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Buried in time – the Danes in Wessex

To Winchester City Museum, for the launch of a new book ‘Danes in Wessex’, edited by Ryan Lavelle and Simon Roffey of the University of Winchester.  The book stems from a conference held at the University back in 2011, but the editors also widened their net to include contributions from a number of specialists who were not at the original event.

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As might be expected from a volume which covers a period when the power of the sword was more influential than the power of the word, a good number of the papers are about warfare. Thomas Williams looks at ‘The Place of Slaughter: Exploring the West Saxon Battlescape’, while the aptly-named Derek Gore conducts ‘A Review of Viking Attacks in Western England’.   Among other dark offerings is ‘Death on the Dorset Ridgeway: The Discovery and Excavation of an Early Medieval Mass Burial’ by Angela Boyle.   It’s not all cut and thrust, of course, and I, for one, look forward to reading about ‘Orc of Abbotsbury and Tole of Tolpuddle’, who according to Ann Williams, enjoyed ‘A place in the country’.

The fragment of carved relief in the Winchester City Museum

The fragment of carved relief in the Winchester City Museum

Another delightful offering is sure to be ‘Danish Royal Burials in Winchester: Cnut and his Family’, by Martin Biddle and Birthe Kjolbye-Biddle.  Professor Biddle was at the Museum to give his blessing to the book and enthralled his audience by describing the action taking place on a fragment of stone sculpture from Old Minster.  A prostrate, bound man grapples with a large dog-like animal, which has its muzzle pressed hard against his face.  This may well be depicting the episode of Sigmund and the Wolf, from Volsunga Saga.

Having seen nine of his brothers devoured nightly by an evil-looking she-wolf, Sigmund is saved by his twin sister Signy, who sent her servant to smear his face with honey and put some in his mouth. When the wolf licked the honey and thrust her tongue into his mouth in search of more, Sigmund bit hard. The shock made the wolf jump backwards and break his bonds, but Sigmund didn’t let go and tore out the lupine tongue, killing the beast.

Reading about the episode I was transported back a couple of weeks to the cinema – and a viewing of ‘The Revenant’.  I’m not sure a mouthful of honey would have done much to help Mr Glass in his encounter with the bear but despite the differences in time, terrain and weapons of choice, the film certainly conveyed the feeling of a rough, tough, raiding-party world.

A coin of Cnut - 1016-1035.

A coin of King Cnut – 1016-1035.  ‘CNVT REX’

The ‘Big Theme’ at several Hampshire Cultural Trust venues this year is ‘Royal Blood’, which looks at the role of royals from the Late Iron Age onwards.  A touring show (Basingstoke, Winchester, Gosport) starting in September, is complemented by offerings at the Community Museums.

Alfred the Great - guardian of Wessex and Winchester.

Alfred the Great – guardian of Wessex and Winchester.

Further reading:

Ryan Lavelle & Simon Roffey (eds), 2016, Danes in Wessex; The Scandinavian Impact on Southern England, c 800 – c 1100. Oxbow Books.

Series by: Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone.

Shooting Cupid

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This late Roman gold finger-ring was found at Tangley, north of  Andover, two years ago, by Ashley Duke.  It qualified as ‘treasure’ under the definition of the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme oversaw its recording, valuation and publication (2014 T12).

It was acquired by the Hampshire Cultural Trust and the opportunity to display it coincided with the publication of the ring, firstly in an academic article in the journal Britannia, and secondly in a wide range of media outlets, as the beautifully cut intaglio, depicting a rather languid and impious looking Cupid, caught the imagination.

cupid 2

The nicolo intaglio (onyx with a blue surface and a dark heart) shows a winged, naked Cupid, leaning on a short spiral column. He holds aloft a flaming torch, which he will later use to burn Psyche in her guise as a butterfly.

Parallels for the ring are noted in the National Museum in Vienna, and closer to home, in one of the rings in the Silchester hoard, featured here just a few weeks ago.

Shooting Cupid: the Advertiser photographer homes in on Ashley Duke and his Tangley find.

Shooting Cupid: the Advertiser photographer homes in on Ashley Duke and his Tangley find.

The Trust invited Ashley Duke to be present at the ‘unveiling’ of his find at Andover Museum, and the Andover Advertiser was there to record the scene.

