Find Of The Month

The Identification and Recording Service exists to record all archaeological finds made by members of the public in Norfolk, thousands of objects are brought to us every year.

Check back every month to find out what exciting objects have been identified!

January - Taking the lead 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017 4:11:00 PM Categories: Accessories Animals Copper Medieval Metal

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. 

Photograph of swivel

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. 

Miniature from the Book of Hunting by Gaston III, Count of Foix

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.

More complete example of a swivel from Hampshire


 

 

November - Broaching the subject 

Monday, October 10, 2016 11:26:00 AM Categories: Accessories Bronze Brooch Grooming Metal Roman

Photo of fragment of enamelled Roman chatelelaine plate brooch

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.

 

Photo of complete Roman chatelaine brooch from the British Museum

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.

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.

June - Broken Heart 

Friday, June 03, 2016 3:19:00 PM Categories: Accessories Medieval Metal Post-medieval Silver

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.  

Photograph of medieval to post-medieval silver gilt heart-shaped jewellery

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

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.

April - The Beast of East Anglia 

Wednesday, April 06, 2016 1:01:00 PM Categories: Accessories Animals Brooch Copper Metal Saxon

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.  

Photograph of Saxon brooch featuring backwards turning beast and ring and dot decoration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Heat map of the distribution of backwards facing beast brooches in England.

 

March - Don't hang around 

Wednesday, March 09, 2016 3:20:00 PM Categories: Accessories Copper Metal Post-medieval

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.

Photograph of post-medieval sword hanger

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.

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.

January - In a fever 

Friday, January 01, 2016 10:18:00 AM Categories: Lead Metal Saxon

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.

Photograph of lead plaque bearing runic inscription

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.


Detail of runic inscription

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.

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