Mending and making do?

Some of the objects recorded by the PAS might be considered to have something of a more direct or immediate link to the people of the past. This might be considered the case for personalised objects which are engraved with people’s names, or decorated with heraldry, for example. There are other objects whose biography is apparent through the evidence of any alterations they have received.

Medieval buckle (BUC-550336)
Medieval buckle (BUC-550336). Copyright: Buckinghamshire County Council. License: CC-BY.

An object whose extended life use caught the eye recently is a medieval buckle found in Central Bedfordshire (BUC-550336). The type of buckle is interesting in its own right and of approximately 12th-century date. However, its prime interest here is as an example of a repaired object, presumably because it was considered to be both useful and important to its wearer.

Medieval buckle (LVPL-7BD375)
Medieval buckle (LVPL-7BD375). Copyright: National Museums Liverpool. License: CC-BY.

Before turning to the evidence for repair of the object itself, we can consider an almost complete example of this type of buckle found in Scopwick, Lincolnshire (LVPL-7BD375). It would have had three bars extending from its attachment end, each once terminating in a circular expansion to take a rivet. The rivets that survive are made from iron. Coming back to our buckle, looking very closely we can see the vestiges of the three ‘bars’ at the attachment end where they survive on the Lincolnshire example. We can therefore speculate that these relatively weak extensions at one point broke off, perhaps all of them, perhaps not. To ensure that the buckle could again be attached to the strap, the user made two new holes, one at each corner of the attachment end. We can also tell that these were new at the time because they travelled through the decoration at these points. One hole was furnished with a new copper-alloy rivet with a square rove; we cannot tell whether the other rivet had a rove because it was made of something different – iron, which has survived far less well. Presumably, once fixed, the attachment end was neatened, with any surviving bars removed and tidied up.

Through close examination of an object we can delve into its life history, and get closer to its owner. In the case of this buckle there seems to have been a need to prolong its life, be it for practical or more personal reasons. Although the loss of the buckle’s pin could represent post-depositional damage, it may have been that when the pin broke that this previously cared for buckle was finally discarded. With this, though, we move further from observation and more into the realms of speculation.

Ouch! Medieval preemptive measures against pain (or even sudden death!)

In an excellent (if slightly unsettling) post Helen Geake considered some of the objects recorded by the PAS that relate to medical care. Between the Roman scalpels and the late post-medieval dental plates discussed, there was a rather large gap of time (of course eminently forgivable in a short blog!).  Here, then, I consider the medieval period and show a few personal objects which aimed to guard preemptively against ill health, rather than deal with the pain once it had arrived.

Gold medieval Tebal finger-ring (ESS-53A9B2, above). Silver medieval Tebal finger-ring (SF-B2AA47, below).
Gold medieval Tebal finger-ring (ESS-53A9B2, above). Silver medieval Tebal finger-ring (SF-B2AA47, below). Copyright: Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service (above)/Suffolk County Council (below). License: CC-BY.

My curiousity was aroused by two objects on the PAS database which feature the ‘magical words’ ‘Tebal’ and ‘gut’.  Used in combination in the phrase ‘Tebal, gut, guttani’, this was a Hebraic charm thought to protect against ill-health, fever or toothache (Dalton 1912, 135).  Both of the objects bearing variant spellings of this charm were finger-rings dated to the medieval period, one in gold, the other in silver (shown above).

These two finger-rings prompt a brief excursion into object identification and dating.  Finger-rings of octagonal form, as noted by the recorder of one of these objects, are rare in the medieval period; polygonal hoops are more often documented from the Roman period where they are there classified as Guiraud Type 9.  It is both the nature of the inscription and the form of the lettering which dates these finger-rings firmly in the medieval period; the facets on these rings presumably made for easier engraving. Two examples in the collection of the British Museum are dated respectively to the 13th and 14th centuries (Dalton 1912, 37, 135; nos 218, 866), the dating attributed to the examples on this database.  However, as Tebal rings have been found in 12th-century graves on the Continent we should perhaps not rule out an earlier date for our examples.

Silver medieval cross pendant engraved 'AGLA' (YORYM-FF8193)
Silver medieval cross pendant engraved ‘AGLA’ (YORYM-FF8193). Copyright: York Museums Trust. License: CC-BY.