It has to be said that the valuation of such finds is not an easy task, is in the hands of an independent committee (museums are not directly involved) and is open to appeal.  At the end of the day the addition of the Tangley ring to the Andover displays will ensure that it will be viewed and enjoyed by many.

A2015.69

Further reading:

Sally Worrell and John Pearce (2015). II. Finds Reported under the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Britannia, 46, pp 355-381

Photos: Katie Hinds, Portable Antiquities Scheme; Dave Allen

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone.

 

 

Buried in time – the Silchester hoard of rings and things.

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Silchester's surviving walls - a dramatic reminder of this Iron Age oppidum and Roman town.

Silchester’s surviving walls – a dramatic reminder of this Iron Age oppidum and Roman town.

Just to the southwest of the walled Roman town of Silchester is a late Iron Age earthwork. In 1985, for the first time in many years, the adjacent area was ploughed. Searching by a metal detectorist unearthed an elaborate and flamboyant gold finger-ring with strands of beaded gold wire forming a filigree hoop and a large engraved gem (intaglio). Such rings generally date to the last few decades of the Roman period in Britain and were widespread throughout the Roman Empire. The intaglio consists of onyx engraved with a satyr and a small cupid. Four late Roman silver coins were found nearby.

The coin hoard

The coin hoard

During the winter of 1986-7 further finds were detected nearby and coin finds reached 55 in total. Although the exact locations were not reported, a visit to the site by an archaeologist revealed a limited area of disturbance and it is thought likely that both sets of discoveries derive from a single hoard. A subsequent small excavation exposed no further late Roman material and no associated features.  This suggests that the collection was lost or hidden and is most likely to have been a ‘flight’ hoard.

One of the better-preserved coins, showing the Emperor Gratian (367 - 383)

One of the better-preserved coins, showing the Emperor Gratian (367 – 383)

Of the 55 coins, all but three were heavily corroded, broken silver examples of the late 4th century AD. At least 13 of them had been ‘clipped’, a practice dated to the reign of Constantine II (407-11 AD). Four additional rings were found, two complete gold examples and two fragmentary, one of which was silver. Because of potential plough damage it is impossible to tell whether the incomplete and broken rings were part of a jeweller’s hoard or were damaged after their concealment.

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Gold ring dismantled for cleaning and conservation. The glass intaglio is decorated with a satyr carrying a hare and a pedum or staff.

Gold ring dismantled for cleaning and conservation. The glass intaglio is decorated with a satyr carrying a hare and a pedum or staff.

One of the complete gold rings has a raised bezel set with a glass gem in imitation of onyx, cast with the device of a satyr carrying a hare. This ring is large and heavy; the other complete but distorted gold ring is much slighter, set with a re-used glass bead. Only very fragmentary and mineralised remains of the silver ring survived. This had also been set with an imitation onyx cast glass gem, decorated with the image of a seated bearded man reading from a scroll, interpreted as a philosopher.

Fragments from a gold ring and the gem from a silver ring which had almost totally disintegrated. The subject is a bearded man sitting on a three-legged stool - a philosopher.

Fragments from a gold ring and the gem from a silver ring which had almost totally disintegrated. The subject is a bearded man sitting on a three-legged stool – a philosopher.

Some of the items mentioned here are on display at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke. The Silchester hoard, though smaller in size, can be compared through its composition to the late Romano-British Thetford Hoard, discovered in 1979 in Norfolk. Two rings from Thetford are similar to the Silchester gold ring with the glass bead; a satyr appears on a gold buckle-plate from Thetford.

References:

N1997.20 – archive held by Hampshire Cultural Trust

M.G. Fulford, M. Henig and C. Johns, A Late Roman Gold Finger-Ring  from Silchester, Hampshire, Britannia Vol. XVIII, 1987, pp.279-281.

M.G. Fulford, A.Burnett, and C. Johns, A Hoard of Late Roman Rings and Silver Coins from Silchester, Hampshire, Britannia Vol. XX, 1989, pp.219-228.

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone

Object photographs by Claire Woodhead.

 

Buried in time – the Breamore bucket

In October 1999, metal detectorist Steve Bolger reported an unusual find to the Hampshire Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Among the early medieval objects he had uncovered at Breamore was this rare copper alloy Byzantine bucket.

