Museum Musings – September 2021

One of the earliest treasure finds acquired by West Berkshire Museum is this Anglo-Saxon zoomorphic terminal made of silver and partly gilded from Near West Ilsey. The terminal is hollow-cast, with a pyramidal socket of rectangular section which would perhaps originally have held a wooden rod. On the narrower sides are two 4mm-long tapering extensions, which could have accommodated ridges on the rod. These are also zoomorphic, and although worn, the shape of the muzzles, the eyes and upright ears can still be made out. A single large silver rivet with a rounded head is still in situ across the socket, running between the wider sides of the rectangle.

The tapering end is in the shape of an animal head, probably intended to represent a dragon. Seen from above, there are large drop-shaped eyes which taper into spirals. These spirals may be intended as ears; they turn inwards and then outwards again to end in two lobes which hang down the sides of the terminal. The contour of the eyes, the eye sockets, spirals and lobes are all gilded. Above the ears is the domed head of the rivet.

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The long muzzle of the animal is divided in half by a gentle ridge running along the top, with three curving grooves on either side. Two very elongated nostrils fill in the space at the end of the top of the muzzle; the nostrils and the curving grooves are gilded. The mouth is a bold, slightly curving line along each side of the terminal, ending above what may be a protruding rolled-up tongue.

Early Medieval finds are not a common occurrence in West Berkshire with fewer than 200 being recorded. Many will be familiar with the little gesture figurine from near Kintbury, but there are some other interesting finds.

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Early Medieval brooches feature most commonly and one of the most interesting is this A cast copper-alloy brooch of cross-on-bird form dating to the middle early-medieval period.

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The brooch is in the shape of a bird, possibly a dove (symbol of the Holy Spirit), in profile and facing left with a Christian cross projecting upwards from the centre of its back. The bird has a rounded head with slightly downward-pointing beak, and crude but discernable representations of a folded wing (in slightly higher relief), tail and two feet. Linear scores have been used to represent feathers. Between the feet (which are joined) is a drilled hole, possibly to aid fixing to a garment, or possibly for the suspension of another element of the brooch that is now missing. The cross is of Greek shape and decorated with a groove running longitudinally along each arm. There are the remains of a thin, green-yellow coating over the bird and cross, possibly enamelling.

Perhaps surprisingly strap-ends, rather than coins, come a close second. This Early Medieval copper-alloy strap end belonging to Thomas’ Class A1 from near Brightwalton has four panels of Trewhiddle-inspired decoration divided by a curving saltire infilled with lines. Remains of an apparent inlay survive. The strap end has a zoomorphic terminal with an engraved saltire on the snout.

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Finally, one of the least common finds is mounts from hanging bowls. This copper alloy circular mount or escutcheon, from near Welford, probably from an Early Medieval hanging bowl dating to the period c. AD 500 – 650. It is a flat disc with a sunken front face surrounded by a raised border in the centre is a triskele design in relief that has three crescent shaped arms that spiral out form a central point. There are multiple others on the database, but this is the only one from West Berkshire.

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Finds of the Month – August 2021

This months Finds of the Month isn’t focusing so much on individual finds as it is one particular find type founds in the Parish of Speen.

The First and Second Battles of Newbury during the English Civil war were key turning points for both sides. The second battle stretched right from the Parliamentarian camp west of Thatcham to the Parish of Speen, with some engagements at Oxford.

Over a long period of time, a large group of musket balls has been found in a small area of Speen suggesting they were from engagements between the Parliamentarians and Royalists.

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As the battlefield is heavily urbanised, it is often difficult to see and archaeological evidence of the battle. That was until these musket balls, and now another 30 or so were recorded this past month.

This new collection of musket balls show signs of firing and again fall in an equally small area of Speen. These to areas, very close to each other, look to show exactly where the two sides engaged.

Plan of the battle (Walter Money and C.K.K. (1879); Whiteman and Bass Photo-Lithography, High Holborn, London – Money, Walter (1884), “List of the Plans and Illustrations”, in The first and second battles of Newbury and the siege of Donnington Castle during the Civil War, 1643-6, London: Simpkin, Marshall, page 212 (facing)

The battle plan was drawn up decades after the battle and is, by its very nature, static. The area from which these musket balls came adds some animation to the battle map and possible shows how and where each side met in part of Speen.

Unless a battlefield is well known and has been archaeologically investigated, it is often difficult to see them in the archaeology. By reporting these finds to the PAS, these finders have added more knowledge to the narrative of the battle.

Museum Musings – August 2021

A new exhibition has opened recently in West Berkshire Museum celebrating togetherness.

Exhibition: Together

What does ‘being together’ mean? The exhibition explores the courtship and matrimonial traditions of a small group of people living in West Berkshire, who are from diverse cultural backgrounds.

One of the most common finds, but still relatively uncommon, possibly celebrating  togetherness is “Crown and Heart” motif cufflinks and buttons.

One of these buttons, found near Beech Hill, was acquired by West Berkshire Museum and is currently on display in the hoards gallery. SUR-C21661

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Based on the typology by Michael Lewis, this is a Type A: Crown above two hearts. It is generally thought that the ‘crown and heart’ device on such buttons commemorates the marriage of King Charles II (r. 1660–85) to Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705) in 1662 (Gaimster & Thornton 2003, 81), but little evidence has been offered to support thistheory (Lewis, 2013: 3).

Another design is Type D: Clasped hands, raised above flaming hearts. This example BH-74F159 was found near Padworth, West Berkshire. Such cufflinks were popular from the second half of the 17th century, when Continental forms of shirt became popular (Lewis, 2013: 6)

BH-74F159

Finds of these cufflink types are made of silver and as such are legally reported to the PAS under the Treasure Act.

The Together exhibition is on display in West Berkshire Museum from 19 May 2021 – 12 June 2022.
Opening Hours: Wednesday to Saturday 10am – 4pm.

Refs:

Gaimster, D R M and Thornton, D, 2003, ‘Rochester, Kent: post-medieval button’ in R Bland and L Voden-Decker (eds.) Treasure Annual Report 2001, London: Department of Culture, Media and Sport, 81.

Lewis M, 2013. ‘Crown and Heart’ Buttons and Cufflinks, The Finds Research Group AD700-1700, Datasheet 46.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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