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.
Monday, October 10, 2016 11:26:00 AM
Our object this month is a rather nice red, yellow and blue, enamelled fragment of a Roman chatelaine plate brooch found in Great Melton.
These types of brooches were probably worn exclusively by women and as well as being an adornment the brooch was multifunctional, in that they were also used to suspend a variety of useful toilet or cosmetic implements, made up of such things as tweezers, ear scoops and nail cleaners. A more complete example is shown below (image courtesy of the British Museum) and illustrates how the various utensils were suspended from a bar that was fixed by perforated lugs at either end of the bottom edge.
This bar is missing on the Norfolk-found example, as of course are the various instruments that would have been suspended from it. The utensils attached to a brooch in this way are highly impractical for use and they are presently believed to have served more as status symbols or statements of personal hygiene.
Chatelaine brooches of this type typically date from the 3rd to the early 4th century AD. A full description of this Norfolk example can be found on the Portable Antiquities website (www.finds.org.uk) using the reference number NMS-2B9212.
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.
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.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015 10:04:00 AM
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.
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.
Friday, October 02, 2015 11:32:00 AM
Inspired by the Celtic art exhibition featuring at the British Museum until 31st January, this month we have our very own Norfolk example of the wonderful art from the period to show you.
The object is a heavily stylised Iron Age bovine mount, which despite several thousand years in the ground remains very crisp with well-defined features. The sinuous style is benign and soft, with horns and large rounded eyes and nostrils. Bulls’ heads are often featured during the Iron Age period on objects such as vessel mounts, but the exact purpose of this particular piece is presently unclear. It is no doubt a terminal mount of some kind, held to the shaft of the parent object by pins or rivets at the socketed base. It is possibly a terminal from a drinking horn or perhaps a staff, but either way its significance or status as an object would be justified by the very high level of skill and craftsmanship required to create it.
The mount was discovered in a ploughed field by a Norfolk metal detectorist, who most importantly also supplied a full grid reference for the find-spot to enable it to be accurately added to the Historic Environment Record. The full record can be seen at www.finds.org.uk using the search reference NMS-178AE0.