Category Archives: Archaeology

The Hadstock ‘Daneskin’ – new research on an old mystery

One of the exciting research projects to involve Museum collections has featured the scrap of alleged ‘Viking skin’ from the ancient north door of St Botolph’s Church, Hadstock. Local folklore holds that it came from a Viking who was flayed alive as a punishment for raiding the Church. Similar stories of so-called ‘Daneskins’ are associated with church doors at Copford, Essex, and Westminster Abbey, London. It is now 20 years since a tiny sample of the Hadstock skin was analysed at Oxford for the BBC TV series Blood of the Vikings (2001) and the results then suggested that its DNA profile was more cow-like than human. Now University of Cambridge researcher Ruairidh Macleod has used a new DNA analysis technique to investigate the Hadstock, Copford and Westminster Abbey ‘Daneskins’ and presented the results at the UK Archaeological Sciences Conference in Aberdeen last week. There is also an article in the New Scientist

https://institutions.newscientist.com/article/2317004-viking-skin-nailed-to-medieval-church-doors-is-actually-animal-hide/

The results confirm that the Hadstock skin is indeed cowhide, and lends weight to the theory that high-status doors, such as important doors in churches, were given hide coverings in the medieval period.

Up in Flames : the lost Roman treasures of Bartlow Hills

The current exhibition All Fired Up! prompts us to consider the local history which has been lost in fires. The fire of 1847 at Great Easton Lodge destroyed some of the most remarkable Roman artefacts ever discovered in the area, from the lavish burials under mounds of Romano-British aristocrats at Bartlow Hills, on the Essex / Cambridgeshire border. Fortunately the finds had been illustrated and published between 1832 and 1840, so we have a good idea of the contents of these great burial mounds, and the luxury goods which were accompanied the dead.

Between 1832 and 1840, the barrows were excavated by John Gage (later known as John Gage Rokewood) for the landowner Henry, Viscount Maynard of Easton Lodge near Dunmow. Saffron Walden Museum’s archives include copies of the original illustrations, published in the journal Archaeologia by the Society of Antiquaries of London, and also large watercolour copies made in 1885 for display in the Museum by its first professional curator, George Nathan Maynard (not related to Viscount Maynard). This selection of images from the Museum’s archives shows just some of wonderful objects discovered, all dating from the first or second centuries AD.

 

A unique bronze enamelled vessel, like a miniature cauldron. This did survive the 1847 fire, though damaged, and was acquired by the British Museum. Saffron Walden Museum has a 19th-century painted plaster copy. (Society of Antiquaries, 1836)

 

 

 

 

 

This beautifully-decorated bronze jug was for serving wine at table. A similar ornate bronze jug was excavated from a burial at Stansted Airport in the late 1980s and is displayed in Saffron Walden Museum. (Society of Antiquaries, 1836)

 

 

 

 

At the heart of one barrow a burial chamber had been constructed of tiles and contained cremated remains in a glass urn, with other vessels. (Watercolour by G N Maynard 1885)

 

 

 

A rare folding stool with an iron frame and bronze terminals. When excavated, it still had remains of the leather straps which formed the seat. (Watercolour by G N Maynard 1885)

 

 

 

 

 

A bronze oil lamp, with other bronze, glass and pottery vessels recovered from one barrow. It is likely that lighted oil lamps were placed in the graves as part of the burial ritual. (Society of Antiquaries, 1836)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pottery bowl. (Watercolour by G N Maynard 1885)

 

 

 

A Plan of the Bartlow Hills in the Parish of Ashdon in Essex by J G Lenny Surveyor Bury St Edmunds 1832

 

 

 

There were seven barrows originally, though some were damaged by agriculture. The largest survives to a height of 15 metres, making it the tallest Roman barrow in western Europe. Today the site is a scheduled monument and can be accessed via public footpaths from the Bartlow-Ashdon road and Bartlow parish church. Saffron Walden Museum also has a few objects from one barrow discovered during earlier investigations in 1815 by Sir Busic Harwood, a Cambridge physician who loved nearby.

Object of the Month – March 2022

The Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ provides an opportunity to explore interesting and unusual objects from our stores. 

March’s Object of the Month chosen by Curator Carolyn Wingfield features three clay tobacco pipe bowls, all recently found in the Castle Street area.

Last autumn, archaeologists monitoring building works at the Fry Art Gallery, Bridge End Gardens recovered two pipe bowls.

In December, sharp-eyed pupils from Year 5 at St Mary’s C of E Primary School discovered a clay tobacco pipe while digging in the school grounds.

