The Allesborough Handaxe

In 1997-8, a discovery on the surface of a field near Pershore brought an ancient and unusual archaeological find to light.

It is a Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) handaxe: a stone multi-tool used by early humans for butchery. The once-sharp edges are worn smooth from millennia spent in river gravels. Whilst other materials would have been used by our ancestors, only durable stone tools survive for us to study. It was probably made during one of the warm periods within the Ice Age, between 300,000 and 424,000 years ago, by hunter-gatherer ancestors of both modern humans and Neanderthals named Homo Heidelbergensis.

Most local handaxes are made from flint or quartzite, but this one uses a rare and unusual black volcanic rock. The nearest matching sources are Cornwall or Yorkshire, so the rock was either brought to Worcestershire along seasonal migration routes, or carried here by glacial activity. Either way, our ancestors were drawn to its striking, unusual appearance when they selected it to make this tool.

Much of the archaeological research for this era focuses around southern England. However, there have been a number of important Palaeolithic discoveries in the West Midlands. The area holds crucial clues to our understanding of the early human occupation of Britain.

This object was researched as part of the wider Heritage Lottery Funded Lost Landscapes of Worcestershire project, a partnership between Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service and Museums Worcestershire celebrating the area’s Ice Age past through exhibitions, events and workshops.

 

Rob Hedge and Claire Cheshire

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Seventeenth Century Silver Hawking Vervel

This seventeenth century silver hawking vervel now in the Worcestershire County collection was found by a metal detector user in the Stourport on Severn area in 2014. The vervel resembles a flat silver ring inscribed with E. EYTON OF and has a shield soldered to the front bearing the coat of arms of an unidentified member of the Eyton family of Shropshire.

Vervels were used to attach a hawk or falcon’s leather jesses to a leash, which, held in the hand, enabled the bird to be trained in short distance flight. The leash could also be used to fix the bird to its block or perch. They were usually inscribed or decorated so that the bird could be identified with its owner.

The discovery of the vervel was reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme and as the vervel is made from a minimum of 10% precious metal and is over 300 years old it qualifies as Treasure as defined by the Treasure Act 1996. Consequently, Museums Worcestershire was able to acquire the vervel for the county collection in 2016.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme has recorded over 14,400 archaeological finds from Worcestershire, all of which have been discovered by members of the public and range from prehistoric hand axes to seventeenth century buttons. They are of national importance through to the common ‘everyday’ items, and their contribution to the archaeological landscape is breath taking.

The scheme has a network of Finds Liaison Officers covering England and Wales whose role is to record these finds and add the data to the publicly accessible Portable Antiquities Scheme database.

Mammal Bones Conservation

Over the next year, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service and Museums Worcestershire are working on a Heritage Lottery funded project to celebrate Worcestershire’s Ice Age past through exhibitions, events, blogs and workshops.

As part of the project, conservation work is being carried out on some of the earliest items that came into the Worcester City collection.

No.128 Bos / bison skull and horn cores from Bricklehampton.

Ice-age conservation

This specimen was in several pieces (see image below). It had clearly been put together in the past with glue and plaster of paris, with a wooden dowel inserted into the left side of the skull and into the left horn core, held with plaster. The plaster had given way.

The edges of breaks were consolidated with Paraloid B72 consolidant and then pieces were glued back together with Paraloid B72 adhesive. The wooden dowel was re-used as support is required for the large, heavy left horn core. Once the adhesive had set, plaster was applied around the dowel inside the horn core. NB there is a metal rod acting as a supporting dowel in the tip of the right horn core. Large cracks were filled with plaster of paris. All plaster was painted to closely, but not perfectly, match the surrounding bone so that an expert eye can tell where the gap-filler is.

Ice-age conservation2

Above, the repaired specimen with the plaster unpainted. Below, with the plaster painted.

Ice-age conservation3

No.173 Taurus primigenius horn core from Eckington.

The proximal end of this horn core was in several pieces. Many could be relocated, but not all.

The edges of breaks were consolidated with Paraloid B72 consolidant and then pieces were glued back together with Paraloid B72 adhesive. Once the adhesive had set, large gaps were filled with plaster of paris to provide additional strength and robustness to the specimen. All plaster was painted to closely, but not perfectly, match the surrounding bone so that an expert eye can tell where the gap-filler is. One piece of bone in this bag does not belong to this specimen.

Ice-age conservation4 Ice-age conservation5

Above left: the specimen before repair. Above right, the specimen after repair.

