Highlighted finds

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in Norfolk and 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 so often to find out what new and interesting objects have been identified and recorded by the team based at Gressenhall and Shirehall.

You can follow many of the Norfolk artefacts being recorded as they are added to the PAS database, just click on this link.  https://finds.org.uk/database/search/results/countyID/7238/institution/NMS/show/100/thumbnail/1

Going Dutch 

Thursday, October 11, 2018 11:16:00 AM Categories: Copper alloy Post-medieval Religion

There is a wonderful array of archaeological finds made by the public in Norfolk.  In general, because of the sheer volume involved we are only able to record artefacts that are more than a nominal 300 years old.  However, if an object has additional merit, for example through its cultural history then we will often try to make an exception.

This artefact unearthed recently in a field near Dereham is one such example. It’s a copper alloy token struck in 1788 to commemorate the jubilee of the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688-1699 when James II was removed from the throne in favour of the Dutch William and Mary. 

This was a pivotal time in British history with politics and religion dividing the kingdom into civil unrest.  The Dutch invasion force of England assembled by William was four times the size of the Spanish Armada of 1588 and landed in Torbay, Devon on 5th November 1688.  Apart from a skirmish near Reading the invasion was largely uncontested with James’s army and supporters defecting in the support of William, including his daughter Anne.

A Brooch from the Brecks 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018 6:11:00 PM Categories: Brooch Copper alloy Metal Metal working Saxon

Our chosen find this month is a middle to late Saxon copper-alloy bow brooch. It was found recently on farmland in Breckland and is notable because of its size, richly cast decoration, and excellent level of preservation. It never ceases to amaze that an object can spend well over a 1000 years in the ground, be subjected to the vagaries of the weather, chemical fertilizers and ploughing and still survive in relatively good condition. Not so for the iron spring and pin mechanism though, as the rusty concretion on the back bears witness to the original location. Iron corrodes much more readily than copper alloy in the ground. 

The date of the brooch is circa AD 800-910 and it is of a brooch form now described as Ansate. The term Ansate means ‘handle-shaped’ and it is clear how the brooch style got it's name.  The adjacent distribution map uses national data from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database and illustrates that the type was particularly popular in Anglo Saxon East Anglia. Full details of the brooch can be found at https://finds.org.uk/database  using the reference NMS-EB5046 in the search field.

 

March- A Pummeling Pommel 

Thursday, March 15, 2018 8:54:00 PM Categories: Broadland Copper alloy Medieval Metal Sword

Found in Broadland our Find of the Month this month is a rather large and hefty 13th-14th century sword pommel. Pommel styles are many and varied and this type goes under the unsurprising name of a Wheel pommel. What makes this particular pommel stand out is the decoration and the rather unusual incised inscription which ‘reads’ along the following lines…

 Image of a Medieval sword pommel

 

+ * + B S PCA EIS [small cross, circle with eight radiating rays, cross potent, retrograde B, retrograde S, P, C, inverted A with broken cross bar, E, I, retrograde S]. The inscription is indecipherable to modern interpretation, but bearing in mind that by far the majority of the population in the medieval period was illiterate, it may just be meaningless. The sword Pommel has a number of functions. Firstly, it prevents the hand slipping off the handle and aids a firm grip. Secondly it provides a counterweight to the heavy blade, meaning that the point of balance is shifted just forward of the hilt making the weapon more balanced and easier to handle fluidly. Indeed, to help facilitate this, the inside of the pommel is part-filled with lead.  Finally, Pommels can be used as a weapon in their own right and used to strike the opponent, particularly around the head.  Interestingly, this latter usage is where our modern term pummelling is derived from. 

Full details of this find can be seen at https://finds.org.uk/database using the reference NMS-567099 to search against.

 

February - We've gone nuts for this cracker 

Friday, February 02, 2018 10:58:00 AM Categories: Copper Food Metal Post-medieval Tool

For February's Find of the Month we have selected a rather unusual post-medieval nutcracker to show you. It was discovered in a field near King's Lynn in West Norfolk and is exceptional in both its preservation and its unusual form. It is designed around a miniature of a tripod cooking pot or cauldron, of a type that was in use from circa CE 1200-1700.


Photo of post-medieval nutcracker

Cleverly the nutcracker uses the miniature pot as the container for the nut. A threaded shaft with an openwork handle enters from the side which when turned crushes the nut against the side of the pot.

Screw threaded nutcrackers did not appear until the 17th century so this example probably dates from circa CE 1600-1800

The full record on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database for this lovely object can be found at: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/879671

October - Ghostly Goings On 

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

Happy Halloween!

September - We hope this won't boar you 

Thursday, August 24, 2017 5:36:00 PM Categories: Accessories Animals Clothing Copper Metal Roman

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.

Photograph of Romano-British strap fitting in the shape of a boarIt 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. 

July - Cut Above 

Monday, July 31, 2017 4:38:00 PM Categories: Flint Neolithic Prehistoric Tool

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).


Photograph of Neolithic polished flint axe

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

June - Panned Out Well 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017 11:48:00 AM Categories: Accessories Brooch Copper Food Religion Roman

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

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

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.

May - About Time 

Friday, April 21, 2017 4:15:00 PM Categories: Accessories Copper Medieval Metal Tool

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. 


Photograph of fragment of 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).

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


 

 

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