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.
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.