What could be more exciting than an unusual object coming across your desk? The thrill of getting to research something you’ve never seen before, the joy of sharing it with other people, the thought that you may be significantly contributing to research in to a particular period or object type!
Ducks! That’s what!
Much of a Finds Liaison Officers time is spend recording familiar objects. Roman coins, medieval buckles, lead spindle whorls and so on. Occasionally though something different will cross our path giving us a nice break from the norm.
YORYM-C37EB7 is one such object. It is an Iron Age copper-alloy strap fitting with three large bird, possibly duck, decorations which was found in Thwing, East Riding of Yorkshire.
We have over 56,000 Iron Age objects recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database though over 46,000 of these are coins. 713 of these are from the East Riding including 316 coins.
Despite the quantity of material on the PAS database and elsewhere in literature, no direct parallel for this object could be found at the time of recording though similar features are noted in a number of different object types.
Similar ring shaped objects with decorative knops include triple knoped terret rings such as YORYM-71FC10 and SWYOR-3A981A. These are dated to the early Roman period c.AD 43 – 150. The absence of a strap bar makes this an unlikely function for our ducks though.
Pins such as HAMP-A63ECB and BH-00BCA1 have similar knotted elements and are all dated to the 2nd century BC. The birds are paralleled in Roman furniture fittings such as LIN-F1A832 and LVPL-273BD0 and also a late Iron Age to Roman fob dangler recorded as SUR-8328CA.
Given the form of our duck object the function of strap fitting is suggested. It is possible the object was designed to hang from a strap or belt with the space between the knot terminals designated to hold the strap.
Reb Ellis, PHD Student at The University of Hull, comments that bird decoration in general appears in pockets in England and Wales, as well as in Ireland and on the Continent, though in stylistically different ways. Miss Ellis suggests a date of approximately 100BC-0BC/AD for this object based on the style of the bird which is paralleled in other Iron Age material (as discussed above).
Despite the richness of metal work in the East Riding of Yorkshire, animals are somewhat rare making this object especially interesting and important. The absence of any known direct parallels for this object suggests it is nationally unique.
Last week saw the 8th anniversary of the discovery of the Bedale Hoard. So what better time to revisit it.
This fantastic hoard of silver and gold objects was an exciting find representing the most northerly assemblage of Viking material from the region. It was acquired by the Yorkshire Museum after being reported as Treasure to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (Accession number – YORYM : 2014.149).
It was discovered on Tuesday 22nd May 2012 by two metal detector users who were searching a field in Bedale, North Yorkshire as they had done many times before.
Realising the potential significance of their discovery the finders left some of the material in-situ and reported it to me. Along with my colleague Adam Parker, Assistant Curator of Archaeology, we attended the site and excavated the remaining material ourselves, a very rare and exciting opportunity.
Once excavated the hoard was found to contain an iron and gold sword pommel and associated fittings, a selection of silver jewellery and 29 silver ingots.
Thanks to the finder leaving much of the hoard in situ we were able to gain valuable contextual evidence relating to the deposition of the hoard which would have otherwise been lost. We were able to determine was that the hoard was deposited in a clear order. Firstly the ingots were packed in a neat 20cm square area suggesting the presence of a box-like container. No traces of a container survived and soil samples taken from around the ingots were inconclusive. The jewellery was then placed on top of the ingots and finally the sword.
The lack of any other features discovered by the excavation suggested that the hoard had been buried in open ground, like most hoards, rather than on a settlement.
The pommel and hilt bands
One of the most interesting pieces in the hoard is an iron sword pommel. It is decorated with gold plaques which feature Anglo-Saxon Trewhiddle style designs of interlaced animals. The use of gold foil in the decoration of pommels is very uncommon. It is usually applied to silver and copper alloy objects making the Bedale pommel unique.
Analysis of the pommel showed evidence of mineralised textile on one side of the pommel which indicates that it was wrapped when buried. Traces of wood above the surface of the textile also suggest that it was boxed after wrapping.
