A pair of unfinished early Anglo-Saxon wrist clasps from Sutton, Suffolk

In spring of 2015 a conjoined pair of unfinished early medieval copper alloy wrist clasps were found by Mr Michael King in the parish of Sutton, Suffolk whilst he was metal detecting. The pair are a particularly interesting discovery because they are the only two found still attached in this way and may be able to tell us more about how this type of artefact was made.

 

SUT_SF-66EDD6_DWG_Grey2
An unfinished wrist clasp from Sutton, Suffolk. Copyright: Suffolk County Council. Drawing by Donna Wreathall

Wrist clasps like these were used to fasten the sleeves of garments during the 5th and 6th centuries AD. They would have been sewn in place via four lugs around their inner edges. The outer edge of one half had a hook-piece and the other had a catch-piece, which would fasten together when in use. The fact that this pair includes one of each half suggests that they were intended to be worn as a pair when finished.

Wrist clasp distributions
Distribution of similar wrist clasps (C) Suffolk County Council

They appear to have been made in a two-piece mould with copper alloy poured in above the hook-element. The pair sit at a 70-degree angle to each other, with one of the lateral terminals and the terminals of the central bars almost touching and joined by casting sprues. This arrangement initially appears careless, but was perhaps intended to minimise the distance in between and maximise the efficiency of the casting. The clasp-halves are also attached to each other via a rough, thin sheet of metal in between. This flashing could be the product of the two parts of the mould separating during the casting process. This may be why the clasps were discarded, although it would have been possible to remove this excess metal during finishing. Unfinished features of the pair include the unpierced catch-element and attachment lugs. On the central arm of each clasp-half the lugs unusually take the form of an opposing pair of D-shaped protrusions either side of the terminal. Both faces of the unfinished lugs have small circular depressions in their centres, intended as a guide for piercing.

Little is currently known about metalwork techniques during this period and it is likely that several production techniques were used simultaneously (Mortimer 1990, 226). We know of a few other unfinished wrist clasps, including one from Quidenham, Norfolk (PAS NMS-1EE325), one from Wortham, Suffolk (PAS SF-15D384) and one from Castle Acre, Norfolk (Hines 1993, 37). There is also a small amount of evidence for the use of two-piece moulds in the production of other contemporary artefacts. Because so little is known we cannot be sure whether the method of making wrist clasps in pairs was standard, but this object contributes to our growing knowledge of this interesting subject.

The full record can be viewed on the PAS database here: SF-66EDD6.

 

References

Hines, J. 1993. Clasps HektespennerAgraffen: Anglo-Scandinavian Clasps of Classes A-C of the 3rd to 6th Centuries A D: Typology, diffusion and function. Stockholm: KunglVitterhetsHistorieochAntikvitetsAkademien.

 

 

 

 

An Iron Age linch pin from Suffolk

In 2015 an Iron Age linch pin of vase-headed type was found at Fressingfield, Suffolk, and reported to the Suffolk Finds Recording Team (PAS: SF-1007C4). Although suffering from some corrosion and post-depositional damage, it remains the most complete example to date recorded within the county.

 

FSF_SF1007C4 (2)
Linch pin from Fressingfield Suffolk. Copyright: Suffolk County Council, Licence: CC-BY.

 

With its characteristic vase-shaped head, iron shank, and hoof-shaped foot, this example measures 116.73mm in total length, 34.85mm in maximum width (at head), and 195.42g in weight. The head has a decorated upper face with central recessed circle surrounded by a raised, corded border and three evenly spaced circular fields of red enamel. Traces of incised decorative elements are present surrounding the enamelled fields, perhaps originally these were continuous trumpet or cusp-shaped motifs. Similar decorative elements survive on one side of the head, consisting of triangular motifs filled with multiple punched dots. The decorative elements of the head are mirrored on the foot. One side of the foot, in line with the decoration on the head, has a circular field of red enamel surrounded by an incised circle with internal cusp and external trumpet-shaped motifs. The flattened terminal end of the foot reflects the upper face of the head, with similar recessed field and corded border. It is interesting to note, too, that the opposite sides of both head and foot to the decorative elements are partially flattened. This appears to be a result of use-wear, suggesting that the enamelled and incised decoration would have been visible, and presumably facing outwards, when in use.

