NMS-4D6BA7: Early early-medieval unidentified object

Rights Holder: Norfolk County Council
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Rights Holder: Norfolk Museums Service
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UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT

Unique ID: NMS-4D6BA7

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Published Find published

Description: Gilded silver object with niello inlay and Salin's Style I decoration dating it to the early Anglo-Saxon period. It is a heavy, three-dimensional object cast in one piece, perhaps imitating a buckle frame and pin, or alternatively a sword-ring.

The object is largely circular in shape, thick and tapering upwards to form a truncated cone which has a sunken centre devoid of decoration. This is crossed by a bar which drapes across the slopes of the cone, dipping down into the centre where it is crossed by a second shorter bar at right angles. The sides of the cone are decorated with relief ornament; the lower edge is ringed with three ridges and two grooves, and above this is a zone of Style I animal decoration, then a beaded border around the top.

The zone of Style I decoration is divided into two halves by the bar draped over it, and one of the halves is further divided by a vertical (or transverse) pair of ridges with a relief zig-zag in between them. On this side, the left-hand panel has a single animal in profile looking right, lying down with a bent hind leg and foreleg each in a tight curve. The body is decorated with a ridge along the back, and a pair of ridges across the neck. In front of these, the head has a right-angled frame over a pellet eye, a right-angled nose below the headframe, and a rounded cheek below the eye. The headframe is unusual in having a bifurcated end next to the neck, perhaps forming a triangular ear.

The other panel on this side also appears to have an animal in mirror-image facing left, again starting with a headframe, nose, eye and cheek and with a pair of ridges across the neck; but the headframe is simple with no bifurcation, and the  body consists of an elongated reversed-S with a possible forefoot in front. Another group of shapes behind the S-shaped body ought to be a rear foot, but if so it is turned at an odd angle, with perhaps a leg block above the body and two toes behind.

On the other side there is a single panel, but with two animals. On the left is a profile animal looking right and lying down, with a body and legs rather similar to the animal in the same place on the other side of the object; it has the same ridge along the top of the body, and tightly curved legs tucked alongside. Differences include two nicks to the underside of the body, dividing the foreleg and shoulder from the belly, and a very different head; long and thin with no headframe, a circular groove for an eye, and two tapering slender jaws. In front is another confusing set of elements that might be a human head, hand and arm. The rest of the area is filled with a profile animal facing left, with a pair of long curving tapering jaws and a sketchy foreleg and foot below. Behind is a body with a curious triangular depression at the shoulder, and a rear leg and foot (similar to the foreleg) tucked in behind.

The bar draped across the centre of the conical area, and the second shorter bar that crosses it, have the same shape in cross-section. They have a tall central flat-topped ridge flanked by lower border elements, to give the impression of a lower concave-topped ridge with a second element set on top. The central ridges are both decorated on top with raised edges and a reserved central zig-zag, with niello inlay to either side; the lower elements are undecorated.

The two ends of the longer bar differ slightly in that one is longer, with the lower flanking borders carried round the rounded tip. The steeply sloping edge of the lower border, which is mostly undecorated, has transverse decoration on either side here, of a broad flute or groove between two narrow grooves. Between the transverse decoration, the rounded tip has a worn longitudinal groove which perhaps echoes the edge grooves of the main roundel. The other end of the bar has the central ridge with nielloed zig-zag carried almost down to the end, with just a 1.5mm undecorated border here.

The ends of the shorter bar rise from the undecorated centre, and each has a gilded undecorated area about 3mm long at the base, before the start of the nielloed zig-zag.

The reverse of the object is generally hollow, with a raised division between a circular central area and a concentric border. This division between inner and outer parts of the object is missing for a short distance on the line of the longer bar, as if the bar is to fit over something; the projecting ends of this bar are also hollow-centred on the reverse. The shorter projecting end of this bar does not extend as far down as the longer one, leaving a gap underneath when the object is placed on a flat surface. The rim of the cone, with its grooved decoration, is also cut away here; these lines are not breaks, but are original and neatly smoothed, again as if the recess was made to fit over something. Much of the reverse has a rough, unfinished, bubbly appearance, with concretions perhaps including solder.

Dimensions: Length from end to end including bar, 27.9mm. Width (diameter of cone) 25.3mm. Thickness in centre, 14.3mm. Weight 17.6g.

