Abigail Darvill is studying for an MA in Maritime Archaeology at Southampton University and recently completed a student placement with Wil Partridge (Finds Liaison Officer)
My time at the Salisbury Museum was short under the circumstances, however, it was time well spent and very rewarding.
Through one of my courses, I had the opportunity to work with Wil at the PAS*, and in my five days there, I met very kind staff members who were all wonderfully helpful. Although I was not able to take a look at the museum fully, it seemed very intriguing, and ‘backstage’ it was just as interesting.
Working with Wil has given me great insight as I learned about the PAS and how the system runs within the archaeology sector, while acting as a staff member myself and recording artefacts from start to finish. Wil has been incredibly understanding and has been very engaging to talk to about archaeology and heritage and all of the curiosities within his line of work. I believe that what the PAS stands for in involving the public in recording artefacts and increasing knowledge is very worthwhile.
From earliest times and into the Medieval period, people used pins to hold their clothes together. Ancient Sumerians and Egyptians made pins with decorated heads and then in the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans they began to use fibulae, or brooches.
This example recently came in to the Finds Liaison office in the museum for processing by the Volunteers there. Discovered by a metal detectorist, it is what is described as a La Tene brooch and falls about halfway through the history of brooches. It dates from the Iron Age, about 2 500 years ago. Brooches of this age are not unusual, but complete ones are a treat.
The La Tene material culture became widespread across Europe with a remarkable degree of standardisation. Thus this could be an import, or worn by a visitor to the country, but is likely to have been made in England.
Excavations of burials show that these were worn at the shoulder, holding together a tunic, or keeping a cloak or cape in place. Although the official description of such brooches always starts at the ‘head’ (in this case describing the coils of the spring, the pin, etc, first) and continues with the bow and ‘foot’ (in this case the curved section with the disc at the end), regular readers will know that the brooches were actually worn the other way up.
This may look pretty unprepossessing, but it is the (very) sharp end of a copper alloy item which is at least three thousand years old.
It came in to the Finds Liaison Office this week having been one of a number of items found in the region by a metal detectorist. The finds included the usual (but always fascinating) mix of Medieval coins, Roman brooches, buckles and other items.
This, however, is what is always described as a Bronze Age sickle. They fairly often appear, usually just fragments like this. Wooden versions with flints have been used for at east 10 000 years, and without them, farming might never have got going. It is assumed they were used just as they still are in parts of the world today – for harvesting grain crops or cutting grass for fodder. They are sometimes found in hoards, suggesting they may have had a religious significance or were in some other way ‘special’.
This example is surely as sharp as the day it was lost, probably around one thousand BC or even earlier.
Nicole was with us for a number of weeks in the summer….
“My name is Nicole and I’m a History student studying at Queen Mary University of London. I wanted to volunteer at the museum over the summer to gain more general museum experience and focus my future work experience and career. I have wanted to work in Archives or Museum Education and my placement at the museum has really helped consolidate this decision. Whilst at the museum, I worked in three areas: the Portable Antiquities Scheme, the library Ephemera collection and the Discovery Days family education events as well as at this year’s Festival of Archaeology. These are three stand out moments from my summer at the museum…
I spent my Tuesday afternoons at the museum cataloguing two boxes of family history from the library’s ephemera collection. The boxes, EPH 11 and EPH 11A, were filled with letters, education certificates, in memoriam cards, memoirs and photographs and taking time to really look at each object as I catalogued them, first by hand and then onto MODES, was a really great way to spend sun-filled afternoons in the library.
One piece that really struck me was this Valentines letter, cut into the shape of a heart with fold out pages. Each fragile page was filled with moving words, and really stuck out amongst the legal documents, certificates and photographs in the rest of the box.
I spent a lot of time working with the Portable Antiquities Scheme during my placement and catalogued 51 small finds in total including a lot of Roman coins, some jettons, brooches, buckles, axe heads and rings. I also became very well acquainted with the magic wand tool on Photoshop and found editing photos quite enjoyable, which was music to the ears of the PAS team.
One of my most memorable moments was an impromptu trip to the Barrow Clump site, run by volunteers as part of Operation Nightingale, which I’d heard a talk about at the Festival of Archaeology. After a tour round the site, including some WW2 arborglyphs, we went to the trench the volunteers were working on – just as they were uncovering a crouch burial. Absolutely great timing and a very exciting first visit to an archaeological dig.
