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.


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.


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.


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.


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.