New PAS Cymru website goes live!

Medieval silver brooch fashioned from a groat of  King Edward I (NMGW-45F745).
Medieval silver brooch found in Pembrokeshire and acquired by NMGW. Licence: CC-BY

The new website for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales (PAS Cymru) has launched. As well as providing a wealth of information about the Scheme in Wales and how to report your finds, you can also follow their fantastic blog and find out more about the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories project. Bendigedig!

Rutland County Pages launched!

We’re pleased to announce the launch of our Rutland County Pages. Rutland is our smallest county but it is packed with archaeology, from the Upper Palaeolithic hyena den to coin hoards from the civil war. Learn more about visiting Rutland’s heritage sites or explore archaeological finds from Rutland reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Wendy Scott is the Finds Liaison Officer for Rutland. She is supported by a fantastic team of volunteers and student placements who photograph and record finds, carry out research and much more. Read more about the team here.

Watch this space for more blog posts about volunteering, finds, events and more from Rutland.

Early medieval silver strap-end with animal decoration
Early medieval silver strap-end with animal decoration

Gunpowder, treason and plot

It’s Bonfire Night tomorrow so we’ve uncovered 5 fabulous finds from the PAS database to help you remember, remember, the 5th November!

 

Silver Sixpence of James I (LEIC-0ED383)

Silver sixpence of James I, dated 1605.

Dated 1605, the year of the Gunpowder Plot, this is a particularly fine example of a James I sixpence. It has the Royal Coat of Arms on one side and the crowned bust of the almost-unfortunate King on the other. As well as the Gunpowder Plot, James I had to contend with two earlier plots against him, despite having a more moderate attitude towards Catholics than his predecessor.

 

Decade Ring (LON-F30014)

Post-medieval gold decade ring.

Although James I was reasonably tolerant towards Catholics in his early reign, recusancy – or the refusal to take part in Anglican worship – was still a punishable crime. In some cases, adherence to Catholicism resulted in the death penalty. Decade rings like this one were a discreet way for Catholics to practice their faith. The ten ‘bumps’ on the ring represent the ten prayers that make up the Rosary and were used to keep count of the number of Hail Marys said.

 

Powder Measure (HAMP2710)

Post-medieval lead-alloy powder measure

Lead-alloy powder chargers like this one were used to measure the appropriate amount of gunpowder for loading into a musket. Guy Fawkes was an experienced soldier who fought for Spain in a number of conflicts. It is thought that he gained his knowledge of gunpowder and explosives from his time as a solider and he may well have used a powder measure like this one during his service.

 

Pilgrim Badge (LON-6FABC6)

Late medieval pilgrim badge in the shape of a Catherine Wheel.

This medieval pilgrim badge is in the shape of a Catherine Wheel. According to Christian tradition, Catherine of Alexandria (later St. Catherine) was condemned to torture upon a spiked ‘breaking wheel’. However, when she touched the wheel it flew into pieces. Subsequently, such devices became known as Catherine Wheels and it is from this that the popular firework gets its name.

 

Hedgehog Belt Mount (LEIC-E45175)

Medieval belt mount in the shape of a hedgehog.

This medieval belt mount is in the shape of a hedgehog. Such mounts were used to decorate leather belts and came in a wide range of shapes and styles. The humble hedgehog might seem an odd decorative choice but they do appear in many medieval manuscripts and even on some coats of arms. And remember, if you’re having a bonfire tomorrow, don’t forget to check inside for hedgehogs before you light it!

Devilish Discoveries and Frightening Finds

In the spirit of Halloween (pun intended), we’ve delved into the database for some of our more ‘spooky’ finds. From superstitious shoes to ghoulish jewellery, we’ve pulled together six of our best supernatural-themed items for your eerie enjoyment. Read on… if you dare!

 

PIPE TAMPER (DENO-OC6CC4)

 

Tampers like this one have a flat end for tamping down tobacco in the bowl of the pipe. It could also be used for crushing the ash to make relighting easier. This little devil has a fearsome pair of horns and is holding his leg across the knee in the style of the Lincoln Imp.

 

WITCH BOTTLE (LIN-49FC12)

 

Post-medieval witch bottle with contents

Witch bottles were prevalent across England from the 17th century, especially in East Anglia where superstition and belief in witches was strong. These bottles were supposed to protect against evil spirits and spells directed at the supposed victim. The bottles contained items like hair, nail clippings, pins, needles and sometimes even the urine of the intended victim. It was then often buried in a fireplace, under the floor or plastered into the wall, its power remaining active for as long as it remained hidden. Early witch bottles were of the Bellarmine jug type whereas later examples like this were glass.

CHILD’S SHOE (LANCUM-76D192)

 

Post-medieval child's clog

This child’s clog was discovered hidden within the fabric of a wall. Much like the witch bottles, the practice of placing a shoe within the structure of a house was once widespread, particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is thought they were either to ward off evil spirits or to deflect curses. Given the fact that this one is a child’s shoe, it most likely relates to a Lancashire tradition of hiding the shoes to prevent the child being swapped for a fairy child.

 

MEMENTO MORI (DENO-D3E954 and LIN-5AF0C0)

 

Gold ring with skull image

Seal matrix depicting a skeleton

These objects, with their skeletal imagery, are both examples of memento mori. In Christian tradition, these were used to emphasise the emptiness and fleetingness of earthly pleasures, and as reminder to focus one’s thoughts on the prospect of the afterlife. Small, portable items such as these two examples were often carried by individuals as a reminder of their own mortality. With its skeleton and hourglass symbol, the seal matrix really emphasises the message of death and passing time.

 

FOSSILISED OYSTER SHELL (SWYOR-96E960)

 

Fossilised oyster shell

The common name for these extinct oysters is “Devil’s toenails”. This wonderfully graphic name is due to their gnarled, curved shape and people once believed they were made as the Devil clipped his toenails. There used to be a common belief that carrying one of these fossils could prevent rheumatism so they often crop up in archaeological contexts.

Introducing Lauren Speed

Hello! Just thought I’d take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Lauren and I am the new Outreach Officer for the PASt Explorers project. I’m based at the Central Unit in the British Museum but you’ll see plenty of me out and about at the training sessions and other outreach events! In the meantime, if you’ve got any questions about the project please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’m really excited to be involved in PASt Explorers and look forward to hearing from (and hopefully meeting) you over the course of the project.