The Fressingfield linch pin finds parallels in terms of form with the Kirkburn (Stead, 1991: 44-47) and Stanwick (Macgregor, 1976: 49-50) linch pins, as well as various examples recorded in recent years through the PAS (e.g. LIN-8598B5, SUR-660027, LEIC-568011, LIN-EFDAB2). A number of examples in neighbouring Norfolk also share similar characteristics in terms of form and decoration (Hutcheson, 2004: 31-32, 109-111; NMS-248F38; NMS-A92100). Notably, those from Broome (Hutcheson, 2004: no. 47) and Wymondham (NMS-A92100), which demonstrate comparable incised decoration on the side of the head.

In Suffolk, however, linch pins remain unusual finds, and this type is so far paralleled only in an incomplete example with differing decorative elements from near Eye (SF-F0F267; PSIAH 2009: 62, fig. 12a). Indeed, to date the Suffolk PAS and HER records the heads of just 10 linch pins including the Eye example noted above. One, from Thorington, is of crescent-headed type (SF-4CBC64), while two examples, from Assington (SF-7A11D5) and Palgrave (NMS-AS23, duplicated as NMS-36E5C1), are of more unusual form. Finally, a group of six linch pin heads are noted from the excavation of an Iron Age metalwork hoard at Westhall in 1854 (WHL 007). A total of six feet from composite linch pins are recorded from the parishes of Akenham (AKE 021, PSIAH 2000: 497-498, Fig. 152d), Alderton (SF-AC9AD2), Kettlebaston (SF-42A1A0), Great Thurlow (TUG 014, PSIAH 1999: 361), and two from St. Mary South Elmham otherwise Homersfield (SEY 017, PSIAH 2000: 507, Fig. 152c; SEY 022, SF1181). In later contexts, examples of iron linch pins were identified at the Roman small towns of Hacheston (Blagg et al., 2004: pp. 128-129, no. 229) and Pakenham (PKM 005).

The small quantity of linch pins from within the county at present does not allow for detailed comment on their development or context within the Suffolk landscape. All are from areas with demonstrable Iron Age to Roman activity, but there is so far no clear pattern in their distribution. This new example is significant in terms of its rarity and remarkable preservation, as well as being an important addition to the small corpus of material from the county. These objects offer a glimpse into high status activity at the end of the Iron Age and it is hoped that future finds will add to our understanding both of the deposition and context of the current example, and of Suffolk’s Iron Age past.

The full database record for the object is SF-1007C4.

Bibliography

Blagg et al., 2004                     Blagg, T., Plouviez, J. and Tester, A. Excavations at a large Romano-British settlement at Hacheston, Suffolk in 1973-4. East Anglian Archaeology 106, 2004.

Hutcheson, 2004                      Hutcheson, N. C. G. Later Iron Age Norfolk: Metalwork, landscape and society. BAR British Series 361, 2004.

Macgregor, 1976                     Macgregor, M. Early Celtic Art in North Britain: A study of decorative metalwork from the third century B.C. to the third century A.D. Volume 1. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1976.

PSIAH 1999                            Martin, E., Pendleton, C., and Plouviez, J. ‘Archaeology in Suffolk 1998’ Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History Vol. XXXIX pt. 3, 1999: 353-386.

PSIAH 2000                            Martin, E., Pendleton, C., Plouviez, J, and Thomas, G. ‘Archaeology in Suffolk 1999’ Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History Vol. XXXIX pt. 4, 2000: 495-531.

PSIAH 2009                            Martin, E., Pendleton, C., and Plouviez, J. ‘Archaeology in Suffolk 2008’ Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History Vol. XLII pt. 1, 2009: 61-88.

Stead, 1991                             Stead, I. M. Iron Age cemeteries in East Yorkshire: Excavations at Burton Flemming, Rudston, Garton-on-the-Wolds, and Kirkburn. London: English Heritage Archaeological Report 22, British Museum Press: 1991.