NMS-02D9D8: Probable Anglo Saxon Aestel

Rights Holder: Norfolk County Council
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AESTEL

Unique ID: NMS-02D9D8

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Awaiting validation Find awaiting validation

A complete early medieval gold terminal mount traditionally referred to as an 'aestel' (see Discussion). The mount is in the form of an animal's head, constructed from a sub-rectangular sheet of gold to which has been soldered a separate gold sheet back-plate, leaving a hollow void inside. At one end is a short, tubular socket which has been pierced through with a circular rivet-hole (now empty), torn open on the base-plate. The socket expands in width to form the roughly diamond-shaped animal head with a snubbed snout. It is slightly distorted by crush damage.

The upper surface of the mount is decorated extensively with gold granulation and filigree, including beaded and twisted wire. A single strand of beaded wire runs around the lower edge of the mount, masking the junction between base-plate and upper sheet. An additional strand may have run along the edge of the socket, but only a tiny fragment survives. A broken strand of beaded wire encircles part of the upper rivet-hole, from which extends two parallel strands of beaded wire which diverge slightly until they meet a transverse pair of beaded wires running across the back of the animal's head, forming a collar of sorts. Both panels formed by these pairs of wires contain semi-circular, scale like motifs. At first these appear to have been made in plain wire, but magnification shows that they have scalloped edges, identifying them as very worn beaded wire.

The animal's head is divided into four panels by a curved X-shape formed from single strands of twisted wire, crossing between its eyes. The sub-triangular panels created at the brow and snout are filled with circlets of beaded wire and gold granules, fragments of which are missing. The sub-semi-circular fields at the cheeks are filled with the same scale-like motifs used on the collar and socket, with several 'scales' missing. Another strand of twisted gold wire runs around the snout end to create the effect of open jaws. In one corner a single 'scale' survives, suggesting that it may once have had a full set of 'teeth'. The animal's eyes comprise a pair of laterally-aligned settings, constructed from upright strips of gold sheet surrounded with a beaded wire collar. They are now empty (confirmed under magnification) but presumably once held glass or gem settings.

Notes:

This artefact appears to belong to a group of objects that have been interpreted as pointers (often referred to as 'aestels') used while reading books. It is thought that the riveted sockets held a shaft for pointing at text, and the flat bottoms helped them slide across the page (Webster and Backhouse 1991, pp. 281-3, nos. 258- 60). The best-known is the Alfred Jewel, also the largest (length 62mm) and most elaborate, set with rock crystal, an anthropomorphic enamel and an inscription (Ashmolean Museum; Hinton 2008; Webster and Backhouse 1991, no. 260).

An increasing number of 'aestels' have been found as stray finds in recent years, and have passed through the Treasure process and been recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. They all differ in size, form and decoration but most share typical features of a domed body, riveted socket and flat base. Animal-headed examples of similar form and/or decoration to the 'South Norfolk' mount have been found at Aughton, Yorkshire (PAS database SWYOR-C75C64, 2005 T82) and Grimston, Leicestershire (PAS database LEIC-57BE78, 2016 T951), both of which have gem-set eyes but simpler filigree decoration. The animal also shares features with a curious object of unidentified function from Sutton-on-the-Forest, North Yorkshire (PAS database YORYM-3F57C3). These artefacts have been dated to the second half of the ninth century, which is also consistent with the style of decoration adorning this find.

Subsequent actions

Subsequent action after recording: Submitted for consideration as Treasure

Treasure details

Treasure case tracking number: 2016T760

Chronology

Broad period: EARLY MEDIEVAL
Subperiod from: Late
Period from: EARLY MEDIEVAL
Subperiod to: Late
Period to: EARLY MEDIEVAL
Ascribed Culture: Anglo-Saxon
Date from: Circa AD 850
Date to: Circa AD 900

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Length: 30 mm
Width: 12 mm
Thickness: 5 mm

Discovery dates

Date(s) of discovery: Friday 2nd September 2016 - Friday 2nd September 2016

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: Mr Garry CRACE
Identified by: Mr Garry CRACE

Other reference numbers

SMR reference number: 61381
Other reference: IND01092016GC
Treasure case number: 2016T760

Materials and construction

Primary material: Gold
Decoration style: Zoomorphic
Completeness: Complete

Spatial metadata

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

Spatial coordinates


Grid reference source: Generated from computer mapping software
Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 1 metre square.

References cited

No references cited so far.

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: NMS
Created: About one year ago
Updated: 3 months ago

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