small amount of damage to either end, but the cutting edge is still sharp after circa 5000 years in the ground. The axe was found in Forncett in South Norfolk and was generously donated to Norwich Castle Museum by the finder.

Full details of the axehead can be found at www.finds.org.uk using the search reference NMS-6A485E

May - About Time 

Friday, April 21, 2017 4:15:00 PM Categories: Accessories Copper Medieval Metal Tool

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. 


Photograph of fragment of 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).

August - Handle with care 

Friday, August 19, 2016 10:30:00 AM Categories: Copper Medieval Metal Post-medieval Tool

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.

Photograph of knife handle terminal

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. 


Complete example of knife of same type and date

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.

July - Hold your horses 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016 10:25:00 AM Categories: Animals Copper Grooming Iron Metal Roman Tool

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.

Concretion of tools, soil and iron oxide which contained the find

Figure 1

Projection of the butteris

Figure 2

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.

Three quarter view of the butteris

Figure 3

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.


A similar example from Belgium

Figure 4

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.

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.

February - Getting to the point 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016 2:59:00 PM Categories: Bronze Age Copper Grooming Metal Metal working Tool

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.


Photograph of Bronze Age knife

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.


Illustration of Bronze Age knife

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.

November - Shaping Up 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015 10:04:00 AM Categories: Accessories Bronze Age Copper Craft Metal Metal working Prehistoric Religion Tool

November's Find of the Month is this fantastic Middle – Late Bronze Age anvil.

Bronze Age anvils are very unusual finds, probably because the metalworkers who used them were easily able to melt down broken ones to create new objects.

Photograph of Bronze Age anvil

Almost every surface of this example would have been used to work bronze or gold, with either of the two ‘beaks’ being used to secure the anvil to a wooden block so the other could be used to shape the metal. Each working surface has a different form allowing a wide variety of shapes to be created using just this one anvil.

At the time this anvil was in use, the number and type of personal ornaments made and worn by Bronze Age people increased, and this anvil would have been used to make some of them. The metalworker who used it would have been highly skilled and was probably seen as powerful, important or even as having a religious role in society. We suspect this because the way Bronze Age tools were treated shows they had a meaning or significance beyond their use as tools, suggesting the people who made them had a role which extended beyond their skills as craftspeople. 

Find a full description of the anvil here.

September - Caught knapping 

Tuesday, September 01, 2015 9:18:00 AM Categories: Flint Palaeolithic Prehistoric Tool

We go a long way back into the depths of time this month to the Old Stone Age in the so-called Palaeolithic period. This period spans the time from around 800,000-10,000 BC. The find for this month is an early or lower Palaeolithic ovate Hand Axe that unusually was found on the surface of a ploughed field near Wymondham.

The axe was made in antiquity by roughing-out the shape from a flint nodule with a hard hammer stone such as quartzite. This initial stage would then be followed by carefully working the edges of the flint from both faces with a soft hammer such as antler or a softer variety of stone like sandstone. The purpose of the finished tool would be have been primarily for the butchery of meat.


Photograph of hand axe


Photographic image of the Palaeolithic flint Hand Axe

Illustration of hand axe

A hand-drawn illustration of the same Hand Axe

In archaeological recording it is common to hand-draw flint tools. The two graphics above illustrate why this is the case. The top photographic image gives a good idea of shape and surface colouration, but because of lighting constraints and limitations regarding depth of focus, it does little to help researchers understand how the flint was made. However, the illustration (the lower image) drawn by our Historic Environment Services illustrator Jason Gibbons, not only reproduces complete accuracy, but allows the flint to be studied in detail under a whole range of lighting conditions. This photographically-unseen information can then be interpreted and faithfully recorded on the drawing. The so-called ripples that are often featured on the surface of a struck flake are like ripples on the surface of a pond, in that they lead back concentrically to their origin. On the drawing therefore the ripples shown on each struck facet lead back to a point of striking, revealing much more than a simple photograph could ever do about how the axe was made.

The expert drawing gives fitting testament to the fantastic skill of the prehistoric craftsman who carefully fashioned the tool, and evidences his intimate understanding of the material he was using and the techniques required to manipulate it circa 400,000 years ago.
The full record of this Palaeolithic Hand Axe can be viewed on the Portable Antiquities database website on www.finds.org.uk and is record reference NMS-C94303.
 

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