I also engaged with the events and education the museum has to offer during my placement, both at the annual Festival of Archaeology and with the ‘Discovery Days’ which were artist-run family education workshops every Tuesday. Activities ranged from creating a ‘Museum of Me’ to Archaeology-themed stop motion animation, monolith climbing and a corn dolly workshop. Seeing children focus so intently on twisting damp ears of corn into intricate weaves and plaits, muddling our way through instructions and finishing it off with a little ribbon was fantastic – one family in particular really got to grips with it and made increasingly more intricate creations.
This sharing of ancient crafts was something that also stuck me at the Festival of Archaeology, and for me one the highlights. Re-enactment groups sharing knowledge, crafts and tangible glimpses into the past with such engaged young people was great to see and I myself was quite entranced by the flint knappers and ancient dying process.
My summer at the museum has given me an insight into the impact of local museums on the community both in terms of history through my work with ephemera, with detectorists and archaeologists as part of PAS, and through a summer events program which I saw engaged so many young people and families.
Thank you Nicole. ‘Enjoyed working with you on the PAS.
Volunteers were again involved with excavations in the Deverills valley recently. The Deverills Archaeology Group continue to work with Dr David Roberts of Historic England in an area where a large Roman villa was discovered just a few years ago by workmen laying a trench. Investigations last year, and this, have been into features showing up on geophys suggesting banks and small buildings – potentially a farmstead associated with the villa.
The dig was planned to
be brief, over a long weekend, but even then was shortened by heavy rain on the
first day. Two trenches were opened the next day and features immediately began
to appear – a bank in one and a hard surface in the other, with possible post
There were numerous
finds from a number of periods – prehistory, the Roman period, and Medieval –
mostly pottery sherds, animal bone and a small number of iron finds, such as
horseshoe nails, as one would expect. Amongst it all, a Roman coin,
provisionally identified as from the rule of Tetricus (latter part of 3rd c).
All the finds, with the exception of metal work, must be cleaned, dried, and bagged with a careful record of where they were found.
We are very fortunate to work alongside the residents of the Deverills, always enjoy their company, and were treated to an almost endless supply of delicious cakes, brownies and biscuits while there. The setting was beautiful. What more could we ask, except perhaps, better weather…..?
This seal matrix was brought in by one of our wonderful metal detectorists recently. Matrices of this type date from about 700 years ago, believe it or not. This one does not seem to have been much used, and despite its time in the soil, is well preserved. But can you read what it says? Try putting a mirror up to the image…
It was customary to begin “Seal of… “, usually shortened simply to ‘S’. Viewed from this angle this should be somewhere on the lower part of the face of the matrix. On the upper part should be the name (perhaps a Latinised version, perhaps abbreviated) of a place. It probably starts with ‘DE’, ie ‘of’…..
This example is from London and on the website of Fordham University (USA). Notable alumni – Donald Trump! It is their history too! There is a good article there about seals.
PAS (Portable Antiquities Scheme) Volunteers continue to work their way through literally hundreds of finds brought into the museum by responsible metal detectorists. Three ‘gems’ this week, being processed by Volunteers Jane Hanbidge, Alyson Tanner and Alix Smith, together with Finds Liaison Assistant Sohie Hawke are below
Found in Wiltshire, this brooch dates from c AD 75 – 175. We often have beautiful and interesting brooches but not often are they complete. This lovely item is missing only some enamel which would have been held in the triangular cells on the middle of the bow.
Some readers will know that these brooches were worn in a manner which we would consider is upside down. Thus….
They were functional as well as decorative, worn by men and women, holding clothing together, and often worn in pairs as below:
By far the most common finds are Roman coins. This one is early:
It is a coin from the rule of Lucilla. Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla or Lucilla (March 7, 148 or 150 – 182) who was the second daughter and third child of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
A slightly (!) better example of the same coin appears here……
In the film Gladiator Lucilla was depicted as one of the most dangerous threats faced by her brother, Commodus. She was eventually executed for plotting to assassinate him and take power with her second husband but appears on Roman coins because she was briefly, through her first marriage, Empress Consort.
Every one of these finds would have been sadly missed by its owner, not least this:
As you can see, this is a tiny toy jug from a child’s toy tea set, or possibly a doll’s house piece, about 2cm across. Provisionally identified as 18th or 19th century, it is made of lead, as many toys were, well into the 20th century. It is as beautifully decorated as a full size version would be.
The annual Archaeology of Wiltshire Conference, held in the Corn Exchange in Devizes and hosted by Devizes Museum, was sold out last Saturday. It was, as always, an eclectic mix of fascinating talks about current archaeology in the county.
Salisbury Museum was there in the form of some Volunteers and our own Sophie Hawkes (Finds Liaison Assistant) who was looking after the Portable Antiquities stand. An old friend joined us for a while….
