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, 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.
Friday, January 01, 2016 10:18:00 AM
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.
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.
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.
Friday, December 04, 2015 12:22:00 PM
December's find of the month is a modest choice, modest in the sense that it is a humble fragment of something much larger.
A significant part of the skill of the identifier of these fragmentary objects is being able to recognise them as pieces of the parent object which they used to be part of. It is rather like being handed a single piece of a large jigsaw and needing to recognise it as part of the bigger scene from a recollection of the box lid.
Challenge met then, the small fragment pictured above, turns out to be the animal-headed curving foot of a post-medieval chafing dish support. It’s location in-situ can be seen in the picture below of an example in the Curtius Museum in Belgium.
Chafing dishes were used to hold burning charcoal or other combustible material, whose purpose was to cook food or keep it hot at the table. Examples of this type of dish date to circa 1575-1650 AD.
The object was found on farmland close to Wymondham in Norfolk. The full record can be seen at www.finds.org.uk using the reference NMS-AB93AB.
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.
Tuesday, September 01, 2015 9:18:00 AM
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.
Photographic image of the Palaeolithic flint 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.
Saturday, August 01, 2015 1:31:00 PM
At various times throughout our history there have been severe shortages of coinage. Based on face value the cost of manufacturing coins is disproportionately greater for lower denominations, and consequently shortages would often involve small change.
The production of coinage was the prerogative of the King or Queen with unlicensed contraventions punishable by death. After the English civil war in the middle of the 17th century England was no longer a monarchy and became a Commonwealth under a Lord Protector. The upheaval of the civil war had caused a shortage of coinage and traders found it increasingly difficult to transact their business. Accordingly, since there was no longer a monarch to enforce the ultimate penalty, traders, merchants, innkeepers and later local Corporations of the period, took it upon themselves to issue their own.
These tokens provide a fascinating insight into the history of the period. Most have some kind of pictorial device on them representing the name of an Inn; others have the arms of their trading guilds such as Grocers, Drapers, Bakers, Tallowchandlers, Mercers and so forth. Occasionally they feature a pictorial play on words. So for example a token of Thomas Curtis shows two people curtseying. A very frequent device is to have the initial letter of the issuers surname as the apex of a triangle with the Christian name initials of the issuer and their spouse forming the base.
This latter device, along with a sugar loaf, is used on our Find of the Month for July, which is a 17th century copper alloy farthing traders token of John Tucke of Burnham Market. On the obverse face is the legend IOHN TVCKE and the date I666, with a central sugar loaf motif which is usually symbolic of the Grocers’ trade. The reverse side has the legend IN BVRNHAM MARKET, with the triangular letter convention I(J)MT mentioned above, in the centre. The full record for this token can be seen on the Portable Antiquities Scheme website (https://finds.org.uk/database/search) – search using reference number NMS-E0B82D.
This particular token has been very kindly donated to the Norwich Castle Museum by the finder. The Norfolk 17th century token collection of the Castle Museum will be the subject of an exhibition in February 2016 where you will be able to see the full extent of these fascinating snapshots of history.