Given the impressive geophysical results and the possibility of buried archaeology, we decided we needed to have a look under the surface. I recruited the help of Dr Julia Farley (then working at Leicester University) who obtained funding from the Roman Society, Roman Research Trust and the Association for Roman Archaeology. This allowed us to undertake a trial excavation on site in the summer of 2013.
We were very pleased to find evidence for a stone built circular building just where we hoped it would be (it really is circular!). This unusual building form confirmed that we have a Roman temple precinct. Its location, half way between Mancetter and Leicester, is a convenient stopping point on the road (Fenn Lane), where troops could rest, get some food and drink and make an offering (perhaps even buy one on site?) to their god.
We haven’t found any solid evidence of brooch production on site yet, but a large scatter of silver droplets from the field may indicate some form of metalworking. Many of the horse and rider brooches have silvered borders and in some cases have applied silver wire around the enamel cells (see pic). We didn’t find any more brooches, but did find a conveniently placed late Roman coin, which confirmed the date of the structure.
There is much more to learn about this site and we hope we can do further fieldwork in the future. We are extremely grateful to the organisations who helped to fund the excavations and especially to the dedicated volunteers who recovered all this material and to all those who helped me identify and record it.
Having realised that we had a large and internationally important assemblage, we wanted to get it published. Because it was not a priority for the Battlefield Survey, I took up the baton (excuse the pun!). After discussing with colleagues it was agreed that the PAS database was a good place to record the site, as it would be easily accessible to all. So I started work recording the 1000+ objects.
To help with this mammoth task I recruited archaeology students from Leicester University and we set about adding each object, whilst colleagues and an intern at the British Museum did a lot of the coins. After much hard work by all involved, we now have most of the material listed.
If you want to look at the assemblage, go to the database and enter – knownas:Bosworth into the ‘perform a basic search’ field at the top of the screen.
Because these objects were found under survey conditions, we had very accurate locations for them. It was obvious they were found in a tight scatter, especially the coins and horse and rider brooches, so we started looking at other survey work in the area. The whole site had been geo-physically surveyed and when the finds were plotted over this, they seemed to focus over a round buried feature in a very busy landscape (more in the last blog).
Some of our deposits could be associated with a god favoured by the military, especially the horse and rider plate brooches we were finding in large numbers. Before the survey started, we had 6 of these, already significant as the largest assemblage ever found was 8.
By 2009 we had 73 ‘horse and rider’ brooches and many plate brooches, including rabbits, ducks, a dog and a raptor. By the time the survey team finally stopped looking in the ‘Roman field’ we had an amazing and unbelievable total of 101 ‘horse and rider’ brooches. I had been getting regular updates from the team as this total went up and we had been joking about getting to ‘Dalmatian’ numbers, so it’s very weird that this is the final total.
Having so many from one site makes it an internationally significant assemblage. Along with the other animal plate brooches, horses are thought to be associated with the Roman god Mars. He is the god of war and so was especially important to soldiers. It is thought that the ‘rider’ on the brooch may be a messenger, in some forms of the brooch the rider is also holding a ‘baton’ or scroll (see image right), so it would make sense that these brooches are perhaps sending messages directly to the god.
Along with the coins (part 2) another major part of the assemblage was a really interesting collection of brooches. In total 216 brooches were recovered. During the survey I arranged an open day to view what we’d found. This included local interest groups, councillors and finds specialists as we needed some expert advice.
One of the experts was Dr Justine Bayley, a metalwork specialist. She had a good look at the brooches and came up with some interesting info. The range of brooches was unusually narrow, we had 74 bow brooches, 118 zoomorphic and 24 disc brooches. Many of the bow and disc brooches were gilded which, amongst other features, Dr Bayley said suggested a military connection. This was interesting, as a Roman road ran very close to our field, in fact Richard III (sorry I had to mention him) made use of it to march into battle.
