Finds of the Month – July 2021

Another full month back with fewer restrictions on meeting finders has meant more finds being recorded, but just three this week and all Roman!

First up is a copper-alloy Roman harness pendant. The pendant is of Bishop Type 1L. The top of the pendant has a complete, solid integral loop. These 1st century harness pendants aren’t very common finds and can be closely associated with the Roman military.

BERK-46BD57

Next is a Roman Continental Plate brooch. The brooch consists of three circles arranged as a triangle. Each circle has a smaller, inner circle in the middle. It is possible that these circles were filled with enamel but none remains. On the back there is a broken hinge and catchplate for a pin, which is missing. The hinge is placed between two of the circles and the catchplate is on the edge of the bottom circle.

BERK-4679B4

Finally is this very interesting copper-alloy and lead Roman steelyard weight. The weight a head weight in the form of a double head. On the top of the heads is a suspension loop and the bottom of the weight is flat. Both faces at distinctly different in form. The larger head is more pronounced, projects further forward and has more distinct features. Both eyes are deeply sunken, the nose is large and bulbous and the lips of the mouth clearly defined. The second face is flatter and worn. The eyes are just about perceptible but the nose and mouth are very worn. There is a slight beard still visible and large tufts of hair on the sides of the head. This double headed weight might often be seen as the two-headed Roman God Janus, however, the faces are not very God like.

BERK-AF0483

These figurative weights might have had apotropaic properties. The idea of invoking a deity in the form of a weight as a way of guaranteeing the sellers measures is a possible interpretation. Addtionally, double head weights provide this protection for both seller and buyer. The faces of the weight are watching both parties in the transaction.

Museum Musings – July 2021

At West Berkshire Museum we have a whole display dedicated to detected and chance finds. Mostly this is made up of hoards.

West Berkshire Museum hoards display. Author’s own.

However, we also have on display finds acquired by, and donated or loaned to the museum.

West Berkshire Museum metal detected finds. Author’s own.

Here are just a few of those finds on the PAS database.

The first is a gilded medieval silver halfpenny of Richard II (AD 1377-1399); Withers Type I (North 1331b); mint: London.
The coin is now broken in two and probably folded in half prior to breaking. The coin has been gilded and its use has therefore been altered, possibly for a token or keepsake and therefore would qualify as Treasure under the stipulations of the Act. There is no evidence for a mount or of attempts at piercing, which suggests that the object was not intended to be a pendant. Interestingly another example of a gilded Richard II halfpenny has been recorded on this database (ESS-6429D2) which may hint at a practice associated with this ruler’s coinage. North N1331/1332.

BERK-7BC376

The next is an incomplete post Medieval copper alloy sword-belt hanger dating to c.16th – 17th century. The object comprises three asymmetrical plates suspended from an upper plate or mount. The upper mount is formed of two joined sub-triangular plates which bends outwards in the centre at an acute angle. The two joined plates have tri-lobed terminals. Where the two plated are joined the upper section narrows then widens to from a central projecting triangular point. The plate is decorated with a foliate and floriate moulded-relief. There are three rivet-holes, one at either end pierced in the central projecting lobe, and one in the centre where the two plates are joined. The rivet-hole on the right end has iron residue from an iron rivet which partly survives in place. Attached to the lower end of the plate there are three projecting circular suspension loops. Suspended from each loop is an asymmetrical plate with a forward-facing close-butted globular-ended hook. These plates are decorated with a similar foliate ‘vine scroll’ moulded-relief. Each plate has two rivet-holes. Traces of iron residue remain in both rivet-holes of the central suspended plate, and in the lower rivet-hole of the right suspended plate. The right suspended plate in slightly bent inwards due to damage. 

Finally is a silver clothing stud comprising two discs, one flat and one hollow-backed, joined by a short length of circular-section silver rod. The hollow disc has sloping sides and is stamped with the design of two hearts below a crown, set within a punched field. The backing circle is stamped with an indistinct maker’s mark IB or TB.

SUR-C21661

You can see all these finds and more at West Berkshire Museum

Finds of the Month – June 2021

First full month of finds surgeries back and there have been some interesting new additions to the PAS database in Berkshire.