Four gold oval hoops and six gold rivets were found close to the pommel. The hoops match the pommel in decorative style and quality and were probably used as embellishments on the grip and hilt of a sword. It is likely that these fittings were removed from a complete sword before being buried as part of the hoard.
The Trewhiddle style decoration used on these objects derives from Cornwall and only a handful of objects from York have ever been discovered bearing this decoration.
The neck ring
This twisted silver neck ring is the largest item in the hoard and is also unique. It comprises four ropes of twisted rods which were hammer-welded at each end into solid terminals with hooked ends. These hooks would link together when the neck ring was worn.
Although the techniques used in this piece are seen in other jewellery from the British Isles and Scandinavia, its overall design represents an unparalleled ‘Yorkshire’ variant. In addition to its unique style, the sheer size and weight of this piece suggests it was owned by a person of wealth who wanted to display their individuality and status.
Most of the other jewellery in the hoard was distorted or broken in to hack to be used as bullion. This is a common feature of Viking hoards and hack was an important part of the Viking economy.
Two particularly notable pieces of hack are the ‘Permian’ ring and bossed penannular brooch.
The ‘Permian’ ring is a type of neck ring made from a single twisted rod of silver incised with fine spiral grooves. This is a style which originated in northern Russia before spreading into Scandinavia and the West.
The folded over remains of a bossed penannular brooch also feature filigree and zoomorphic decoration in the form of animal heads. Such brooches are an Irish type but this example represents a previously unknown variant.
The Bedale Hoard contains 20 silver bar-shaped ingots. These ingots could be cut to size for use in financial transactions. Nick marks are present on a number of the ingots, indicating that the quality of the silver had been tested with the point of a knife.
A selection of the ingots were subjected to surface metal analysis and were found to contain, on average, around 96% silver, 2% copper, 1% gold and 1% lead.
The objects within the Bedale Hoard highlight the extent of the Viking world with Scandinavian, Irish and Russian influences evidenced in the jewellery. This broad range of cultural influences apparent within the hoard stresses the cultural connections between Jorvik and the rest of the Viking world.
Despite the lack of coins in this hoard which would typically assist in its dating, comparisons of the objects can be made to those from other, datable Viking hoards such as the Cuerdale and Vale of York Hoards. This indicates that the Bedale Hoard objects date from the late 9th to early 10th century. The burial of hoards is often associated with periods of uncertainty or instability. We do not know why the Bedale Hoard was buried, or why its owner failed to recover it. Perhaps it was in light of Viking and Saxon power struggles for supremacy in the region at this time.
The Bedale Hoard was discovered in a part of Yorkshire where very little is known about in the Viking period. As such, it represents a new and exciting piece of evidence that offers a unique insight into life in the region one thousand years.
Seal matrices were used to make an impression on a wax seal as a means of authenticating a document or, more practically, to keep it closed.
There are over 7,500 seal matrices recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The earliest of these is from the Early-Medieval period (Fig 1) though these are rare. Over 6,000 examples date to the medieval period, particularly the 13th and 14th centuries, after which their use declines.
Though initially limited to the higher ranks of the church and state, the use of seals became more general from the 11th century onward and by the end of the thirteenth century tradesmen and peasants also used them.
Medieval seal matrices are usually made from copper-alloy or lead, but silver examples are also known. They are typically either flat or conical and have a central design and surrounding inscription on the die, usually added by engraving. Flat matrices tend to be circular or pointed-oval (often referred to as vessica-shaped), while conical matrices are usually circular. Many silver examples include a re-used Roman intaglio as the central design.
It is such an example which is the focus of this post.
This silver seal matrix with reused Roman intaglio was reported as potential Treasure in 2015 (Fig 2: YORYM-13A179). It was found by a metal detectorist in Markington, North Yorkshire.
The matrix itself is of 13th – 14th century date while the intaglio dates from the second to third centuries AD.
The intaglio is made of a red stone, possibly agate, jasper or carnelian, and is engraved with a winged Victory facing a seated male figure with a cockerel at his feet. This is likely to represent a winged messenger saluting the god Jupiter. The surrounding legend + SECRETI NVNCIVS means ‘Secret Messenger’ suggesting the matrix was made to fit with the intaglio’s design and that whoever made the seal understood the meaning of the intaglio.