The road runs from the Roman fort at Mancetter into Leicester, so it made sense that our site, about half way along, was a ‘pit stop’. It also added weight to the theory our site was a temple, as the deposits could be associated with a god favoured by the military (more in later blog). Finally we also had a few artefacts that could be classed as military (see images below), so the military link seemed to be confirmed.
Among the substantial assemblage of Roman material found by our dedicated volunteer detectorists was a large collection of Roman coins. By the end over 800 had been recovered, I helped to identify what I could, but I had to call in the cavalry in the form of PAS advisors Dr Sam Moorhead and Dr Philippa Walton. They helped me identify the pesky ‘grots’ (poorly made and often corroded coins) that I was struggling with. In the end we identified most of the Roman coins and Philippa did some analysis. Most of the coins were found in a tight scatter along with other artefacts such as brooches (more in the next blog) Using Reece period analysis (coins are divided into short time periods to allow comparison) it became clear that the coin profile was odd. Sam said that Leicestershire was generally odd, but this site was more so!
The profile (see graph) shows that the site covers most of the Roam period (which can be explained by the settlement), but has a peak of activity between periods 14 to 16 (AD 275 to 318) this could indicate a concealed early 4th C hoard, or provide evidence for when the site was busiest. Either way, the large number of coins in this context suggests votive activity.
These objects are amongst my favourite things to record and are very interesting for several reasons. Firstly, a pair of stirrup mounts such as these, LEIC-8C54F0 and LEIC-8D1AC0, are extremely rare finds. We only know of one other probable pair, BERK-2339E4 and BERK-230A90. It’s very difficult to accidently lose a pair of these mounts in the same location, so they may be a site loss or may even indicate a burial.
Secondly, this new pair are of a rare type (Williams class A, type 8 variant) with a triangular form and very angular decoration. Two similar ones are featured in David Williams’ book, ‘Late Saxon Stirrup Strap Mounts’, One from Wooton Warwen, Warwickshire and one from Brewood, Staffordshire. Before the pair were found I had recorded one very similar example from Melton, Leicestershire (LEIC-AF8883 ).
A quick search on the database revealed a small cluster of similar mounts, all found in the Midlands, except for (LVPL2270) from Cheshire and a very worn example from Southwold ( SF-5883A1). One from North Warwickshire (WMID-8EF778) has the same shape and raised border as the pair, but its projections have three bulges, perhaps an attempt at an animal head? Others do have clear animal heads, with no sign of geometric panels. One of these is from Bottesford, Leics. ( LIN-CED111) with foliate decoration and is very similar to one from Swineshead, Lincs (LANCUM-70FE8E). There is even one from the aptly named village of Styrrup, North Nottinghamshire (SWYOR-918CD4).
Finally, finds like these highlight the importance of accurate grid references. I was provided with a 10fig ref. so I know they were found about 150m apart. Without that detail it would be hard to argue the mounts were a pair. Also because of the good practice of other finders, I know they were found in a large scatter of early Medieval and Medieval material.
This includes a good collection of spindle whorls of a form thought to date to the later early medieval period (700-1100AD). Very close to the mounts was a penny of William the Conqueror (LEIC-40F5AD) and a probable early medieval mount (LEIC-A19EA9). To the south we have an interesting 11th C. silver brooch (see Names from the Past) with a runic inscription.
The area has a good scatter of medieval finds, including coins dating to 12th – 14th centuries. This assemblage is very informative when placed in the landscape. To the north of the scatter we have the medieval (14thC) church of St Mary Magdalene, which has a Norman font, hinting at an earlier church. This is now stranded in fields to the south of its village, where another stirrup mount was found (LEIC-C97582).
This scatter of early medieval material could suggest an early manor site or that the origins of the village lie in the 9th or 10th Century (it is listed in Domesday as ‘Pechintone’ – 4 households). It could also indicate that it’s a shrunken medieval village or that focus of settlement has moved north.
Recording finds with accurate locations allows us to map past activity and in many cases, to interpret the scatters that build up. In some cases these scatters reveal new sites, in others they add a very useful layer of knowledge to the archaeology of any area.