Analysis: Non-destructive X-ray fluorescence analysis of the surface indicated a precious metal content of approximately 62-77% silver. This surface analysis is likely to give a slight overestimate of the silver content of the core metal, as corrosion alters the composition of the surface metal by preferentially leaching out copper. Other elements detected were copper, lead and tin, and the object is mercury gilded.

There is a probable presence of solder on the back, presumed by the different composition of the object in the region of the hollow. The analyses on the back, in the “dome”, showed a much higher percentage of lead and tin, compared with the analyses undertaken on other points, probably as a result of the presence of a lead-tin based solder.

Discussion: This object shares features with other three-dimensional objects decorated with Style I and niello inlay recorded on the PAS database. Most of these are unidentified objects, possibly mounts, such as YORYM-C6C515 (2014T886), NMS-4B8EF7 (2006T504) and NMS-664877 (2012T67).

The crossing elements on a circular base recall the animals on a possible disc brooch from near Lichfield (WMID-D27DCC, 2005T94). Other crossing bars can be found on a silvered copper-alloy buckle from Proosa, Estonia (Franzén 2009) which has a similar truncated-cone base (the frame of the buckle) decorated with panels containing Style I animals; the Proosa buckle's pin drapes over the frame in a manner very reminiscent of this object's longer bar.

Elements of buckles similar to the Proosa buckle (and its parallels from Snartemo and Sjörup) recorded on the PAS database include a plate (SF-0D63A6, 2013T302) and two possible pins (NMS-816603, 2015T224 and NLM-219C93, 2009T175). Franzén suggested that these buckles may have been used on a baldric (sword-belt; 2009, 56) and so this object may have been a matching mount, with the circular element perhaps related to sword-rings. 

The underside of the object is also reminiscent of that on the mount on the Sutton Hoo shield (Inv. 206; Bruce-Mitford 1978, 129-137), which is itself derived from sword-rings. This raises the alternative possibility that the object was associated with a sword or seax. The cutaway portion of the rim compares to the shape of cast sword-ring fittings such as that on the Sutton Hoo shield, in the Staffordshire Hoard (Fern, Dickinson and Webster 2019, cat. nos. 79-82) and attached to various swords from south-east England, northern and western Europe (Evison 1967). The object’s M-shaped profile also evokes the dual-ring sword pommels from the Staffordshire Hoard (Fern, Dickinson and Webster 2019, cat. nos. 75-77). 

Date: The use of Style I dates it to the late 5th or 6th century; the morphological similarities to the Proosa buckle also suggest a date centring around 500 AD.

Notes:

As the object is made of more than 10% precious metal and is over 300 years old, it constitutes potential Treasure under the Treasure Act 1996.

Drawing by Jason Gibbons.

Find of note status

This has been noted as an interesting find by the recorder.

Subsequent actions

Subsequent action after recording: Submitted for consideration as Treasure

Treasure details

Treasure case tracking number: 2020T729

Chronology

Broad period: EARLY MEDIEVAL
Subperiod from: Early
Period from: EARLY MEDIEVAL
Subperiod to: Early
Period to: EARLY MEDIEVAL
Date from: Circa AD 450
Date to: Circa AD 550

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Length: 27.9 mm
Width: 25.3 mm
Thickness: 14.3 mm
Weight: 17.6 g

Discovery dates

Date(s) of discovery: Tuesday 15th September 2020 - Tuesday 15th September 2020

Personal details

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Other reference numbers

SMR reference number: 6164
Other reference: SB092020
Treasure case number: 2020T729

Materials and construction

Primary material: Silver
Completeness: Complete
Surface Treatment: Multiple

Spatial metadata

Region: Eastern (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Norfolk (County)
District: North Norfolk (District)
To be known as: North Norfolk

Spatial coordinates


Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 1 metre square.

References cited

Author Publication Year Title Publication Place Publisher Pages Reference
Bruce-Mitford, R. 1978 The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial vol II; arms, armour and regalia London British Museum
Evison, V.I. 1967 The Dover ring-sword and other sword rings and beads London Society of Antiquaries
Fern, C., Dickinson, T. and Webster, L. 2019 The Staffordshire Hoard: an Anglo-Saxon treasure London Society of Antiquaries
Franzén, R. 2009 The image of Loki from Proosa in Estonia: A Migration Period high status buckle with an elevated circular fastening plate in the light of similar buckles recovered in Scandinavia Helsinki The Archaeological Society of Finland

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: NMS
Created: About one year ago
Updated: 6 months ago

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