In early January, the Museum was delighted to welcome a delegation from Year 5, who very kindly gave their find to the Museum.

Fragments of clay tobacco pipes, especially pieces of broken stems, are common finds. The earliest pipes date from the 17th century, following the introduction of tobacco from America.

Clay pipes continued to be made into the 20th century, although by World War I, smokers were turning to cigarettes and briar pipes.

The three pipe bowls from Castle Street date from the 19th century, when clay pipes were made in great quantities all over the country, and many were decorated with designs or motifs moulded in relief.

The pipe bowl from St Mary’s School probably dates from the later 19th century and has a fine band of leafy decoration within a border running down the front and back of the bowl.

The two pipe bowls from the Fry Art Gallery are very different. One is plain, though a small ‘spur’ beneath the bowl is stamped with the maker’s initial ‘W’.

The other bowl has elaborate moulded decoration. On one side is the badge of the Prince of Wales, three ostrich feathers and the motto ‘Ich Dien’ (‘I serve’). On the other side, a soldier fires a rifle from behind a tree. He wears the tall hat of an early 19th century infantryman.

The archaeologists (Archaeological Solutions Ltd) who were monitoring the works, dated the pipe to around 1820-1840 and suggested that it commemorated the Napoleonic Wars.

Such pipes would have been popular with former soldiers, or might be marketed to landlords of pubs named the Prince of Wales. A clay pipe with a plug of tobacco would be sold over the bar for a penny. There was a Prince of Wales pub in London Road, Saffron Walden in the 19th century, but there were also a number of pubs in Castle Street where pipes would be sold and smoked.

Image (left): all three clay pipe bowls found in the Castle Street area. 

Image (centre): St Marys School pipe bowl, showing the distinctive leafy style design 

Image (right): Detail of the Fry Art Gallery pipe bowl, showing an infantry soldier firing a gun

Many thanks to the pupils, staff and governors of St Mary’s C of E Primary School, and to John Ready and the Fry Art Gallery Society for the donation of these pipes and information on their discovery.

Andy Peachey of Wardell Armstrong LLP Archaeological Solutions Ltd provided the identification of the decorated pipe bowl from the Fry Art Gallery.

To find out more visit the Museum in March to see them on display…  

 

Object of the Month – November


The Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ provides an opportunity to explore interesting and unusual objects from our stores. 

November’s Object of the Month is a bronze and iron lynch pin from an Iron Age chariot wheel, chosen by our Curator Carolyn Wingfield.  It is at least 2,000 years old and was found in Radwinter parish by local detectorist James Patmore, who has kindly loaned it to the Museum.

This lynch pin is far more than just a functional piece of metalwork from a horse-drawn cart; it is a beautifully cast and decorated piece of late Iron Age bronze work and was made for the chariot of an ancient British warrior.

The lynch pin keeps the hub of a wheel in place. In Britain, there is evidence for the use of horses and wheeled vehicles from the Bronze Age, but the use of horses in warfare seems to have developed among the warrior class of Iron Age society. Their mastery of lightweight, two-wheeled chariots, drawn by a pair of native ponies, was described and admired by Julius Caesar, in his campaigns in Britain of 55 and 54 BC:

“In chariot fighting the Britons begin by driving all over the field, hurling javelins, and generally the terror inspired by the horses and the noise of the wheels are sufficient to throw their opponents’ ranks into disorder….even on a steep incline they are able to control the horses at full gallop, and to check and turn them in a moment”.

(Julia Caesar, The Conquest of Gaul, translated by S A Handford, 1951, Penguin Classics)

Some chariot lynch pins have enamel inlay surviving, as on another example on display in the Museum, though this lynch pin, acquired in the 19th century, has one end missing and no record of where it came from. Iron Age lynch pins like these are found occasionally across Britain, and are thought to date from around 300 BC to AD 100. So the Radwinter lynch pin is a very welcome addition to the displays. Who knows, maybe its owner was fighting during Caeser’s campaigns, or the Roman invasion of AD 43, or even Boudicca’s revolt of AD 60-61?

New Archaeological Treasure Acquisitions

Roman ring and silver coins

Saffron Walden Museum celebrates Uttlesford’s ancient heritage with three new archaeological treasures on display from 10 June.

The first two are a gold Roman ring from Broxted, set with a polished amethyst, and a hoard of ten silver coins from Barnston. The coins date from AD 395-402 and were probably buried in the early fifth century. When the last Roman legion left Britain in 410 and the supply of new coins dried up, silver coins like these continued in use into the fifth century, and are often found in hoards. The ring and coins were metal-detector finds and acquired by the Museum through the Treasure Act, with thanks to the Gibson Walden Fund who generously supported the purchase of the ring.