The presence of two of the continental Tebal rings in the graves of, respectively, a bishop and a king, taken together with their general fewness among examples reported through the PAS, suggests that this charm had restricted use among the highest echelons of society.  By contrast, other invocations seem to have had greater social penetration, although one cannot push the point too far: many of these were borne by objects made of precious metal (and therefore Treasure).  Far more common than ‘Tebal’ is ‘AGLA’, Latin-letter equivalents for the first four letters of the Hebrew ‘Thou art mighty for ever, O Lord’ (Hinton 2005, 191).  This was used as a protection against sickness or sudden death.  It is known on the PAS database on numerous cross pendants and brooches – objects worn at the neck – as well as finger-rings (which could also have been worn attached to ribbon around the neck (Standley 2013, 80, 89)).  Slightly less common, we have examples which quote the names of the Three Kings, thought to combat the ‘falling sickness’ (epilepsy), among other maladies (Hinton 2005, 191; Standley 2013, 80).

Silver medieval brooch bearing the names of the Three Kings (IOW-336352)
Silver medieval brooch bearing the names of the Three Kings (IOW-336352). Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme. License: CC-BY.

Such Hebrew, or pseudo-Hebrew, charms sat within a far wider use of conventional religious invocations – to Jesus and the Virgin Mary – which could also serve a protective function; religion and healing were inseparable aspects of medieval life (Standley 2013, 79).  As tempting as the medieval preemptive approach may have been to health, though, I’d rather take my chances with today’s doctors and dentists!

A rare complete medieval stirrup

Medieval stirrup
Medieval stirrup from Buckinghamshire (BUC-1A3216) © Buckinghamshire County Museum

A complete medieval stirrup has been recorded from Quainton in Buckinghamshire.  Contributing to the record was Helen, a local volunteer, Ros, the then FLO for Buckinghamshire, and Rob from the PASt Explorers team.  The record can be found on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database here: BUC-1A3216. This type of stirrup is relatively rare, though it is even rarer for examples to survive intact.

This stirrup has been deformed, but retains all of its elements.  At the top a cover plate protects the bar around which the stirrup strap would have been looped.  Below this plate, the sides are engraved with diagonal lines to give a ropework effect.  At the bottom of the stirrup is an expanded foot rest with a decorated lip at the front whose ridges rather nicely echo the decorative ridges on the cover plate above.

As noted, it is rare for complete stirrups of this sort to come down to us through history.  We now have between 40 and 50 fragments of stirrups like this recorded on the Portable Antquities Scheme database.  Mostly cover plates have been recovered, but also some foot rests.  It is hoped that this post might help in the identification of further fragments of such stirrups, which can be quite difficult to identify by themselves.

As might be expected, almost all stirrups of this type recorded through the Portable Antiquities Scheme are made of copper alloys.  The type is known in wrought iron, however: a single example has been recorded from Wiltshire, WILT-B72FF6, while another is known archaeologically from Salisbury (Schuster et al. 2012 ‘Objects of iron’, in P. Saunders (ed.), p. 199; fig. 59, no. 289). Such archaeological examples give a date for stirrups of this type in the 14th or 15th century.

Thought reasonably rare, the spread of stirrups like this is wide and covers the entire country.  It is therefore to be expected that examples carrying the same trefoil shaped cut outs in the cover plate come from as counties as spread out as Hampshire (HAMP-46A675), Leicestershire (LEIC-892CC1), and Cheshire (LVPL-316327).

We look forward to hearing of further examples, fragmentary or complete!

20,000 Self-recorded Database Records

A landmark has been reached this week with the addition of the 20,000th record on the PAS database recorded under a PUBLIC- prefix.  The facility to record your own finds directly onto the PAS database has been around since March 2010, and to have reached this total in just over six years is remarkable. I would like to use this post to thank the hundreds of volunteers who collectively have contributed to achieving this total. I hope that you are enjoying some of the training and support offered by the PASt Explorers project since we began in late 2014!

