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!

PASt Explorers Conference 2016: What Do People Do All Day: The Busy World of Volunteers

The PASt Explorers Conference 2016: What Do People Do All Day: The Busy World of Volunteers is now open for bookings.

This year’s conference celebrates the contribution of volunteers to the PAS through the project. Through PASt Explorers, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), more people are now volunteering with the PAS, undertaking finds-related work, and helping to share knowledge about archaeological finds.

This conference aims to illustrate the diverse nature of the volunteer experience within the PAS and provide the opportunity for volunteers to share these with others, providing inspiration and new perspectives on the contribution to archaeological knowledge and to the history of England and Wales.

The conference will take place on Thursday 29th September 2016, 10.00–16.30 at the Event Space and Lecture Theatre, Merseyside Maritime Museum, Albert Dock, Liverpool Waterfront, Liverpool, L3 4AQ

Admission is free but advance booking is required.

Programme will be available shortly.

To book go to: https://past-explorers-2016.eventbrite.co.uk or call 0207 323 8618.

 

PASt Explorers Volunteers Conference 2016. Save the Date and Call for Talks!

We are currently in the process of organising the forthcoming PASt Explorers Conference in partnership with National Museums Liverpool and would like to invite all PAS Volunteers (and FLOs) to get involved in the following:

What Do People Do All Day? The busy world of volunteers.

Thursday 29th September 2016, 10.00–16.30

Event Space and Lecture Theatre
Merseyside Maritime Museum
Free admission, advance booking required
Tea/coffee provided

The Portable Antiquities Scheme’s 2016 conference celebrates the contribution of volunteers to the PAS through PASt Explorers. Through the PASt Explorers Programme, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), more people are now volunteering with the PAS, undertaking finds-related work, and helping to share knowledge about archaeological finds.

This conference aims to illustrate the diverse nature of the volunteer experience within the PAS and provide the opportunity for volunteers to share these with others, providing inspiration and new perspectives on the contribution to the archaeological narrative.

We are looking for volunteers to speak at the forthcoming PASt Explorers conference in Liverpool in September.

Talks should be 20 minutes long and should cover the following:
• What you imagined it would be like to be a volunteer
• What you imagined you would be doing
• What you are working on, including any special projects
• What you like/dislike about the experience

We are aiming to cover as many different ways of volunteering as possible: in-house and remote volunteering, self-recording, finds recording, blog writing, photography, exhibition developing etc. To do this we would like to hear from lots of different types of volunteer – young, old, those bringing experience to share and those wanting to start out.

Please could you forward this invitation to all your volunteers and self-recorders. Reasonable travel expenses for volunteers and FLOs will be covered by the PASt Explorers project.

Please could any volunteers wishing to talk contact Claire Costin (ccostin@britishmuseum.org / 020 7323 8618) by 31st July 2016 with potential subjects. You just need an idea at this stage and we can provide help with shaping the talks.

Derbyshire County Pages Launched Today

We’re excited to announce the launch of the Derbyshire County Pages, our sixth County Pages site to go live. Derbyshire is home to Cresswell Crags, the famous Palaeolithic caves, and museums that display several impressive coin hoards. Learn more about visiting Derbyshire’s heritage sites or explore archaeological finds from Derbyshire reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Our Derbyshire Finds Liaison Officer, Alastair Willis, who started out as a volunteer himself, is supported by a great team of volunteers to photograph and record finds. Read more about volunteers Sophie, Simon and Roger in their blog posts. Watch this space for more blog posts about volunteering, finds, events and more from Derbyshire.

Anglo-Saxon Mystery Object
Early Medieval Mystery Object DENO-CC9F5F. Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. License: CC-BY

Nottinghamshire’s County Pages Go Live!

We are very pleased to announce the launch of the Nottinghamshire County Pages.

Meet the Nottinghamshire FLO, Alastair and his team of volunteers; explore finds from Nottinghamshire recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, find out about upcoming events, and discover ways to get involved in local archaeology.

We hope you enjoy finding out more about Nottinghamshire’s finds and the fantastic work of Alastair and his volunteers in recording and sharing new discoveries from the county.

 

E6798-page-cockerel

Launch of the Isle Of Wight County Pages

We are very pleased to announce the launch of the Isle of Wight County Pages today, featuring blogs by Isle of Wight FLO, Frank Basford and his volunteer, Vicky, on some beautiful finds from the Isle and their experiences in recording finds.

The Pages also feature upcoming events, ways to get involved in archaeology and local Portable Antiquities Schemes finds from the Isle of Wight.

We hope you enjoy finding out more about the Isle of Wight’s finds and the fantastic work of Frank and his volunteers in recording and sharing new discoveries from the county.