Ancient gems were commonly reused in personal seal matrices throughout the Medieval period, and were often employed as privy or counter-seals by officials. Se below for three examples of medieval seal matrices with reused Roman intaglio.
It is unclear exactly how Roman intaglios came to be reused in such quantities, although it is possible that they were found locally by peasants working the land and passed to their lords. It is equally possible that they were imported specifically. The way in which intaglios were viewed and interpreted by medieval people shows the continuing impact of one civilisation on another.
Downes, A, and Griffiths. R. (2017) 50 Finds From Yorkshire : Objects From the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Stroud: Amberley Publishing.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme database has, to date, recorded nearly 1.5 million objects of all periods and materials (Fig 1). With over 46,500 examples, brooches are the third most common of these (Fig 2). Roman brooches in particular account for 31,456. That’s nearly 70%.
Fig 1: Number of objects and records geld on PAS database.
Hidden amongst these vast quantities of brooches are a distinct group of ten unusual examples, known as Double Headstud types.
The Headstud Brooch is itself one of the most common and longest-lived types known from Roman Britain (Fig 3). They are most frequently found in the north of England and are a native British type most likely produced by travelling crafts people.
Evidence for a major Roman metalworking industry was discovered during excavations at Castleford, West Yorkshire. High-status enamelled flasks and spoons were being produced in quantity and the discovery of unfinished headstud brooches (Fig 4) suggests that brooches were also made there. Unpublished examples of brooches bearing inscriptions which read ‘Fibula ex regione Lagitiense’ (‘brooch from the region of Castleford’) further support this theory.
Through recording with the Portable Antiquities Scheme we have identified a new sub-type of Roman Headstud brooch which we have inventively termed the Double Headstud.
While similar in form to their parent type featuring a solid, arched bow with a various decorative elements, the regular Headstud has only one knop at the apex of the bow while the Double type has two. These knops take on a variety of forms; they can be integral to the bow (Fig 5) or separately cast and fitted into a recess or held in place by a shank to the reverse (Fig 6). They are also decorated in a wide variety of styles (Fig 7).
The first examples of the Double Headstud brooch were identified from Yorkshire and Lincolnshire suggesting a northern phenomenon (Fig 8). Two later examples from Nottinghamshire and the Isle of Wight however suggest a wider distribution for this enigmatic type. It is highly likely that, as more of these brooches are recognised and recorded, the area of distribution will spread even more widely (Fig 9).
It has only been through PAS recording that we have been able to identify this new variety of Roman brooch and its distribution.
Fig. 9: Distribution of recorded Double Headstud brooches.
Hi, I’m Emily Tilley and on 12th July I started working as the new Headley Trust Finds Liaison Assistant alongside Rebecca Griffiths, Finds Liaison Officer for North and East Yorkshire. On Thursdays and Fridays over the next nine months I will be working to help borrow, record, research, and interpret finds reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme in North and East Yorkshire.
My role is based at the Yorkshire Museum in York, and I’m no stranger to the site (or to Becky). Since November 2016 I have been working as the Collections Facilitator for Roman Archaeology at York Museums Trust and on Mondays to Wednesdays I’ll be continuing to work for the Trust as a Curatorial Assistant. Prior to working for York Museums Trust and the Portable Antiquities Scheme I completed a BA in Classics and an MA in Museum Studies. I feel very lucky to be able to put my qualifications to good use!
I started off as Finds Liaison Assistant by recording a whopping 123 Roman coins, building on my past experience working with Roman numismatics. Thankfully Dr. Sam Moorhead and Becky had already done most of the hard work by identifying them, so all I had to do was type up the records. It was a great crash-course in PAS numismatics documentation, the Roman coin issues that are commonly found in the region, and the condition of PAS finds. It also produced some very flattering statistics for my first two weeks of recording!