The new Wiltshire Finds Liaison Officer (FLO), Wil Partridge, has quite a team working with him these days. At the moment, in addition to the new Finds Liaison Assistant, Sophie Hawke, with us for a few months, there are four or five regular Volunteers and assorted colleagues on work placements, etc. It’s just as well, for the metal detectorists’ finds come thick and fast.
Winter is a good time to be detecting, when there are no crops in the fields. The most common finds in Wiltshire? Roman coins, and more Roman coins. The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) encourages detectorists to bring in even the worst preserved of these (known as ‘grots’!) as all data obtained from these is important in providing an archaeological picture of what was happening all those centuries ago. Unless the coins are ‘treasure’ they are always returned to the detector after being processed by the PAS.
Sometimes it is not metal that arrives on Wil’s desk, but pottery, usually stumbled across by the detectorist when seeking those coins, but occasionally dug up by a farmer or gardener.
This is a sherd of Black Burnished Ware, c AD 250 – 410. In technical terms it is ” a coarse grained fabric, reduced grey-black throughout and containing abundant sub-angular quartz inclusions with infrequent small ferrous inclusions…the sherd exhibits burnishing on the exterior surface, with no surviving decoration.”
Black Burnished Ware was hand or wheel formed ‘coarse ware’ – sandy, rough pottery used for everyday kitchen and table ware such as jars, dishes and bowls. It was produced in huge numbers in the Poole (Dorset) area and distributed throughout Britain for centuries (pause to consider the logistics!). It was also produced in the Thames Estuary and in the Malverns. No wonder it turns up fairly frequently!
Pottery is important as a dating tool as it is well researched when and where certain types of pottery were made throughout history. If something metal (a knife, a key, a horseshoe…) turns up with the pot then the metal item can be dated with some certainty.
The Roman period, of course, is famous for its Samian Ware, a strikingly modern looking, characteristically red, ceramic. One of the ‘fine wares’. Quite a lot is brought to us here at the museum, sadly usually only fragments, but interesting nevertheless.
The technical description written by one of the PAS interns at Salisbury Museum is as follows: “A fragment of a Roman wheel made, Samian ware vessel. The fragment forms part of the body and is almost pentagonal shape. The sherd is an oxidised, sandy and pink colour fabric with an orange-red slip. There are no visible inclusions. The sherd is decorated with a stamp representing two figures. The figure on the left is bending forward the one on the right, extending his hand. The figure on the right is smaller than the first one and appears to hold something over his head. The scene is inserted into a circular and raised frame.”
When Thomas A’Beckett was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, the miraculous healing properties of his blood quickly became legend, and high status visitors, from home and abroad, began arriving to take caskets of relics, including flasks of ‘waters’, home to their own churches and cathedrals. Soon, humbler types were arriving and local metal workers neatly climbed on board the bandwagon by producing miniature versions of common flasks, called ampulla, which could be bought cheaply, and displayed, if so wished, as a sign that they had been to Canterbury!
Other religious centres caught on, one of the most prolific
being the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in N Norfolk where production of
ampullae probably continued right up until the Reformation in the mid 16th
Ampullae were also produced in Europe, and the shell pattern, being the accepted symbol across the continent of pilgrimage, became the most common decorative feature on an ampulla. Other motifs included, flowers, shields and letters eg ‘W’ for Walsingham. The little bottles were made of lead or lead and tin alloy – easy to melt and therefore to mass produce. They were basically circular, but flattened, with a slightly flared neck and with a small loop either side of the narrowest part, to which a cord could be attached (to be worn around the neck) or by which the ampulla could be sewn to a cap. The neck could be crimped if the water, oil, or perhaps dust (anything from the site would do) was to be held secure before being scattered or transferred. Occasionally ampulla are found that have not been opened, but the substance has escaped over time.
Pilgrim badges became popular later, perhaps as ‘display’ became more important, for whatever reason.
However, by the later Medieval period, ampullae were common again. It is currently thought that it may have become a ‘tradition’ of some kind to open the ampullae and spread the contents on fields, perhaps to bless the field and encourage fertility, or simply to bring the sacred back, literally to home ground. The bottles, with their necks ripped off, are commonly to be found in, or alongside, fields. They are also found in river banks or close to graves.
We might reflect that little changes. Using something to show where we have been (from a good tan to a sticker in the car – make your own list!) has never gone away. And all over the world little workshops produce cheap souvenirs for us to take home and show our friends. Neither have beliefs about special places, or people, which we (in our secular age) might describe as ‘superstitious’, become completely irrelevant. Indeed, in many societies pilgrimage remains important.