Medieval to post-medieval pilgrim badge depicting St George and the dragon
Medieval to post-medieval pilgrim badge depicting St George and the dragon (PUBLIC-48C99B). Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme. License: CC-BY

Although many volunteers support their Finds Liaison Officers in the reporting of their own finds, many others have helped out on specific projects. Among these projects, the Clodgy Moor Environs Lithic Recording Project in West Cornwall accounts for much of the stunning total of Mesolithic and Neolithic flints recorded by PUBLIC recorders.  More recently, a trio of self-recorders have been helping London FLO Kate Sumnall to document the findings of this year’s Greenwich Foreshore Survey, organised by Historic England on a Scheduled Ancient Monument in their care. Amongst the 100 or so finds recovered this year is this stunningly delicate foil pilgrim badge depicting St George and the dragon (PUBLIC-48C99B), while many  other discoveries “reflected the everyday life of the area”, Kate reports.

And so to the 20,000th record itself. As things stand it is a sixpence of Elizabeth I, which is just the sort of record which really helps the FLOs with their huge workloads. Why not take a look at some of the records being created by our volunteers; a proportion are still being worked on and will be available for viewing in the future. If you would like to be involved yourself please get in touch with your local FLO to find out more.


‘Beyond the Vale of York’ conference – Saturday 11th July, York

On Saturday 11th July a fascinating day conference on coin hoarding will take place in York.  The joint meeting of the Royal Numismatic Society and the British Numismatic Society will discuss hoarding from the Iron Age all the way through to the Stuart kings of the 17th century.  Proceedings will start at 10.20am at the Yorkshire Museum: booking is essential; the event is free, though admission to the museum will apply.

Vale of York hoard
SWYOR-AECB53: Vale of York hoard
Copyright: British Museum.
Licence: CC-BY.

The list of speakers forms a veritable roll call of Portable Antiquities Scheme volunteers, supporters and staff.  Amongst others, Andrew Woods, former Suffolk Finds Liaison Officer, will be discussing recent research on the Vale of York hoard (SWYOR-AECB53), recently returned to York.  Meanwhile, Eleanor Ghey, former Buckinghamshire and London Finds Liaison Assistant, will be talking about her recent work on hoarding in Roman Britain.  There will also be contributions from current volunteers Carl Savage (Lancashire and Cumbria) and Rachel Cubitt (North and East Yorkshire).  For a full list of speakers see the programme.

The phenomenon of hoarding still prompts so many questions, including: Why were hoards deposited? Where were they deposited?  Why were so many left unrecovered? How did all of these aspects change through time?  This conference promises to be an insight into all of these questions, ones evidently close to the hearts of PAS alumnae and volunteers alike!

King John and Magna Carta

Penny of John
Penny of John, post reform (IOW-619358). Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

In the week marking the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta it is interesting to consider this landmark in archaeological terms. Notably, the current British Library exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy features very few archaeological artefacts, many of which are dated after the events of 1215.  This must be in part due to the difficulty of dating such artefacts precisely, an area of ongoing work by the present author.

papal bulla
Papal bulla of Innocent III (BH-4C32B5). Copyright: St. Albans District Council. Licence: CC-BY.

Seal matrix
Seal matrix of Fulk FitzWarin III (BERK-FDCFD2). Copyright: Oxfordshire County Council. Licence: CC-BY.

However, we stand on firm ground as we consider some of the objects which name various of the ‘cast’ of the Magna Carta story.  There are, for example, almost 3,000 coins attributed to King John on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. Around half of these are fractions: coins deliberately cut in half, for use as halfpennies, or into quarters, for use as farthings.  Notably, a decade before Magna Carta John reformed the coinage leading to coins far neater than those that preceded them.  Once such coin has been converted into a brooch, possibly around the time of Magna Carta (NLM-BF3250).

We also have a dozen lead seals, known as bullae, of Innocent III, the papal incumbent who was to go on to annul Magna Carta in August 1215.  Though there is no seal matrix from any of the signatories of the charter, such as a the wonderful silver matrix of Robert Fitzwalter at the British Museum, the recently recorded matrix of Fulk Fitzwarin III is very similar in its design and of a contemporary: BERK-FDCFD2.  It too is wonderful – try spotting the cross-shaped harness pendants! The object will be discussed more fully in an upcoming post…

Although more work is required to gain a better understanding of the personal possessions of all those affected by the Magna Carta, many would have handled these pennies of John!