A Medieval Hawking Ring (Vervel) from Surrey

A silver medieval vervel from Surrey
A silver medieval vervel from Surrey. Image Copyright: Surrey County Council. Licence: CC-BY

A rare example of an inscribed silver medieval hawking ring or vervel has recently been recorded from Surrey. This little object (SUR-44916D) was tied to the legs of a hawk and used to connect the bird to a leash which tethered it to a perch. During the medieval and post medieval periods, falconry was a ubiquitous pursuit of the nobility and the exact species of hawk used by any individual was socially regulated and dependent on their rank. As a hawk was a highly expensive badge of status, this object had a doubly important function in both securing the valuable bird and identifying the owner.

What makes this example highly unusual is the lombardic script used in the inscribed lettering which suggests a 14th – 15th century date for the object. Most examples which are found and recorded by the PAS are much later and date to the 16th – 17th century.

The name inscribed on the vervel reads RAVEnEShOLmE, which may be a personal or place name – and most likely is both. A John de Ravenesholme, identified as the “king’s yeoman” of Edward III (1327-1377), is recorded as holding the manor of Pury in Bentley parish, a few miles across the border into Hampshire in 1344. This same individual and other members of his family also held estates in Northamptonshire as well as Lancashire in the latter half of the 14th century, including a messuage called Ravensholme in Downham, Lancashire, which may well be the origin of the name. Whilst speculative, this association makes sense in terms of the earliest conceivable date for the vervel.

The loss of this type of object would most likely have occurred accidentally whilst people were out in the countryside, far from a settlement, busy hawking and hunting. As a result it is not a type of find which would ever likely be made from a conventional archaeological excavation. The work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme is vital to record such socially charged and significant little objects, which would be otherwise invisible to the archaeological and historical record.

A Bronze Age Copper Alloy Arrowhead from Surrey

One of the most important and lasting legacies of the Portable Antiquities Scheme is the way in which it has transformed our understanding of the very existence of a wide range of artefacts which were previously entirely or almost entirely unknown in Britain. A great example of this achievement is our knowledge of the distribution and use of a rare type of Bronze Age flat barbed and tanged arrowhead, made of copper alloy in apparent imitation of earlier and far more common flint examples. They are clearly functional objects in terms of their size, form and manufacture, but being made of what was at the time an expensive material they may well represent a significant display of social status through their ownership and use. One such example,  SUR-4655A8, has recently come to light in Surrey and is the first of this type of object to ever be recorded from the county.

A Bronze Age Arrowhead from Surrey.
Bronze Age copper alloy arrowhead. Copyright: Surrey County Council, License: CC-BY.

Although there are now more than twenty examples of these small finds on the database, prior to the start of the scheme there was really only one known in Britain – from the Penard Hoard, found in West Glamorgan in 1827. This particular example was long thought to be an exotic import from the continent where metal arrowheads of this very early date are more widely known. The work of the PAS has demonstrated that these arrowheads are actually a part of the British Bronze Age metalworking tradition, as they have now been recorded from many different parts of the country as isolated finds. For now however, the Penard example remains the only one from a dateable archaeological context and provides the best dating evidence (to the middle Bronze Age, circa 1275-1140 BC). As more examples come to light, perhaps from better contextualised hoards or sites, our understanding of these little objects in terms of when and how they were made and used, can only increase.

An Anglo-Saxon Spear from Surrey

One of the most interesting finds recorded from Surrey by the Portable Antiquities Scheme during summer 2018 was an Anglo-Saxon spearhead,  SUR-0EC561. This object was recovered by magnet fishing from the confluence of the Bourne or Hoe stream with the Abbey Stream and river Wey adjacent to Newark Priory, Pyrford (TQ0457).

Image of an iron spearhead from the Early Medieval Period.
Early Medieval iron spearhead. Copyright: Surrey County Council, License: CC-BY.

This spearhead has a lozenge-shaped cross section, with pronounced midrib and a characteristic split socket. According to a commonly used typological scheme for these objects produced by Swanton (1973) from studies of burial assemblages, aspects such as the profile and ratio of blade to socket length enable the spearhead to be attributed to category H2 (angular blade with concave curves to the angle) and dated to the latter half of the 6th century AD. It was heavily corroded by nearly fifteen centuries at the bottom of a river. It was also apparent that it had been intentionally bent to an angle of around 50° before deposition and would have been over 27cm in length when straight.

Spears had a great deal of meaning in early Anglo-Saxon society which was, in many ways, fundamentally a warrior culture. They were the most common weapon type of the 5th and 6th centuries, and are the most common type of weapon found intentionally deposited, like this example, in rivers. Two comparable examples of contemporary spearheads deposited in local rivers are known from within a kilometre or so of the find spot and many other examples are known from North Surrey and the Thames valley.

This find represents a rare and important material addition to our understanding of the pre-Christian cultural landscape in Surrey and the origins of the minster of Old Woking and the occupation activity underpinning the medieval site of Newark Priory. Following its recording by the PAS, the artefact was returned to the finder, who subsequently and very generously donated the spearhead to Guildford museum, where it now compliments the wider collection relating to Anglo-Saxon Surrey and the history of Newark Priory.