Posts in Category: Post-medieval

From Belize to Brundall 

A Mayan Mystery
Friday, June 7, 2024 9:05:00 AM Categories: Post-medieval Prehistoric Tool

It’s not often the Norfolk County Council Find Team are left scratching their collective heads over a discovery. But this very unusual object, found at Brundall, was one of them.

Stone tool: a Mayan chert stemmed macro blade. (© Norfolk County Council).

The first thing to say is that it isn’t a handaxe or a giant arrowhead. Its actual technical name is a ‘stemmed macro blade’, but it’s easier to think of it as a large handheld knife, or a stone dagger. But it’s unlike anything else that’s ever been found in Norfolk: the shape’s wrong, the size is wrong and that stone looks nothing like our own famous and very distinctive black and grey flint.

So what is it – and where did it originally come from?

I mentioned we were scratching our heads. And so were until our flint specialist Jason Gibbons stepped in. There was something about the object’s heft (it’s almost 11cm long, and was once much bigger), the way it had been worked and the colour of the stone which seemed instantly familiar to him. His answer was truly astonishing: this object wasn’t made in Norfolk at all, but 5,250 miles away in Belize in Central America. And the people who made it were one of the most famous from history – the once-extensive 'Maya' civilisation, which survived until the fateful encounters with colonising Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century.

Ancient culture: A painted plaster cast of a Mayan sculpture from Chichén Itzá, Lower Temple of the Jaguars. (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Jason takes up the story: ‘I could see it was made from a massive struck blade, there are a few cultures that make them (we made long blades in the Upper Palaeolithic, 40,000 to 10,000 BC) but nowhere remotely near that big, apart from only one culture, and that is in Belize, so it was narrowed down very quickly.’ This stone is known as Colha chert, and is found in abundance in the north-east central area of the country, formerly known as ‘British Honduras’.

He adds: ‘I studied these back around 2012 along with trying to familiarise myself with both North and South American worked flints and flint types. I’m still working on that as there are thousands of variations.’

This type of tool was used for more than 1000 years, from circa 250 BC to AD 900. This example is a little battered, having lost its point and handle. It would have been used as a large knife or dagger.

‘They were also used by the "elite" class of Maya society in ritual caches,’ Jason says, ‘the favoured deposition of which appears to be in rivers.’

So that’s the object identified. But how on earth did it arrive in the Broads?

The tool was actually found in the 1950s, from the surface very near to Brundall Gardens. This was a popular tourist attraction founded in the 1880s, its attractive slopes giving rise to the nickname of ‘Little Switzerland’. The name of the attraction lives on in Brundall Gardens station. An old map shows the gardens once had a small museum. Was this Mayan tool one of the exhibits perhaps, a curiosity accidentally dropped and then lost one day? Decades after its rediscovery it was brought to Norwich Metal Detecting Club for identification and recording by the present owner.

Beauty spot: Brundall Gardens, pictured in the 1920s. (Image courtesy of www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk)

We may never truly know how it came to Brundall in the first place, although Jason has an interesting theory about that. You can find out what it is – and more about the story behind this fascinating object – by visiting the full record on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database under NMS-E80743.

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.

February - We've gone nuts for this cracker 

Friday, February 2, 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

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.

June - Broken Heart 

Friday, June 3, 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. 

March - Don't hang around 

Wednesday, March 9, 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.

December - Best foot forward 

Friday, December 4, 2015 12:22:00 PM Categories: Animals Copper Food Metal Post-medieval

December's find of the month is a modest choice, modest in the sense that it is a humble fragment of something much larger. 

Photo of animal-headed foot of post-medieval chafing dish

A significant part of the skill of the identifier of these fragmentary objects is being able to recognise them as pieces of the parent object which they used to be part of. It is rather like being handed a single piece of a large jigsaw and needing to recognise it as part of the bigger scene from a recollection of the box lid. 

Challenge met then, the small fragment pictured above, turns out to be the animal-headed curving foot of a post-medieval chafing dish support.  It’s location in-situ can be seen in the picture below of an example in the Curtius Museum in Belgium.


Photo of example of whole chafing dish from the Curtius Museum in Belgium

Chafing dishes were used to hold burning charcoal or other combustible material, whose purpose was to cook food or keep it hot at the table. Examples of this type of dish date to circa 1575-1650 AD.

The object was found on farmland close to Wymondham in Norfolk. The full record can be seen at www.finds.org.uk using the reference NMS-AB93AB.

August - A token effort 

Saturday, August 1, 2015 1:31:00 PM Categories: Copper Metal Post-medieval Trade

At various times throughout our history there have been severe shortages of coinage.  Based on face value the cost of manufacturing coins is disproportionately greater for lower denominations, and consequently shortages would often involve small change. 

The production of coinage was the prerogative of the King or Queen with unlicensed contraventions punishable by death.  After the English civil war in the middle of the 17th century England was no longer a monarchy and became a Commonwealth under a Lord Protector. The upheaval of the civil war had caused a shortage of coinage and traders found it increasingly difficult to transact their business.  Accordingly, since there was no longer a monarch to enforce the ultimate penalty, traders, merchants, innkeepers and later local Corporations of the period, took it upon themselves to issue their own.

Photograph of 17th century copper alloy farthing token

These tokens provide a fascinating insight into the history of the period.  Most have some kind of pictorial device on them representing the name of an Inn; others have the arms of their trading guilds such as Grocers, Drapers, Bakers, Tallowchandlers, Mercers and so forth. Occasionally they feature a pictorial play on words. So for example a token of Thomas Curtis shows two people curtseying.  A very frequent device is to have the initial letter of the issuers surname as the apex of a triangle with the Christian name initials of the issuer and their spouse forming the base.


This latter device, along with a sugar loaf, is used on our Find of the Month for July, which is a 17th century copper alloy farthing traders token of John Tucke of Burnham Market. On the obverse face is the legend IOHN TVCKE and the date I666, with a central sugar loaf motif which is usually symbolic of the Grocers’ trade. The reverse side has the legend IN BVRNHAM MARKET, with the triangular letter convention I(J)MT mentioned above, in the centre. The full record for this token can be seen on the Portable Antiquities Scheme website (https://finds.org.uk/database/search) – search using reference number NMS-E0B82D.
This particular token has been very kindly donated to the Norwich Castle Museum by the finder. The Norfolk 17th century token collection of the Castle Museum will be the subject of an exhibition in February 2016 where you will be able to see the full extent of these fascinating snapshots of history.
 

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