First of is our little Saxon fella; the Early-Medieval copper-alloy Anglo-Saxon gesture figurine.

BERK-0929C9 Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
CC License

It fits within a small (but slowly growing) repertoire of 7th century 3-dimensional figurines from south and east England, mainly along the eastern seaboard. It is interesting that the penis is generally depicted as flaccid, a common theme with Anglo-Saxon male figures, unlike contemporary figurines in Scandinavia. I wonder whether his parts are covered with tight trousers. If he is wearing knee-high boots this might be the case.

Next up this this amazingly complete, and quite large copper-alloy Roman Colchester Derivative Harlow type brooch.

BERK-09BE20 Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
CC License

It is perhaps interesting on this example that the pin has a different patination and doesn’t sit in the wings snuggly. It might be that it isn’t the original pin.

The PAS records a lot of coins, but this was my first of James VI. Dated to AD1601-1603 Obverse: crowned shield containing the royal coat of arms IACO[BVS.6.D.G.S]COTO[RVM]. Reverse: Crowned Thistle. [REGEM IOVA PROTEGIT]. There is some potential deliberate bending of the coin perhaps as a love token but this is unclear.

BERK-860964 Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
CC License

Another first was recording this Post-Medieval puzzle ring. Similar puzzle-rings have been recorded on the PAS database, such as BH-DCD252 (also with one ring decorated), WMID-68CAA3 and NARC-A7D326

BERK-8A60A1 Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
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These, in general, are not reported as treasure as they mostly date to the are not common before the 18th century and so on the balance of probabilities it is likely that none of them are old enough to qualify. However, There is at least one puzzle-ring that has been reported as Treasure, published in the Treasure Annual Report 2005/6, 171, fig. 880. Judy Rudoe’s report makes it clear that without contextual or stylistic evidence to date a puzzle-ring to before 1715, they do not qualify as Treasure. She dates the Ilam ring to the 18th or 19th century, and this date is also appropriate for this ring.

Next is this Early Medieval gilt brooch. 

BERK-1AF26A Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
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The brooch is circular with a small break around the edge. The front has a raised central knop surrounded by a recessed ring, further surrounded by a raised ring of decoration.  It looks like pseudo lettering suggesting that this is a late Anglo-Saxon nummular brooch. It is similar to a ‘rosette’ issue of Eadgar (AD959-975) but is missing a small cross in the centre.

Lastly is this strange object. 

BERK-34A033 Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
CC License

The object is cylindrical and slightly curved. The whole object is shaped like a sea beast with it’s mouth wide open. The narrow end is broken and the wider end has a small but shallow hole. Its uncertain what this object is.

For a special Finds Friday I am heading to Silchester today to talk to some of the students about finds archaeology and life as a FLO. It has been a while since I have visited and even longer since I excavated there. Can’t wait to see what has been occuring.

Museum Musings – June 2021

This week has been Musuems Week with a social media hashtag each day. At West Berkshire Museum there is a large display of objects relating to the English Civil War as in Newbury there were two large Civil War battles. The First Battle of Newbury (September 20th 1643) and the Second Battle of Newbury (October 27th 1644). The first battle is a registered battlefield in the area around Shaw House, but the second battle took in large swathes of the area stretching from Thatcham to Donnington.

Civil War display in West Berkshire Museum
Our Civil War Soldier #CaptionThisMW

There are many finds on the PAS that could be associated with the battles. There is this complete copper alloy signet ring of post-medieval date. The finger ring has a sub-circular bezel with a crude engraving.


BERK-CD96DE Rights Holder: Oxfordshire County Council
CC License

The imagery on the shield is interesting, as is the findspot and its association with the English Civil War; the border between Great Shefford and Leckhampstead may have been the location of a skirmish in c. AD 1644, and local legend says that Charles I stayed in Shefford before the Battle of Newbury in the same year. The design on the signet ring, in the form of the shield and the design, is reminiscent of Commonwealth pennies issued between AD 1649-1660. The Arms of the Commonwealth (cojoined shields with the arms of St George and the Irish harp) was in use between May 1649 and 1655, after which a new Arms of the Commonwealth encorporating the Scottish saltire was issued. This type of finger ring would be correct for the 17th century, so it may have belonged to someone of Parliamentarian or Commonwealth loyalty during this period.