The Breamore bucket

The Breamore bucket

The body of the bucket was made from a single sheet of metal, hammered and then hand-decorated by stamping and incising with punches and a chisel. The resulting frieze, which runs around the bucket, depicts three naked warriors armed with spears, shields, swords and a discus, fighting a leopard and a mythical beast or bear. An inscription in ancient Greek around the top of the bucket reads ‘Use this, lady, for many happy years’. The bucket handle was threaded through two raised lugs with holes punched through them. The flat base of the bucket had become detached from the body.

Gladiators and wild beasts.

Gladiators and wild beasts – illustration Winchester City Museum.

This extraordinary bucket is one of only three known in England and belongs to a closely related group of which a further three were found in Turkey, Italy and Spain, with three more having unknown find spots. All of these buckets are decorated with a hunting frieze and most have an inscription. Their manufacture is so similar that it is thought that they were produced at the same workshop, or group of workshops, in the eastern Empire possibly at Antioch, in the 6th century AD.

The precise use of such buckets is not certain but several of the inscriptions refer to good health and suggest a personal domestic setting, probably related to bathing. The rarity of these buckets may be seen as an indicator of the high status of the owners. The other two examples from England come from Bromeswell, Suffolk, within 1 km of the Sutton Hoo cemetery and from Chessell Down on the Isle of Wight, where the bucket was part of a rich female grave excavated in the 19th century.

The responsible action of Steve Bolger in halting his detecting activity and reporting the find was recognised at the British Archaeological Awards in 2000 as it enabled proper archaeological investigation of the site to take place, funded by Hampshire County Council. An initial geophysical survey revealed a number of anomalies and led to a small-scale excavation, which revealed that the bucket was part of an important early Anglo-Saxon cemetery.

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Time Team at Breamore

Time Team at Breamore – poor soil conditions meant that the burials were in a fragmentary state.

The site attracted the attention of Time Team and in August 2001 they broadcast a three-day ‘Time Team Live’ event from Breamore. They hoped to determine the extent of the cemetery and relate the Byzantine bucket to the broader picture of the burials. Surprisingly, a further six burials with buckets (though not Byzantine) were found and there were a higher than expected number of weapon burials.

David Hinton of the University of Southampton is working on the final publication of this nationally important, early Anglo-Saxon cemetery.

Replica made by Ray Walton for the Time Team programme. The bucket would originally have had a tinned surface, in imitation of silver examples.

Replica made by Ray Walton for the Time Team programme. The bucket would originally have had a tinned surface, in imitation of silver examples.

The Breamore bucket can be seen at Rockbourne Roman Villa.

Further reading:

A2001.39 Archive held by Hampshire Cultural Trust

Mango, Mango, Evans & Hughes, A 6th century Mediterranean bucket from Bromeswell Parish, Suffolk, Antiquity 63, 1989, pp295-311

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone, with help from Stacie Elliot.

Buried in time (and corrosion) – the Monk Sherborne buckle

Monk Sherborne, a village north west of Basingstoke, lies in an area rich in archaeological finds. In 1996, chalk quarrying revealed the remains of a Roman winged-corridor house and this was excavated (a ‘rescue’ dig) by Steve Teague of Winchester Museum Service.

Cleaning the surface revealed wall-lines and pits...

Cleaning the surface revealed wall-lines and pits…

Birds-eye-view of the Roman building - with the unemployed stokehole in the foreground.

Birds-eye-view of the Roman building – with the unemployed stokehole in the foreground.

Details emerged of a building with chalk foundations, extensively damaged by plough action. The north wing had been modified by the addition of a channelled hypocaust, but there was no sign of scorching or burning and the system may not have seen any use. Dating evidence suggested that the building belonged to the second half of the 3rd century.

The corn-drier - a great bit of excavation.

The corn-drier – a great bit of excavation.

A corn-drier, associated with an aisled building about 30m away, had at least seen some action. Clear signs of scorching and burning and a significant basal layer of charcoal showed that the structure had been put to work.  The dating evidence indicated that the feature went out of use in the later 4th century.

The most remarkable finds from the site had nothing to do with the Roman occupation however. In the top layers of a large Roman pit were an intricately decorated, iron, silver wire-inlaid belt buckle and a square belt fitting, both dating to the 7th century, but not from a matching-set.

Buckle and plate - but not a matching set.

Buckle and plate – but not a matching set.

Buckles of this type are rare in Britain, and mostly restricted to Kent, but the likely place of manufacture, for both buckle and plate, was on the Continent, in Francia. The zoomorphic interlace and beaked snake design is known from Continental buckles, gravestones and even coffins. Interpretations of its significance range from the purely decorative to providing protection from evil.

