Tuesday, October 31, 2017 5:07:00 PM
In honour of Halloween, we have something a little different for October's Find Of The Month. The Norfolk Historic Environment Record is full of strange entries. We have everything from The Great Stone of Lyng, which supposedly bleeds and stops birds singing, to four mummified cats!
This month we will focus on one of my favourite entries which I discovered, in my first week on the job, over five years ago. While familiarising myself with the secondary files (the collection of sources our records are based on) I decided to look up my new office. In among the photographs, building plans, newspaper clippings and badger excavations I found a typewritten sheet of paper titled 'The Ghost Of Gressenhall Workhouse". Intrigued, I read on to discover that this was in fact our most thoroughly recorded haunting!
What follows is a copy of the file.
Further updates followed:
For more of our peculiar records check out Norfolk's Archaeological Curiosities
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.
Monday, July 31, 2017 4:38:00 PM
July’s Find of the Month is a rather large and magnificent example of a Neolithic polished flint axehead. It weighs in at a hefty 1.6Kg and is 256mm long.
Polished axes were produced by taking a flaked axehead and rubbing it against sandstone to remove the flake scars. Water was used to cool the axe during this process, and sand was sometimes added to make it quicker. A functional flaked axe can be made (by an experienced knapper) in about 20 minutes, however it can take up to 40 hours to completely polish a large axe (Butler 2005: 141-2).
The blade end of an axe was polished to improve its strength. The protruding angles and holes created by the flaking process can easily catch on wood while chopping, which can cause the axe to break. Polishing the axe removes the points where this impact could cause problems and also reduces friction, allowing a smoother chopping motion. Polishing the butt of the axe can actually make it less efficient, as the smoother surface would allow it to slip out of the handle more easily. It is thought that polishing areas other than the blade was mainly done for aesthetic reasons.
Although this example has not been entirely ground and polished to remove all the flake scars its aesthetic appeal is enhanced by a beautiful orange and off-white mottled patination. There is a very small amount of damage to either end, but the cutting edge is still sharp after circa 5000 years in the ground. The axe was found in Forncett in South Norfolk and was generously donated to Norwich Castle Museum by the finder.
Full details of the axehead can be found at www.finds.org.uk using the search reference NMS-6A485E
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, August 19, 2016 10:30:00 AM
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016 10:25:00 AM
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.