BERK-6A0C1A Rights Holder: Berkshire Archaeology
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One clear indicator of the second battle is musket balls. Many of these are found in tight clusters suggesting military engagements. One particular site has yielded a total of over 80 shot of various calibre. Measurement – Diameter of the top right = 12.8mm, Average weight of collection = 10.62gm. Total weight = 233.1gm.

West Berkshire Museum is open Wednesday to Saturday 10am – 4pm

Find of the Month – May 2021

This month I’ve been back meeting finders for the first time since late 2020 and some very interesting finds have been brought in for identification and recording. A fair few finds have been brought in but so recently I haven’t had much time to put this one together. However, there is one find which really stands out.

It is this complete Colchester derivative Harlow type brooch, found on The Ridgeway, which very rarely survive this complete. The patina on the bow is quite different from the spring and it doesn’t sit very well in the head. It could possibly be a replacement for a broken pin.

Photo by the author

It is difficult to tell without a material analysis and even then we don’t know whether the same alloy was used for both the bow and pin when it was originally made. Perhaps the spring was made from a cheaper alloy so more good material could be used for the bow.

These chunky brooches were ones called ‘dolphin’ brooches. However, the name we use for them now is Colchester Derivative, looking like Colchester type brooches but having chunkier proportions. The three main types are the Rearhook, Harlow and Polden Hill

The Rearhook s defined as having a spring held in place by a rear-facing hook. This method of holding the spring was flimsy and was often modified, presumably after a break or failure. Solder was often used for repair or reinforcement. Rearhooks are often quite highly decorated.

SF-8F9B42 Rights Holder: Suffolk County Council
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The Harlow, as the one I received recently,  has wings which are semi-cylindrical and open at the reverse. In the centre is a plate (usually called a ‘lug’) pierced with two holes, the upper one to hold the chord and the lower one to hold the axis bar. The lug is usually shaped around the holes, so is sometimes considered as two lugs, one above the other. The line of the lug often continues over the head and down onto the bow as a central crest, reminiscent of the forward-facing hook of the Colchester.

BUC-401B71 Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
CC License

The Polden Hill is defined by having the axis bar held at each end. This is normally by means of a pierced circular plate at the outer end of each wing (often called ‘wing caps’), but there is also a group of brooches (Mackreth’s ‘Eastern Group’, CD PH 6), where the wing ends are formed into short cylinders. Fixing the axis bar, spring and pin in this way was more secure than the other Colchester Derivative methods.

BERK-830663 Rights Holder: The British Museum CC License
CC License

There are multiple variations on the theme and these are also split into multiple subtypes.

You can read more about all the types of brooches we record here

Museum Musings May 2021 – Same Again Samian

Samian ware is one of the most common finds on Roman sites, but on the PAS it is fairly uncommon. This is largely because it is ceramic and not picked up by a metal detector.

Roman pottery in West Berkshire Museum

Samian was produced in several areas of modern day France and Germany.  Based forms, makers stamps and decoration it can be determined when and where they are from. Given this precision it is the best object for dating archaeological sites, as it is far more abundant than coinage.

Samian ware on the PAS

Samian is found in every region and from almost the whole Roman period. In Britain, forms have been found produced between the late 1st century BC and the mid-3rd century.

Pattern of Samian imports to Britannia during the Roman period

Samian stamps are often found on the inside of the vessel stamped on the base, but they can also be found on the underside of the base and sometimes around the sides in the decoration. This base sherd from a a Samian ware cup, dating to the period AD 145-175 has maker’s stamp on the base, identified by Paul Booth as die 3a of Albucius II of Lezoux, France, a major centre for Samian production in central Gaul. The form is likely to be a small cup – Dragendorff 33 (see British Museum Collection 1937,0316.2 for a complete example).

Samian ware vessel from Oxfordshire

Because it is not metal, there is approximately a ratio of 1:125 (Samian sherds : Roman coins) on the database. So when you are out metal detecting if you find Samian, or indeed pottery of any period, bring it in with your finds to record. 

You’ll also be able to be able to visit West Berkshire Museum from Wednesday May 19th when we reopen https://www.westberkshireheritage.org/west-berkshire-museum

Finds of the Month – April 2021

After a couple of weeks away from the blog I’m back with finds of the month. The good news is that I’ll be able to see these shortly as I will be meeting finders from the end of May.