Anglo-Saxon-BRACTEATE-2008-T127-2-1024x578

Festive Finds: PAS Christmas Countdown #12

The Nativity

The story of the Nativity has been represented in many different formats throughout history.The Virgin Mary and child have been depicted in paintings, sculpture and even on more functional objects. It is a story that is known to all across the Christian world and many more beyond that. It’s no surprise that scenes from the Nativity have been used throughout history to not only recount the story but to also serve a much wider purpose.

The Nativity by Hugo van der Goes (c. AD 1440-1482).
The Nativity by Hugo van der Goes (c. AD 1440-1482). License: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The story in summary is as follows: Mary receives word from the Angel Gabriel that she is pregnant with the son of God. Not long after this, Mary and her husband Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to register in the census of Quirinius. At this time, the Roman occupation of Judea called for a record of everyone living in the province by ordering that they return to their town of birth. In the case of Mary, as the wife of Joseph, she had to return to her husband’s town. Being heavily pregnant at the time, Mary made the journey on a donkey or mule. They arrive at Bethlehem to find nowhere to stay. All that was available was a small stable, which would provide nothing more than shelter. It was here that Mary gave birth, placing her child in a manger. The child was named Yeshua (ישוע), which later became Jesus as the story was translated into other languages.

At this time, an angel appeared to shepherds on a nearby hill and announced the birth. Elsewhere, a star is noted as having guided the three Magi (or Wise men) to Bethlehem. These wise men arrive 12 days after Christmas, bringing gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh to the child. However when Herod, king of Judea, hears of the birth of a new messiah, he orders all new-born males to be killed. Thus Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt with their child.

These scenes have persisted in religious iconography throughout history and have been used within the Christian world as a sign of authority and piety. Although aspects of the story of the Nativity have been depicted in a variety of different ways, standards were developed to make the scenes easily recognisable. Medieval seal matrices often depicted scenes from the Nativity and would have most likely belonged to senior officials at monasteries or churches.   Many examples have been recorded on the PAS database showing how these standards of depicting specific scenes developed throughout the Medieval period. Most common are the Virgin Mary and Child designs (WILT-5F2594), with around 54 examples recorded with the PAS alone. Less common scenes include the Star in the sky that guided the three wise men to Bethlehem (SWYOR-457EF7) and the flight to Egypt ( IHS-5084E2).

14th century Virgin and child seal matrix (WILT-5F2594).
14th century Virgin and child seal matrix (WILT-5F2594). Copyright: Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. License: CC-BY
Mary fleeing on a mule with Jesus (IHS-5084E2).
Mary fleeing on a mule with Jesus (IHS-5084E2). Copyright: I. Szymanski. License: CC-BY.
13th century "Star" seal matrix (SWYOR-457EF7).
13th century “Star” seal matrix (SWYOR-457EF7). Copyright: West Yorkshire Archaeology Service. License: CC-BY.

Festive Finds: PAS Christmas Countdown #7

Twelve Days of Christmas

Five Gold Rings, by Anonymous.
Five Gold Rings, by Anonymous. License: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

A popular song at this time of year is “The twelve days of Christmas”. The song was first recorded in English in AD1780 in a book entitled “mirth without mischief”, which was aimed at children as a sort of memory game.  The twelve days relate to the days after Christmas day, leading up to Epiphany on the 6th January. This is the day on which it is believed the three Magi arrived to greet the new-born baby Jesus. It would often be sung as a game of forfeits, with a new item being added with each child that sings. If a child forgot one of the objects in the series, they would have to do a forfeit..

The meaning of the gifts within the song has caused some debate. The five gold rings were often assumed to be rings worn on the finger as seen in illustrations from that era (see right). However, an alternative was suggested by William Stuart Baring-Gould (1962, 197) who believed it referred to five “ringed pheasants”, as all other gifts up until that point had been birds. Several of the other items appear to have changed throughout history, yet golden finger-rings seem to have persisted. probably because the desire for gold jewellery far outweighed the desire for game birds.

The five gold rings below (PAS-833958) are dated to the Late Bronze Age (1150-750BC). They are all of a similar shape, though they vary in size and style. The larger two are believed to be neck rings, whilst the smaller examples are likely to be bracelets. They were found within a ceramic vessel, suggesting the objects had been deposited intentionally. Much like the rings in the song, these five gold rings were possibly given as a gift to the Gods (though not necessarily on the 5th day of Christmas). There is a lot of debate about why objects were intentionally buried in the past, with each explanation being as likely as the next. As more and more hoards are being uncovered and making their way into museum collections, we are learning a great deal about these fascinating practices in the past.