 

Ring surrounded by the 10 silver coins is                      © Saffron Walden Museum

 

 

 

Close-up of ring with amethyst                             ©Portable Antiquities Scheme

 

 

 

Bronze Age Gold Bracelets

This pair of solid gold bracelets, found in North-west Essex are nearly 3,000 years old. They date from the late Bronze Age, around 900 – 750 AD and seem to have been deliberately buried on their own. The Museum purchased them through the Treasure Act thanks to generous support from the Arts Council England / V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Art Fund, the Beecroft Bequest and two local donors.

       

Two members of Creative Walden’s Writers’ Room model the Bronze Age bling!

Credits

ACE / V&A Purchase Grant Fund:   www.vam.ac.uk/purchasegrantfund  

Art Fund: Twitter and Instagram @artfund  Facebook  facebook.com/artfunduk

For website include link to  https://www.artfund.org

“The Dig” on Netflix & it’s Saffron Walden Museum connections

Have you been watching “The Dig” on Netflix, which explores the excavation of the Great Ship Burial at Sutton Hoo (1939), based on John Preston’s novel.

Many of the characters depicted are inspired by real people, including one connected to Saffron Walden Museum.

Guy Maynard (1877-1968) was the museum’s Curator between 1904 and 1920, having initially been a mechanical engineer in the gun trade. Guy succeeded the 1st paid Curator, his father, George Nathan Maynard (b. 1828, Curator 1880-1904).

In 1920 Guy left Saffron Walden to become Curator of Ipswich Museum (1920-1932). He also became secretary and editor of the Prehistoric Society (1921–1936).

In 1937 as curator of Ipswich Museum, he was invited to visit the Sutton Hoo estate by its owner Edith Pretty and Vincent Redstone, a local historian. The wheels were then set in motion to explore the site. Little did they know then, that what they would unearth would completely transform our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon period. The site began to be excavated in 1938, by a team which included Maynard. The archaeological finds from the site were placed on display at Ipswich Museum and Maynard published a number of articles about them. He liaised with the British Museum about the excavation project.  

However, as the true archaeological significance of the site was revealed, tensions began to rise between Maynard & the Ipswich Museum team on one side and Charles Phillips, the new site archaeologist on the other. Maynard was angry that the finds were now being sent straight to the British Museum. There were increasingly arguments about physical access to the site and who should brief the press. Later Maynard gave evidence at the inquest which gifted the excavated finds back to the landowner Edith Pretty in Suffolk, but she ultimately gifted them back to the nation. Sadly, Guy Maynard and Charles Phillips never did resolve their issues and decided to avoid each other until Maynard retired from Ipswich Museum in 1952.

Photo Description: Guy Maynard wearing a flat cap and plus fours stood at the entrance to Saffron Walden Museum in 1912.

Object of the Month – July 2020

Hipposandal – a Roman horse shoe

Our Object of the Month for July has been chosen by Carolyn Wingfield, Curator

How were hipposandals used?

Iron hipposandals (soleae ferreae) were removable temporary horseshoes, which were used to protect the hooves of working horses.  They were first introduced in the Celtic-Roman area north of the Alps in the mid-1st century AD and were in use until around the 5th century AD, when they were largely replaced by nailed on horseshoes.

The iron soles of the hipposandals were marked with grooves, with an oval-shaped thick metal cup above that, which would have enclosed and protected the hoof. They were fastened to the horse using metallic clips and leather laces.  This particular example from our collections has the back wings and upper frontal loop missing. 

Wearing Hipposandals gave working horses’ better traction and protected their hooves, particularly on rough ground and metalled tracks. Wearing them greatly improved the efficiency and resilience of the animals.  There were also versions known as kureisen (cure shoes) which were worn to help treat and protect a horse if it had diseased hooves.

The word hipposandal is derived from Ancient Greek as the word “hippos” means horse. Hence the word “hippodrome,” which we now use to mean a theatre, but which originally was the name for an ancient Greek stadium for horse and chariot racing.

Where did this one come from?

This item was donated to the Museum in 1985 by a metal-detectorist and researcher along with a collection of shell and pottery fragments (which included sherds of Nene Valley fine-ware) and belemnite fossils all collected in the same area of Wixoe.