There were few finds in this month but that is because I am preparing to see more in person. One rather interesting find was this Roman object. 

Photo courtesy of the finder

From Martin Henig “From the front it looks like a helmet for Minerva, appropriate for all sorts of tools as Minerva usually has a plumed helmet. Alternatively it could be Mercury’s floppy petasos but a petasos does not usually have a peak. On balance it is probably Mercury.

There is a heavy  moulding around front and sides but not at the back, and it was not intended to be seen there.  Below the object  curves away and, despite iron staining, whether part of the object in some sort of way or not, it shows a phallus with glans, curving in the way of the phallus on the gladiator tintinnabulum.”

The object is unlikely to be a tintinnabulum but what it is is unclear. One suggestion is a tap terminal.

In other news I will be meeting with finders again from May 19th. 

Unless otherwise stated it dates and places will be:

1st Saturday and 3rd Wednesday of the month – West Berkshire Museum

Copyright West Berkshire Museum 

2nd Thursday of the month – Maidenhead Heritage Centre

4th Thursday of the month – Berkshire record office.

Photo courtesy of the Berkshire Record Office 

Appointments can be books up to a week in advance at the following link. https://calendly.com/philip-smither1/finds-surgery-west-berkshire-museum?month=2021-04

Museum Musings – April 2021

Somehow I can’t believe it is already April! This month looking in the West Berkshire Museum archive I came across the Yattendon Hoard.

It is made up of a total of 57 bronze objects, tools and weapons discovered in 1876 during excavations instigated by Alfred Waterhouse for the foundations of the mansion Yattendon Court on the top of the hill west of the village of Yattendon.

The hoard of bronze objects were lying together; there was no sign of their being enclosed in a vase or box and the surrounding gravel was stained a greenish colour. The objects lay approx 18in below the level of the sod in gravel which had been subjected to a heating action although none of the implements showed the same damage. The bulk of the material belongs to the Late Bronze Age however a flat axe of the Early Bronze Age is also present along with palstaves of the Middle Bronze Age and spearheads of Middle Bronze Age type.

It isn’t the only hoard from West Berkshire. The Lambourne Hoard from the Middle Bronze Age hoard consists of two twisted arm/neck ornaments and three penannular bracelets (BERK-6863E4; BERK-683F91; BERK-6870F5; BERK-83AC41, BERK-687927).

BERK-687927

The former are coiled (either because they could more easily be buried, or because they were worn on the arms). They both have four-flange twisted bodies, and plain terminals which expand gently towards the ends. The terminals are doubled back. One is more slender than the other. These will be referred to as ‘armlets’, to distinguish them from the bracelets. Of the three bracelets, two are relatively slender the other is thicker. This last has terminals which almost meet; the other two have wider gaps. Composition: The analysis gave an estimate of 82% of gold content, except of the smaller armlet which was 79%.

BERK-687927

Associations of the two types of object represented in this hoard are well known. Both being to well-documented classes of ornament belonging to the Middle Bronze Age, circa 1300-1100BC. This is reinforced by the analyses, which accord well with other objects of this class and date.

These two hoards are currently on display at West Berkshire Museum and can be seen when we reopen at the end of May.

Another Middle Bronze age hoard, but this time from Windsor and Maidenhead comprises a double-strand, twisted gold wire ornament with plain loop terminals, coiled and threaded with four double composite rings and one single ring all of c-shaped cross section. One of these was found separately and reattached to the ornament by the finder.

BERK-A5FFE5

Another example of a gold bracelet threaded with pennannular rings was recorded from northeast Norfolk (Treasure Annual Report 2004, p22 No.6), and both single and composite rings have been recorded separately by the PAS (e.g. IOW-1F5D46). 

Composite rings have been found singly and associated with other gold personal ornaments. They may also be found linked together. In Britain they may be dated by association to the Middle Bronze Age. In common with some other gold ornament types they are also found in Ireland and France though they appear to be rarer in Ireland. At Stretham, Cambridgeshire six composite rings were found threaded onto a penannular bracelet; a twisted neck ornament and a bronze rapier were found in association. A Treasure find from North East Norfolk (2004/T81) comprised a plain loop of thick gold wire threaded with seven composite and two simple rings.