In this series of 6 short blogs I am going to tell the story of what happens when you go looking for a medieval battlefield!
The Bosworth Battlefield Survey, which ran for 4 years from 2005, was a major HLF funded project to locate the famous battle. It was very successful, but along the way, as is always the case with such surveys, a lot of non-battle archaeology was found by the large volunteer team.
Included in the final 7,128 objects, which date from the Neolithic to the 20th century, were some very interesting Roman finds. They were all coming from one particular field near the visitors centre. The general area around the centre was known to be a Roman settlement with evidence of pottery kilns, so more Roman finds weren’t unexpected.
I first became involved in this site when I became an FLO in 2003, when my opinion was sought. Before the survey had started, investigations in the area had recovered a very interesting statue fragment and a group of 8 horse and rider brooches (6 of these are below).
I did a bit of research and realised that we had already matched the largest assemblage then known, 8 from Hockwold Cum Wilton in Norfolk. This was the site of a Roman temple and other single or small groups of these brooches had also been found in contexts which suggested ritual practices. This was quite interesting information, but for the time being the Battlefield survey had to take precedence.
During the life of the project, the detectorists who were volunteering all week on the battlefield project, gave up their weekends to carry on searching ‘the Roman field’. Their dedication is amazing and because of them the site revealed a substantial assemblage of Roman material. In the next instalments I will highlight the important aspects of this and also what we discovered on site.
This record LEIC-1B1A3Aof a Medieval lead seal matrix found in Grimston parish, Melton, is the 6000th matrix to be recorded nationally by the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The matrix is unfinished which may be for several reasons. Two other matrices have also been found in the same field, so perhaps they have all been collected for recycling? Another possibility, given the fact that this one is unfinshed, is that the location was once a manufacturing site? Either way, it nicely illustrates the importance of recording finds with accurate locations!
When I was first shown this object, LEIC-C5F14A, the shape suggested the Viking age, but the decoration didn’t seem to fit. Enamelling and flowers are not what springs to mind on these trefoil mounts, which are usually gilded or plain bronze. Having now managed to loan the object from the finder, I can now confirm that its decoration appears to be thick clumps of niello, with traces of circular depressions in their surface, possibly for silver wire? Along with its surface gilding this would have created a wonderfully shiny object.
Although the mount is no longer unique, not having enamel as originally thought, it is still very interesting. The form of the terminals are unusual, the heavy use of niello appears to be unusual too and there still aren’t very many complete mounts of this type known.
The trefoil mounts are of continental origin and broadly dateable to the 9th century. It is a moot point whether they were brought into this country in connection with Viking activity, or were imported directly from France and/or the Low Countries.
Either way, this object is stunning and is a valuable addition to the corpus of Early Medieval finds in the county.
As an Archaeologist based in Leicestershire who’s interested in coins and Viking age England, I had been a little disappointed that in 13 years as an FLO I had only recorded one Anglo-Viking coin (see LEIC-B230B8).
That changed late last year when I was shown a St Edmund memorial penny, minted in East Anglia by Vikings c. 895-910AD. The coins feature the often blundered inscription ‘SC EDMUND’ a dedication to the saint who was, ironically, martyred by the Vikings. I told the finder how rare his coin was and that he’d made my year (see LEIC-19C0DA ) .
But it turns out that these coins are like buses and within weeks I was shown another (see LEIC-B7F405). By this April I had the hat trick, with a third being found in the same district as the first (see LEIC-4FC58C).
Nationally the PAS has only recorded 34. Most were single finds from within the Danelaw, with one outlier from a hoard in Cumbria. The majority were lost within East Anglia, with a few in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Staffordshire.
These coins add an important layer of evidence in a county that was in the Danelaw, but which has not yielded too much solid evidence for Scandinavian settlers. They add much weight to the counties artefacts and place names that reflect an Anglo-Scandinavian character, but whose reliability as evidence for settlers is hotly debated. Because these coins were only used by people who accepted them, either for their bullion value or because they were Scandinavian issues, this points directly to Scandinavians living in Leicestershire.