The buckle as found

The buckle as found

Protection for the Monk Sherborne pieces came in a surprising way – from the layer of iron corrosion which coated both objects. X-rays revealed the remarkable secrets lurking beneath and the painstaking work of Bob Holmes, Museum Conservator, brought the full detail to light.

What lies beneath! The magic of the X-ray.

What lies beneath! The magic of the X-ray.

The Monk Sherborne site did provide something of a context for these finds. Traces of a third building, of tentative Saxon date, yielded evidence of metalworking in the form of heavily burnt flints and slag. We can only be thankful that these two pieces of ‘scrap’, if that is what they were, didn’t find their way into the smith’s furnace.

monksherborne4    monksherborne bckles

The Monk Sherborne buckle can be seen in the Willis Museum, Basingstoke.

The Monk Sherborne buckle, in all its glory.

The Monk Sherborne buckle, in all its glory.

Further reading

Teague (2005) Manor Farm, Monk Sherborne, Archaeological Investigations in 1996, Proc Hants Field Club, 60, 64-135

A1996.47   archive held by Hampshire Cultural Trust

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone, with help from Stacie Elliot.

Buried in time: the Winchester Hanging Bowl

The Winchester hanging bowl

The Winchester hanging bowl

Oliver’s Battery, an enclosure on the south west side of Winchester, or ‘Oliver Cromwell’s Battery’, as it sometimes appears, was thought in local folk-lore to date from the English Civil War.  In 1930 W J Andrew, acting on behalf of the Hampshire Field Club, determined to put this to the test.  A Mr Talbot had recently leased the site and its surrounds from the County Council, and it was from him that Andrew obtained permission to dig.   In late August he examined a tumulus just to the north and sank trenches at the southwest and northeast corners of the enclosure.  The barrow produced an ‘extraordinary confusion’ of bones and other finds, including buckles and clay pipes and the southwest corner was unrewarding, but in the northeast corner he hit the jackpot.

The scramasax and spearhead.

The scramasax and spearhead.

The trench had been moved a couple of feet during laying out and this minor adjustment brought to light the 6th century burial of a young male, accompanied by a beautifully decorated hanging bowl (placed upside down on his chest), an iron hunting knife or scramasax, and a short spear.  News of the discovery was soon filling the pages of the Hampshire Chronicle, and it was now that a ‘difference of opinion’ between Hampshire County Council and Mr Talbot arose.  Who could give permission to dig?  Who owned the artefacts that had been found? Counsel was instructed and advice taken as both sides dug in their heels.  Sir William Portal, Chairman of the Council ‘specially [hoped] that any legal action taken with regard to Oliver’s Battery will be of quite a friendly disposition’.

Detail of enamelled roundel

Detail of enamelled escutcheon

September appears to have been a tense month, but by mid-October Mr Barber, Secretary to the County Council, was in possession of the bowl. It was placed on exhibition at the Castle (the Council Offices) with a Police Constable in attendance, but the arrangements were not ideal for all, as a letter to the Southern Daily Echo, dated 2.12.1930, clearly shows.

Sir, I was informed that a Saxon bowl, an ancient relic of a bygone age, was on view at the Castle, Winchester, so I took a party of friends to see it on Saturday afternoon, only to be informed that the bowl was put under lock and key at 12 o’ clock and could not be seen; further it can only be viewed on other days between the hours of 10 and 4 o’clock. Might I suggest that these are the hours of the leisured class and that some consideration should be given to those that work? DISAPPOINTED (Southampton).

 In spite of the difficulties more than 3000 people managed to see the bowl. By this time, agreement had been reached about the longer-term future of the find and a long period of loan to the British Museum was soon to begin. The bargain struck was that a replica would be made and there was debate about whether this should faithfully copy the bowl or ‘look new’. In the event the pristine look was chosen, although the argument that a worn specimen would be ‘unintelligible’ to the public, seemed to forget that a few thousand had already seen it and, one would hope, marvelled at it.

Despite all these complications, Andrew and his crew were back at the Battery in 1931 and the County Council gave them permission to dig. Work took place in mid-June but the results were disappointing – how could they possibly compare with what the British Museum had dubbed, in 1930, ‘the outstanding English event of the year’.