I have since moved on to documenting an array of different object types brought in by finders and am slowly getting to grips with the many, many reference books that we have available in the office. My favourite object so far has been a Medieval lead pendant (YORYM-C1D7B5) depicting the Virgin and Child on the obverse and the Crucifixion on the reverse. It’s one of four almost identical examples on the database, all of which were found within a 37 mile distribution to the east of York, suggesting local production.
I have also attended Finds Days in Hull and York and really enjoyed meeting finders and seeing objects as they come in for recording. And I’m currently working on my first Treasure case! In the next few weeks I’ll be learning the PAS approaches to photography which will allow me to finish my records, so look out for #FindsFriday pics on Twitter (@YMT_Emily)! I’ll also be attending several PASt Explorers object training sessions over the next few months, which will be a very exciting opportunity to develop my knowledge of the huge range of object types that the Portable Antiquities Scheme records.
Every single day working for the PAS is a fantastic learning opportunity and I already feel more confident working with small finds after just a short time on the job! It’s lovely to be able to continue working with colleagues at the Yorkshire Museum and to build new relationships with PAS colleagues across England and Wales. I can’t wait to meet you all in person!
Hello, my name is Lydia Prosser and I have been the Finds Liaison Assistant for North and East Yorkshire for the last eight months. Alas, today marks my final day: how the time has flown! Looking back to the blog post I wrote at the very beginning of my internship, I have learnt a lot; it amazes me now that when I first started I couldn’t tell the difference between copper-alloy and iron! I now have a wide knowledge of material culture spanning 10,000 years and I can be much more discerning. I have enjoyed every minute of this internship. I have been privileged to work in a fantastic museum with some truly wonderful people. The very best thing about this job, however, has to be the objects. I have been introduced to a whole range of object types that I had no idea existed before (chafing dish anyone? Plough pebble? Tenterhook?) as well as many that I now feel I’ve handled a lifetime’s worth of (spindle whorls and pennies of Edward I, for sure). Every day was different in this job and every new tray of finds brought something to be excited about. I couldn’t do a blog post about my internship without highlighting a few of my favourites from the four hundred odd that I have recorded, so here goes.
My absolute favourite has to be this little Anglo-Saxon dog-headed stud (YORYM-92CC79). It was found with another very similar to it and I love it for the detail and the particular sense of character it possesses that you only really get in early medieval art: look closely and you can see little zig-zag teeth! Once an early medievalist, always an early medievalist….
I don’t usually get so excited about post-medieval finds but this sixteenth-century buckle was in perfect condition and the incised decoration is exquisite (YORYM-C3C5FE). Complex objects such as these are difficult to describe and test both the imagination and vocabulary. On the subject of vocabulary, it became clear to me very early on that the PAS database would be much slimmer if the mixture of brown and green that is the invariable colour of copper-alloy after it has been deposited in the ground for hundreds of years was simply described as ‘breen’ or a similarly pithy adjective. This would surely be revolutionary in object-based disciplines, saving much finger cramp from typing. Incidentally, ‘breen’ is also my hair colour, proving undoubtedly that my career choice was a right one.
We get a lot of Roman finds in York and so I have to include at least one: this is a Roman stylus, a fairly unusual find. It’s surprisingly large and has faint traces of raised decoration on its surface. The wide flat end would have been used for flattening the wax and the opposite end for writing.
I got to process a number of treasure cases during my time as a Finds Liaison Assistant, including this beautiful silver early medieval strap end (YORYM-7821B5).
My internship didn’t just involve recording finds, however. I got to meet the finders at Finds Days and metal detecting club meetings and darted all over the country for training and meetings. We spent one day in a ‘coin blitz’ with Roman coins expert Sam Moorhead. I am in awe of Sam’s ability to identify coins that seemed to me to be almost entirely worn away on both sides. Aspirations! In February, I gave a Curator’s Talk at the Yorkshire Museum. I picked seal matrices as the subject of my talk as these are a relatively understudied object type that can provide a huge amount of information about the lives of people in the Middle Ages. They are a very personal object and it is very satisfying to tease out the information from a Latin inscription or small fragment.
