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.
Wednesday, July 01, 2015 9:00:00 AM
With the odd exception, we take for granted in today’s world that the coinage we use to pay for goods is genuine and up to a standard. In the distant past this was not so. Silver and gold coinage was essentially bullion – a silver penny was made of a pennyworth of silver. Unfortunately, the criminal fraternity would remove thin slivers of metal from the coin edges in a process called clipping.
Coin design and some very gruesome penalties tried to prevent this activity, but it was rife for many centuries from Roman times onwards. It was only when coins were manufactured by milling rather than striking in the latter part of the 17th century that the process started to decline. Accordingly, since the weight of a coin was critical to its acceptance in the next transaction, traders and the like had a need to weigh coinage and other valuable goods against a known standard.
This month’s find then is a medieval folding balance used for just such a purpose. It was found by a metal detectorist in a ploughed field. (See find reference NMS-EE36EB).
Unfortunately, as is the case for many artefacts found on cultivated land it is rather damaged, but one of the two folding arms is almost fully intact, as is the central pointer. The two arms when folded out would have had balance pans attached to loops at their ends to contain the standard and the coin or goods being checked.
The balance pointer would indicate the degree of equilibrium. The lower image shows a more complete example that gives a better idea as to how it was configured. The balance dates from circa 1300-1400 and you can just imagine some of the animated and colourful discussions that may have taken place in its near vicinity over its long history!
Monday, September 01, 2014 9:02:00 AM
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
Friday, August 01, 2014 11:41:00 AM
Think of the range of saucepans, tupperware, washing-up bowls, cardboard boxes, plastic buckets and tins as well as plates, mugs and serving dishes which we use today. In the past, pottery vessels fulfilled many of these domestic and industrial functions, so the remains of these containers can be found almost anywhere. Although pots break into pieces very easily, the individual sherds survive well in the ground and the quantity, type and date of pottery from a site can tell us a lot about how the site was used in the past. Other containers made of wood or leather rarely survive in the archaeological record.
This is a rim sherd of a Late Saxon Thetford-type ware storage jar with the stump of a strap handle, stamped decoration on the upper edge, an impressed wavy line on the exterior, and clay added to the interior, the top and the exterior. The original diameter of the vessel would have been about 290mm. Pots like this were made in Thetford, Ipswich and Norwich between about 850 and 1100.
Monday, June 30, 2014 2:00:00 AM
A composite lead alloy disc brooch with integral pin, probably made and worn in the late 15th – early 16th century.
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
Egan, G and Pritchard, F. (2002) Dress Accessories 1150 – 1450, fourth addition, The Boydell Press, Bury St Edmunds
Tuesday, June 03, 2014 10:18:00 AM
Roman brooches must be one of the most commonly recorded metal artefacts, and although there is a wide variety of types known including plate, penannular, disc and bow, within this variety huge numbers of very similar brooches are recorded. Roman brooches were both decorative and functional acting as a dress fastener to hold clothes in position.
This example is a well-known variety of zoomorphic (animal shaped) brooch in the form of a duck with brightly coloured enamelled decoration. The surface is now corroded to a dull green but the enamel would have stood out against a shining yellow-bronze surface when it was new. Other types of zoomorphic brooch depict animals including other birds, fish, horses, hares, lions and even flies.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014 9:00:00 AM
This beautiful 2nd century copper alloy mount in the form of a youthful male bust has features which suggest a dual identity – a wreath of vine leaves indicating Bacchus, god of wine, and a winged cap indicating Mercury, messenger of the gods.
Although the mount clearly decorated a high status object it was discovered at a site with no other Roman finds and in an area with very little evidence for Roman activity, strongly suggesting it was accidentally lost in transit. An object produced with such fine artistic skill may have been imported from somewhere else in the Empire.
Illustration by J. Gibbons
Whoever owned this object valued Roman taste and fashion and could afford to buy good quality work, but we can’t know if they got to appreciate it, or if it was lost before it was even delivered.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 2:01:00 PM
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.
Saturday, March 01, 2014 2:09:00 PM
In the late 13th and early 14th century it was a popular fashion to convert coins into brooches. Most medieval coins featured a cross as part of the design on the reverse (tails), and it was this face that was displayed as a symbol of Christianity and not the king’s head. Wealthier people used silver coins, sometimes gilded, with silver fittings on the back.
This brooch represents a cheaper version, with a copper alloy jetton (a kind of counter which also circulated as small change) with iron fittings riveted to it, and shows how the fashions of the rich were copied by people with more limited resources.
Find out more here