July - Weighed in the balance 

Wednesday, July 01, 2015 9:00:00 AM Categories: Medieval Metal Trade

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!

September - We gave this our seal of approval! 

Monday, September 01, 2014 9:02:00 AM Categories: Lead Medieval Metal Religion

Photograph of lead bulla

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

August - You would shardly notice that it's broken! 

Friday, August 01, 2014 11:41:00 AM Categories: Pottery Saxon

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.

Photograph of Late Saxon pit rim with stamped decoration

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. 

July - Can you pin it down? 

Monday, June 30, 2014 2:00:00 AM Categories: Accessories Brooch Lead Medieval

A composite lead alloy disc brooch with integral pin, probably made and worn in the late 15th – early 16th century.

Photograph of lead alloy disc brooch

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

Bibliography

 

Egan, G and Pritchard, F. (2002) Dress Accessories 1150 – 1450, fourth addition, The Boydell Press, Bury St Edmunds

June - Nothing too quackers 

Tuesday, June 03, 2014 10:18:00 AM Categories: Animals Brooch Copper Metal Roman


Photograph of enamelled duck brooch

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. 

NMS-B3698D

May - Don't shoot the messenger 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014 9:00:00 AM Categories: Copper Furniture Metal Religion Roman

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.

Picture of Roman mount

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 of Roman mount

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.

HER51187. NMS-800B35.

April - Pulling your lead 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 2:01:00 PM Categories: Lead Medieval Metal Pilgrimage Religion

Photograph of lead ampulla

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.

March - Holding it together 

Saturday, March 01, 2014 2:09:00 PM Categories: Accessories Brooch Clothing Copper Medieval Metal

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.

Photograph of copper alloy jetton brooch

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

February - Dressed to impress 

Saturday, February 01, 2014 11:08:00 AM Categories: Accessories Copper Grooming Metal Roman

Photograph of Roman cosmetic set

Cosmetic sets were used in the Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval periods and were made up of several personal grooming tools hung from a ring so they could be carried around conveniently.

This Roman example, which is probably 3rd or 4th century, has a nail cleaner with two prongs to scrape under the finger nails, tweezers for removing unwanted hair and a third, broken tool which was probably a tiny spoon called an ear-scoop for removing wax from the ears. Some cosmetic sets also included a straight tool with a pointed end for use as a toothpick.

We might not carry around ear-scoops with us today, but modern manicure sets are not so different from these 1600 year old tools and almost every bathroom contains cotton buds, dental tape and tweezers.  

The full find record can be found on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database here: NMS-4FE992

January - Knights in shining armour 

Wednesday, January 01, 2014 11:10:00 AM Categories: Accessories Armour Clothing Copper Medieval Metal

Our first find of the month is a medieval gauntlet. It was worn by a very rich knight in the 14th-15th centuries, to protect his hands while charging into battle.

Photograph of medieval gauntlet

He was fashion conscious enough that even his finger coverings had to be highly decorated, which would have been an expensive commission. This gauntlet was found in the parish of Wymondham, perhaps he lost it while returning from a feast at one of the medieval manors?

Illustration of medieval gauntlet

Although the gauntlet is damaged, this appears to have happened after deposition, rather than when it was in use, so it is unlikely that this set of gloves was battered by an enemy sword.

The full record can be seen at the Portable Antiquities Scheme website, www.finds.org.uk by searching for the reference: NMS-A1E6E7

Check back in February for more finds from Norfolk!

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