Although my contract as a Finds Liaison Assistant is now up, I’ve become hooked and the Portable Antiquities Scheme cannot get rid of me that easily! I am moving on to become Finds Liaison Officer for Lancashire and Cumbria. This role will bring new challenges, new responsibilities and many varied and wonderful finds and people. I can’t wait!
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the commencement of the Treasure Act 1996 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In this time over 11,000 Treasure finds have been reported under the Act, presenting local museums with an opportunity to acquire important objects from all periods of British history. Treasure objects, including those not acquired by museums, have a permanent record on the Portable Antiquities Scheme online database.
To celebrate this anniversary we have developed a 20 Years of Treasure display which is currently on display in the Yorkshire Museum. This display highlights some of the interesting and often important objects from all periods of British history which have been acquired by the museum under the Treasure Act. The discovery of these amazing objects allows museum collections to be continually enhanced with gold, silver, and coins which help to tell the unique local stories of the places they were found.
The display features coin hoards and modified coins which illustrate the complex nature of these familiar objects, as well as dress accessories which highlight changing fashions and trends. A group of objects which show political affiliation through personal adornment are on display and a variety of decorative techniques are also explored.
This display is open to the public until 3rd December 2017.
Alongside the display we have designed a Treasure Trail which brings together those Treasure objects on view in the various galleries of the Yorkshire Museum. The spectacular Towton Torcs, gold Iron Age armrings, can be seen in the first floor gallery and the Wold Newton Hoard, the largest of its period found in northern Britain, containing 1,857 copper coins is on display in the Roman Gallery.
The trail also includes some of the stunning objects on display as part of the museums Viking: Rediscover the Legend exhibition such as the Vale of York Hoard, one of the most important Viking discoveries ever made in Britain, and the Whitley Brooch displaying a distinctly Scandinavian design. Maps for the trail can be collected from the 20 Years of Treasure display in the museum foyer.
Finally, we have organised a conference to be held on Wednesday 11th October 2017 at the Yorkshire Museum. This conference will consider Treasure now, and look at what has been learnt in the past 20 years. There will be particular focus on discovery, acquisition and interpretation with relevant case-studies. The conference will also look forward, considering the potential of Treasure in the years to come. The conference is free and you can register to attend here: 20 Years of Treasure Conference.
I studied archaeology at the University of York, before completing a masters in medieval archaeology. I’m currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Warwick focusing on Roman tokens as part of the Token Communities in the Ancient Mediterranean Project. My thesis explores the way that as an everyday object, tokens are able to mediate social relations and play a role in community formation.
What does your role involve?
My current role involves researching and recording objects on the PAS database, as well as some photography and Photoshop.
What area of history/archaeology are you most interested in?
I find it difficult to pick a period of history that I am most interested in, but I have always enjoyed studying objects, and in particular the way that objects can have biographies and life histories of their own. My undergraduate dissertation focused on early medieval dress accessories, and my masters dissertation focused on Late Medieval livery badges so I quite like these periods and their material culture. However, now I’m enjoying studying the Roman period in more depth for my PhD.
Why did you start volunteering for the PAS?
I started volunteering with the PAS three years ago to gain practical experience to sit alongside my academic focus on archaeological material culture. Through this I was able to find work as an Archaeological Collections Assistant, and then undertake internships with the PAS in Somerset, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering for the PAS?
I love learning about different types of objects through recording them. It’s nice to broaden my knowledge base and study different kinds of objects from all different periods. Disney singalongs in the office are also a highlight!
What is your favourite find from North Yorkshire that you have recorded on the PAS database and why?
It’s impossible to pick one thing, but I enjoy recording Early-Medieval and Roman coins, as it’s so satisfying to get an identification for them when they’re very worn. I also enjoy recording objects that we can speculate had particular significance for a person’s identity, such as this cosmetics mortar (YORYM-C05A08).
What is your favourite find from North Yorkshire that has been recorded on the PAS database and why?
My favourite object is a copper alloy and enamel patera that was recorded in 2016 (YORYM-20B68C). It has a pattern of different coloured enamel squares around the body, and VTERE FELIX” (meaning “Use in happiness”) inscribed on the handle. I like how this object is so highly decorated, and is so different to most artefacts that I come across. It’s also interesting to think about how an object such as this might have had a specialised function in a religious or ritualised setting.
