Material Histories 1 – Lead and Lead alloy
(An occasional series to help you keep sane in an insane world)
Lead and its alloys are possibly the most under appreciated material that occurs in the archaeological record. It has not received the attention that other utilitarian metals, especially copper and its alloys, have enjoyed. All to often lead objects are weighed in by their finders, or not recorded because comparatively little diagnostic work has been done on them. Many of the established ‘rules of thumb’ are incorrect and based on assumptions. There is a growing awareness of this and hopefully the objects recorded by the public on the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s database will provide a constantly expanding resource for experts to study.
A recycled lead token may net its finder a penny or two, but it is then lost to us all and cannot contribute to the story of Britain. It is the everyday story that needs to be read now, the story of the privileged and powerful has been the centre of attention for too long. Lead is a very useful material. It is heavy, malleable, and slow to rot. It is why it is constantly melted down and turned into new objects. Every now and then a lucky member of the public finds a lead based object that can still tell us its whole story. Our featured find, a lead and lead alloy suspended weight, is one such find.
The weight, found in our companion recording county, Cumbria, is hollow with a perforation approximately 23mm in diameter in the base. 7mm inside this perforation is a purer layer of lead with a central smaller perforation of 16mm x 11mm. The centre of the weight contains a void with an approximate maximum diameter of 35mm and an approximate maximum depth of 25mm. The shank of the iron suspension loop is visible inside this void and is approximately 12mm long. The two layers of lead show that the original Roman to Medieval weight had been recoated in a lead alloy of lesser purity at a later period, probably Post Medieval. The ‘repair’ may have enabled this humble object to remain in use from c43 AD up until quite recently.