Wixoe is a village in West Suffolk, located on the bank of the River Stour, 2 miles south-east of Haverhill. It was recorded in the Domesday Book as having covered 600 acres and was one of the smallest parishes in the hundred of Risbridge.  Today, many of its cottages are Victorian and it has a 12th century church, St Leonard’s. 

Roman remains have been frequently found in the vicinity of Wixoe, mostly on the Essex side of the Stour. In 1803, close to Watsoe Bridge, an earthwork enclosure was identified as a ‘camp’, along with two cemeteries.  In 1973 aerial photography showed many large pits, two streets and a building with flint foundations, close to the river.  Field-walking and metal detection over many years have revealed multiple finds of Roman coins and other artefacts, including brooches, figurines, pottery. 

The assumption of archaeologists and historians is that Wixoe in Roman times occupied between 12 and 24 hectares, and was one of eight small Roman towns in Suffolk, which included Icklingham, Long Melford and Felixstowe.

In 2011, on the Suffolk side of the Stour, archaeological surveying and excavation work undertaken during the Abberton pipeline installation, revealed a small town which was likely to have been occupied between 100-400 AD. Its road connections were the real advantage of the town’s location. 

The Via Devana, a military track, which ran from Chester to Colchester, would have passed through Wixoe. Another road would have led east from Wixoe, on the north side of the Stour, passing through Long Melford, before heading north-east to Baylham and probably on to Dunwich.  A third road led north, probably towards Icklingham and the Icknield Way.  A fourth road, close to the Ains Ford, is thought to have run towards the major Roman fort at Great Chesterford, on a more southerly section of the Icknield Way.  There is no clear trace of these roads immediately outside Wixoe, but it is likely that they have been eroded by ploughing or incorporated into the existing field boundaries.  Evidence suggests that the Stour may have also been navigable as far as Wixoe by flat-bottomed boats.  There may even have been a wharf there at one time.

The town appears to have been a planned rural commercial centre, rather than one which evolved naturally from an earlier settlement. It is most likely that it was built after the Boudiccan revolt and sacking of Camulodunum (Colchester) in AD60-61.  The archaeological evidence suggests that its wealth was focussed on industrial production relying on local timber (charcoal) and imported metals.  It appears to have consisted of largely timber-framed domestic buildings, with evidence of courtyards, boundary ditches, industrial ovens and hearths showing the remains of lead and iron workings, with cobbled surfaces and pits used for quarrying.

Use of horses in Roman Britain

Battle

The Romans used horses primarily for battle; horsemen fought as a secondary force to the infantry soldiers. They would have initially fought on the wings of the battle formation.  It was the job of the cavalry to prevent the enemy from outflanking the infantry, who would have been positioned in the centre of the formation.  When the Romans turned a battle in their favour and the enemy began to retreat, the cavalry would then move forward to cut them down.  The use of horses in battle enabled the Roman army to move faster and more efficiently.  Horse riders also played other crucial non battle roles for example couriering urgent messages and acting as scouts investigating new territories. 

Agriculture & Industry

In Romano-Britain, horses were used in the majority of agricultural processes as draught animals, alongside donkeys and oxen. In industrial processes their walking motion would have been used to power heavy machinery, for example in milling flour or operating a saw mill. 

Transport

The majority of Romano-British people would have travelled on foot, but those who were wealthier such as merchants would have used horses for transport, as did the military and government. Rest stops would have provided those travelling long distances with a chance to rest and change horses. 

Chariot Racing & Public Events

In ancient Rome, chariot racing was extremely popular. Races were held in what was called a “circus” because of the oval shape of the stadium.  The most famous and oldest of these is the Circus Maximus in Rome.  The closest chariot racing circuit in Romano-Britain would have been the Camulodunum Circus (Colchester). The Romans loved a spectacle and in addition to the chariot racing they would have also had hunting shows, where venatores, often on horseback themselves, would have hunted herds of wild animals including horses for the assembled audience’s enjoyment.

References

Manning, W.H. (1985). Catalogue of Romano-British Iron Tools, Fittings and Weapons in the British Museum, BMP, London.

Colchester’s Roman Circus Centre, Colchester Archaeological Trust: https://www.romancircus.co.uk/

New blog article: Roman Kitchen & Dining

Curator Carolyn Wingfield is giving a small display of Roman pottery a makeover, looking at where the pots were made or how they were used. This small bowl with a perforated base is a pottery strainer or colander, which has been partially reconstructed; it is quite rare for strainer bowls to be found complete. Domestic pottery like this was usually made locally, so it may well have been traded at a market in the Roman town of Great Chesterford, or the smaller centre at Great Dunmow. In this case, we do not have any information on where the strainer bowl was found. It was common in late Iron Age and Roman times to place food and drink offerings in the grave with the dead (usually cremated remains). We do not have detailed records of where every pot in the collections was found, but it is probable that most of the complete or reconstructed Roman pots in the collections probably come from burials.