Hello, my name is Lydia Prosser and I’m currently the Headley Trust Intern to Becky Griffiths, the Finds Liaison Officer for North and East Yorkshire. I’ve only been doing this job for three weeks but I have already learnt so much, not least how to spell ‘liaison’ (with two ‘i’s!). My main job is to identify the many varied and wonderful objects found by the public and record them on the database. This was a little daunting at first, but I’m finding that the more objects I identify, the easier it becomes and with Becky’s direction I was soon off to a good start. On the second day, I was thrown in at the deep end and set to work on a whole lot of Roman brooches. After a couple of days I was seeing Roman brooches in my sleep!
The best thing about working as a Finds Liaison Assistant is the variety (as well as the frequent cups of tea). A medievalist by trade, I did my first degree in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic. Come September I will be starting a Master’s in Medieval Archaeology at the University of York, alongside working here at PAS. This love of the medieval extends to my hobbies; when not working or studying I can usually be found wandering around one of Britain’s many cathedrals or dressed up in medieval garb. Yet, it’s nice to be able to develop my knowledge for periods other than the medieval and to cultivate my slightly neglected interest in the Roman era.
It’s great to be working at Yorkshire Museum due to the wealth of the museum’s collection and the wonderful people who work here. As part of my induction to PAS I had a tour of the museum and its collections so that, in the words of the curator, I would ‘get to see the shiny things’ before getting used to looking at scraps of corroded metal. This was fantastic: the Escrick Ring is even more impressive in the cold metal, although, admittedly, I am still ridiculously excited about the scraps of corroded metal that end up on my tray and don’t think that will change.
During the next couple of weeks I will be learning how to photograph the finds I have recorded and how to use photoshop to edit the images. I will also experience my first Finds Day – it will be nice to meet some of the people who actually find the artefacts; public engagement is after all at the heart of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. I’m also looking forward to processing my first treasure case sometime soon: Becky has promised me a good one!
In September 2014 Lauren Proctor, who works for the Scheme in the North East, was contacted by an excited metal detector user who informed her he had discovered a hoard of Roman coins. The finder, David Blakey, described a ceramic pot brimming with copper coins from a field near the village of Wold Newton, East Yorkshire. David and a group of fellow detectorists lifted the pot whole, leaving the coins within.
Above: David Blakey with the in-situ hoard prior to removal.
Once the hoard was deposited with Lauren it was passed to the British Museum where, thanks to David leaving the coins in-situ, leading experts “excavated” the contents of the pot. This allowed them to determine how the coins were added to the vessel. Nine different levels were removed which showed that different bags of money were mixed together, hinting at how and why the coins were concealed. Some of the coins were also found to have insect remains adhering to them which may, when properly studied, show at what time of year the hoard was buried.
The coins were also individually identified and were found to represent a mix of emperors, mints and reverse types. Many of the coins were issued by emperors with strong links to the north and York in particular. Constantius I who died in York on 25 July AD 306 is well represented in the hoard, and it was he who was responsible for defeating the breakaway Britannic empire of Allectus and reuniting Britain with the rest of the Roman Empire.
The latest coins are early issues of Constantine the Great which date to AD 307, allowing us to determine the year in which the hoard was probably buried. Many of the coins were struck at the large mint in London. Containing 1,857 copper-alloy coins in total, it was also determined that this is the largest hoard of this date from northern Britannia.
Above: The Wold Newton Hoard on display at the Yorkshire Museum during the fundraising campaign.
The size and contents of the Wold Newton Hoard show it to be of huge significance. Following its declaration as Treasure, the PAS worked with the Yorkshire Museum to ensure the hoard could be acquired and kept within a public collection, thus allowing the possibility of further study with the potential to reshape our understanding of a crucial period in the history of York, Yorkshire and Europe.
The Wold Newton Hoard was successfully acquired by the Yorkshire Museum where it is currently on display.