A Token Gesture – Berkshire Trade Tokens

To deal with a lack of small denominations in the regal coinage during and after the civil war, civic institutions and individual business people issued copper-alloy tokens between 1648 and 1672 (1679 in Ireland); the end date resulting from the reintroduction of farthings in copper alloy by Charles II (PAS Tokens Guide).

On the PAS database there is 124 copper-alloy tokens of Post-Medieval date and most will be of this period.

From Berkshire, the most common token is that of the Borough of Newbury. There is around 50 examples of these, with over 60% coming from West Berkshire. However, some are found in the surrounding counties and there are examples as far away as Warwickshire and the Isle of Wight.

The token consists of a obverse reading BOROVGH OF NEWBRY with a castle with three turrets. The reverse reads IN COVNTY OF BERKS, BN with 1657 in the centre.

SUR-138C84cCopyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

Tokens issued by individual businesses tell us the name and sometimes the type of business. Pub/Inn tokens are pretty common and this token was issued by Reynold Thornborough, vintner of the Bull’s Head in Broad Street, Reading. Obverse: a bull’s head, *REYNOLD THORNBROVGH. Reverse: R • T, VINTNER IN READING.

SUR-53944D Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

They are not always round either. There is this heart shaped token dating to 1669 by Michael Williams of The Dyers’ Arms in Wantage. The obverse has a shield in the centre which comprises a three motifs and a chevron. Obverse: MICHAEL WILLIAMS / HIS HALFE PENY, Reverse: OF WANTINGE DIER 1669 / The Dyers’ Arms

BERK-FDE88E Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

There are tokens from Berkshire for multiple other services. This worn token of Henry Whitell of Reading, dated AD1656 depicts a dairymaid holding a plunger shaft in a churn, possibly churning butter HENRY WHITELL / [IN] READING.

OXON-8E0436 Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

This farthing trade token dating to AD 1652 was issued by John Naish of Newbury, who is noted as a grocer on his token but is also recorded as churchwarden in AD 1659.

BERK-B9C7E4 Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

Another common business is grocers and this token was issued by grocer William Sweetaple [SIC] of Andover, Winchester in AD1655. Like any coinage, trade tokens travelled, like this one, and others from further afield have been found in Berkshire.

Trade tokens aren’t a phenomena isolated to the Civil War period, as those Roman, Medieval and Post-Civil war periods, and they could be equated with the shop vouchers we use today.

You can read our guide to tokens here as well as see more from Berkshire

Finds of the Month – March 2021

Still working through lockdown and receiving objects through email, but that hasn’t stopped some rather interesting finds coming in.

Most recently is this copper-alloy Roman object. I say object because at around 40mm it is too big to be a sestersius. The portrait appears to be Antonine in date and could be of Faustina, the daughter of Antoninus Pius and wife of Marcus Aurelius. A double sesersius has been suggested but this would need to be a century later with a radiate bust.

It could be a medallion but it appears more as a coin. It is also unusually squared with rounded corners. This one is still undergoing research and seeing it in person should reveal more.

Next up is a decorative Roman vessel escutcheon of 1st – 2nd century date. It appears to be in the form of a Maenad, a follower of the God Bacchus, and would have likely been attached by lead melted in the back as there is no other clear sign of attachment.

This next item is rather interesting. It is most likely a pommel for a late Iron Age or early Roman dagger as it appears too small for a sword. There are some very typical types of sword and dagger pommels from the period but also some more unusual. Only received this one this week, so I’ll be doing some more research

There was also two coins which were a first for me to record, both 17th century Commonwealth coins. Both were either damaged or cut but there were enough features to identify them as a shilling (above) and a penny (below). Both feature conjoined shields of St. George and Ireland with mark of value XII (Shilling) and I (Penny) above with a sun initial mark.

Finally is this wild boar carved from wood. It is unclear how old it is as wood doesn’t preserve well unless in the right conditions. It is one big pig and it will be fun trying to find out more about it.

As always thanks to the finders for their photographs. I’ll be seeing all of these objects in person in the middle of the year to confirm the identification and get them fully recorded.