Pottery strainer bowl or colander, probably made locally, c 170 – 250 AD

Everyday vessels like this take us straight to the kitchen or hearth of a Romano-British family home, to people preparing their food and maybe adopting some new food fashions and items of kitchen equipment after Britain became part of the Roman Empire. One manual of Roman cooking survives– the recipes of Apicius, a celebrated Roman ‘celebrity chef’. However his recipes do not necessarily reflect what the average Roman Briton was cooking – especially those with more exotic ingredients such as ostrich! Nevertheless it does give us a valuable insight into Roman cuisine, and some ways of preparing common foodstuffs and sauces. Recipes for preparing cooked squashes in sauce or lentils with chestnuts, for instance, refer to straining ingredients.

Small Roman flagon and cup, both dating from the mid 2nd century AD

This flagon was made at a pottery near St Albans (Roman Verulamium) and the cup was imported from north Gaul (Roman France). The flagon was found in Great Chesterford and given to the Museum in 1836 – the year after it opened – by a Mrs Barnes. The little cup, which is just 7cms high, may also have been found at Great Chesterford, but no record survives of its provenance.

Wine was imported and enjoyed before the Roman conquest by at least some local Iron Age people; wine amphorae (large pottery containers) have been found in high-status burials and sherds of amphorae were excavated at an Iron Age village site now under Stansted Airport. Romans usually drank wine diluted with water – even soldiers had a ration of weak, sour wine. After the Roman conquest the taste for wine and its availability spread. Drinks based on wines flavoured with herbs and spices were also popular, as was the use of wine in cooking. Native drinks were based on fermenting grains (barley, wheat) and honey, so mead was probably common as well as beer, though strictly it would have been more like an ale or barley wine as hops were not used in Britain until the late Middle Ages.

The small size of the flagon and cup suggest they might have ben used for someone’s special tipple rather than drinking to quench thirst. Perhaps we could imagine a local Briton enjoying a nip of spiced wine on a damp chilly evening? Bibite! (Drink up!)

Object of the Month – October 2018

October’s Object of the Month is a Roman wine strainer chosen by Carolyn Wingfield, Curator

An Essential Accessory for Wine Drinkers

This fragile bronze vessel was described as a “Roman Bronze colander – origin unknown” in the Museum’s registers when it was acquired in 1927. It was among a list of diverse archaeological, historical and ethnographic objects given by George Morris of The Friends’ School, Saffron Walden. It measures nearly 15cms in diameter and the tiny holes piercing the central bowl form a delicate pattern.

Too delicate to be a colander, it is more accurately described as a wine strainer, which would have been used to filter sediment from wine. It is of fine workmanship, though a little damaged and has in the past been repaired with plastic mesh to support the paper-thin edges where some pieces are missing. The handle is also largely missing, although the end adjoining the pan is visible, repaired in the past with modern solder.

We can now place this wine strainer in context, thanks to finds of similar vessels, often accompanying small Roman bronze saucepans know as trullei (singular, trulleus). Trullei were part of the standard equipment of Roman legionaries, but wine strainers were not everyday items issued to Roman troops, and strainers like ours could have been made in Britain. There are examples of strainers been buried with trullei or bronze bowls, for instance the Kingdtone Deverell hoard, discovered in 2005 and now in Salisbury Museum, and the Langstone hoard from Newport, Wales, found in 2007. The Langstone hoard may have been a ritual deposit made by Britons, but elsewhere, strainers and bronze vessels have been found in graves, as part of the feasting and drinking equipment which accompanied the social elite of late Iron Age and early Roman Britain to the next world.

Certainly at the top of Iron Age society in the Essex region, there were people enjoying wine imported from the Roman world as much as a century before the Claudian invasion of AD 43. We know this from high-status graves where wine amphorae were buried, and you can see examples of such amphorae in Saffron Walden Museum. So our wine strainer could date to around the 1st century AD, either just before or after the Roman conquest. It is a pity that we do not know where it was found, but we can imagine a local British aristocrat using this as part of a wine-drinking ceremony or special feast.

Cheers!

 

The wine strainer is on display at the Museum until 1st November 2018, where you can learn more about this object and life in Roman times.