These objects fell under the Treasure Act 1996 and have subsequently been acquired by the British Museum. The British Museum currently has an exhibition on Prehistoric and Roman hoards in room 69a.

Reference: Baring-Gould, W. S. and Baring-Gould, C. 1962. The Annotated Mother Goose. New York: Bramhall House.

Five Bronze Age gold rings and pot.
Five Bronze Age gold rings and pot (PAS-833958). Copyright British Museum. License: CC-BY
Five Bronze Age gold rings (PAS-833958).
Five Bronze Age gold rings (PAS-833958). Copyright: The British Museum. License: CC-BY

Festive Finds: PAS Christmas Countdown #6

Christmas Trees

Christmas Tree, by Viggo Johansen.
Christmas Tree, by Viggo Johansen. License: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

A popular image associated with Christmas today is the Christmas tree. Believed to have derived from a pre-Christian practice of bringing evergreen boughs indoors during the winter season as a symbol of everlasting life, the tree has become a staple of most Western households at Christmas. Prince Albert has been credited with introducing Christmas tree’s to Britain during the mid-19th century, but this is a common misconception. Prince Albert popularized the Christmas tree but it was already a common feature of the royal household at Christmas time before the Victorian era.

Guinea of George III (WILT-E6FA34).
Guinea of George III (WILT-E6FA34). Copyright: Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. License: CC-BY.

The custom originated in Germany and was introduced into England under the reign of George III. His wife, German born Queen Caroline, decorated a tree for her family in the 1790s, and there is record of a tree at a children’s party given by a member of Queen Caroline’s court in AD1821. This tradition stayed largely within the Royal family until the later 19th century. It became common to see decorated Christmas trees in public spaces, until Post war anti-German feeling reduced their popularity for a short while. It wasn’t until the 1920s that family trees in each household became a common sight.

The German practice originally had wax candles burning on the tree (definitely a fire hazard by today’s standards) which was soon replaced by lightbulbs after electricity became more widespread. Nowadays trees are decorated with a wide array of objects to make them even more festive. The trees themselves rapidly became a symbol used to identify the Christmas period and can be seen on many visual representations of the season. The object pictured (SF7562) was not originally intended to represent a Christmas tree, though the green colouration brought on by oxidation makes it seem much more festive. It would have originally been a bright golden colour and would have decorated a leather strap in the 16th century.

Christmas tree shaped mount (SF7562).
Christmas tree shaped mount (SF7562). Copyright: Suffolk County Council Archaeology Service. License: CC-BY

Festive Finds: PAS Christmas Countdown #4

Sleigh Bells

"Figure, horse and sleigh in snow" by Cornelius Krieghoff.
“Figure, horse and sleigh in snow” by Cornelius Krieghoff. License: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sledges and sleighs of various types have been used through history in the colder parts of the world. Whether to transport goods or people, their association with snow and winter has made them a frequent feature on festive scenes for Christmas cards and paintings. Attaching bells to sleighs has occurred throughout history for a variety of reasons. As these were the fastest vehicles around, the sound of the bells would alert pedestrians to the presence of the fast approaching sleigh. It has also been argued that the presence of bells on sleighs might have been used to herald the arrival of someone important. In either case, the purpose is to draw attention to the vehicle as it approaches.

Sleigh bells (LANCUM-B13680)
Sleigh bells (LANCUM-B13680). Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. License: CC-BY

The distinctive sound of the bells would have varied depending on the type of metal used and the thickness of the bell itself. A bell recorded on the PAS database (LANCUM-B13680) here is made of a lead-tin alloy. However, the sound this bell made would not be like the faint tinkling often associated with sleighs. Although it is impossible to say whether this bell was used on a sleigh, it would have likely been used on some form of animal harness at some point in the 17th-19th century.

The bell is also decorated with a series of leaf designs which appear to resemble holly. Decorating a bell with this seasonal foliage would suggest that the object was intended to be used around the festive season. The association of Holly with the word “holy” is a common misconception. In fact the word more likely originates from an Indo-European word meaning “prickly”.  However, for a long time holly has been a common feature of Christmas decoration. The use of holly during winter festivals is believed to go back to pre-Roman times in Britain, though its adoption within the Christian holiday is still uncertain. Parallels have been made with the crucifixion, as some believe the crown of thorns mentioned in the bible was actually made of holly. Hence in many North European languages the name for holly is Christ thorn. Today we decorate our houses with the leaves in much the same way as we do with Christmas trees.

Holly (Ilex-aquifolium).
Holly (Ilex-aquifolium), by Jürgen Howaldt. (Own work). CC BY-SA 2.0 de , via Wikimedia Commons.