Excavations at Oliver's Battery 1930. W J Andrew et al - six men in a trench!

Excavations at Oliver’s Battery 1930. W J Andrew et al – six men in a trench!

An interesting postscript to the dig was provided by Christopher Hawkes in 1953, when trying to answer the City Museum’s query about the date of the barrow and Battery. ‘…it was a real old Victorian dig’ he wrote, ‘done by old Mr Andrew and old Mr McEwen with their gardeners and Williams-Freeman, Karslake and Warren (to say nothing of Crawford)’. Clearly Hawkes was impressed by the venerable nature of the team, if not the quality of the interpretation.

The Winchester Hanging Bowl is now displayed in the City Museum  while the ‘young male’, described by some authorities as a ‘sentinel burial’ still guards this side of the city – the excavators left him in place!

Further reading

Hants Field Club Newsletters 47, p 2-4; 48, p 5-7.

Hants Field Club Proceedings Vol 12, p 5-19

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone, with help from Stacie Elliot.

 

Buried in time – the Selborne Cup *

* The Selborne Cup is actually from Blackmoor – so ‘Blackmoor Beaker’ might have been a more appropriate name for it!

The area around Blackmoor House, Woolmer Forest, lying close to the line of the Chichester – Silchester Roman road, has seen a number of finds of Roman material. In 1741, as Gilbert White records in the Natural History of Selborne, Woolmer Pond dried up and several hundred coins, including some of Marcus Aurelius (AD 146-180), were revealed lying together, as though they had been in a sack. Thirty years later another hoard was discovered nearby, contained in a pottery vessel. This featured coins from Claudius (AD 43) to Commodus (AD 192).

The 'Sepulchral Urn' that contained the burial.

The ‘Sepulchral Urn’ that contained the burial; as illustrated in the VCH, Volume 1.

In 1867, when Blackmoor House was being rebuilt, more finds were made, including a human cremation burial in a pottery jar. It was this deposit that also contained the Selborne Cup, along with a bronze patera, and a worn coin of Lucius Verus (AD 161-69). The cup was in the possession of the Selborne family for many years, before being sold in 1975. In 1983 it was bought by Hampshire County Council and is now displayed at the Curtis Museum. When the cup came into the museum’s possession the two halves were stuck together with old stamp paper and there was evidence of corrosion. It was cleaned, treated and strengthened and an easily reversible adhesive was used to reinforce the base and stick the halves back together.

The Selborne Cup

The Selborne Cup

A report by the British Museum states that enamelled bronze vessels, as a class, are quite rare and that the pattern on this one is high quality work. It describes the beaker as 106mm in height, of barrel-shape; constructed from two matching cup-shaped sections. The base is a separate piece of metal and there is a plain band of copper alloy 17mm deep around the rim. An ancient repair around the base is somewhat clumsily formed of a bronze patch. The small handle is placed high on one side and would have been soldered onto the rim. Its lower attachment plate, now lost, would have been fixed at the point of maximum diameter, where the sections join. There is a scar on the opposite side of the rim, suggesting the former presence of a matching handle, but no mark on the body of the vessel. The existing handle appears to be a secondary addition, as does the plain rim-band.

Enhanced detail of the enamelled decoration - spots of corrosion are clearly visible.

Enhanced detail of the enamelled decoration – spots of corrosion are clearly visible.

The intricate design in polychrome enamel incorporates cells of distinctive leaf-like shapes. There appear to be five colours; red; yellow; dark blue; turquoise and light green, although the last two are very similar in their present condition. The enamel is in a good state, though the base metal is damaged in places and there is considerable iron corrosion over the surface, presumably from the conditions of burial.

There are no close parallels. Moore (1978) lists 14 enamelled vessels from Britain, the majority being small hemispherical cups, with or without handles. (The existence of the Selborne Cup was not known to him).

The vessel containing the burial was a bead-rimmed jar produced locally by the Alice Holt/Farnham potteries (Lyne & Jefferies, 1979). It represents a type of vessel which was less important to the industry after the mid 2nd century.

References

Lyne, M & Jefferies, R, 1979. The Alice Holt/Farnham Roman Pottery Industry, CBA Research Report, 30.

Moore, C N, 1978. An Enamelled Skillet-Handle from Brough-on-Fosse and the distribution of similar vessels, Britannia 9, 319.

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone, with help from Stacie Elliot.