No.143 Bison priscus limb bone from brickyard

Ice-age conservation6This specimen was in two pieces, where an old repaired break in the mid-shaft had failed. Old glue was removed with a scalpel, the edges of the break was consolidated with Paraloid B72 consolidant and then the two pieces were glued back together with Paraloid B72 adhesive.

General

All the specimens were inspected to see what further conservation work was required. As the surfaces were generally quite friable and fragile, only limited cleaning could be undertaken. This consisted of using an airbrasive unit utilising compressed air laced with a small amount of sodium bicarbonate powder, followed by cleaning with just compressed air. A few vulnerable friable areas were consolidated with Paraloid B72 but this was kept to a minimum so as not to adulterate the specimens.

Thanks to Nigel Larkin for this report.

Conserving the Clifton Mammoth Tusk

a large curved tuskThe excavation of a woolly mammoth tusk by Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service at Clifton Quarry, just south of Worcester in March 2016, has led to conservation work to ensure its long-term protection.

Specialist conservation work on the mammoth tusk was very generously funded by Tarmac who own and work Clifton Quarry. The tusk was waterlogged when found so it was dampened and covered in plastic to ensure that it dried out slowly, reducing the chances of splitting and delamination which can occur in waterlogged specimens.

Once it had dried, the surfaces of the tusk were gently cleaned and strengthened. A second phase of conservation work was required a few weeks later as the tusk adapted to the environmental conditions at Worcester Art Gallery and Museum.

Between 2017 and 2018, thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service (WAAS) in partnership with Museums Worcestershire will bring the Lost Landscapes of Worcestershire back to life, with events and exhibitions celebrating half a million years of the area’s history, from the time our ancestors arrived until the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago.

Roman Glass

a Roman glass flask and bowlIn the early nineteenth century the motte (or mound) of Worcester’s long lost Castle still stood, some 80 feet above the high water mark of the River Severn, to the south of the Cathedral. In 1833 it was finally levelled at the request of a local bookseller, Mr Eaton, who owned the land that the motte stood on.
As the huge amount of earth was removed, a number of wonderful archaeological discoveries were made; both structures and also individual finds that are still in the museum collection today.
The finds included a Bronze Age socketed axe, Roman coins, brooches, tweezers, bells and pottery as well as later medieval pottery and Saxon and medieval coins.
Within the museum collection, we also have two Roman glass vessels that have long been understood to have been found at Castle Hill but are not mentioned by commentators who wrote of the discoveries at the time.
These are the only complete Roman glass vessels in the city collection and it is perhaps more likely, though no records exist, that they were brought back from the Mediterranean in the nineteenth century by one of the travellers or officers who often donated to the Worcester’s growing collection.

A Thirteenth Century Pottery Puzzle

web-saintonage-pitcher-c-museums-worcestershireIn 1965 construction work was underway in Worcester city centre on the building which would become the Giffard Hotel (now the Travelodge). Henry Sandon, who would in later years, become well known for his work on BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, was then a member of the Worcester City Archaeological Research Group and kept an archaeological watching brief on the construction work in order to monitor the area for any archaeological discoveries that might be unearthed. The area known as Cathedral Plaza was once part of the hustle and bustle of the Roman, Anglo Saxon, and later, the medieval city.
This pitcher was imported to Worcester in the thirteenth or fourteenth century from the Saintonge region in south-west France. The pot’s fabric is a hard, fine, whitish ware with a yellow tone to the outside and a green glaze to the upper part of the body of the pot. The form or shape of the pot, with its three strap handles, belongs to a type that endured for centuries. It’s most likely use was to hold wine. At the time of its discovery, it generated excitement, being one of only seven known examples in Britain.
It was found in a vast number of small pieces in one of two wells which were excavated under the direction of Philip Barker, the then lecturer in extra-mural activities at the University of Birmingham, and a pivotal figure in the development of archaeology in Worcester.
The pitcher is not only fascinating in the story it tells of a wealth that could afford such imported ware in the late thirteenth century in our city but also of the feat of conservation undertaken by staff at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London.
The tiny sherds of pottery from Well 2 were painstakingly reconstructed into a complete pottery vessel that is still a favourite whenever it is displayed or encountered on store tours. It is an object that is examined and talked about as much for its conservation as its archaeological value. More information about this beautiful pitcher can be found on Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service’s Online Ceramics Database.

The Sidbury Chafing Dish

This beautiful dish is a firm favourite with visitors to our collection stores and has been displayed often in exhibitions about Tudor or post medieval Worcester. It dates to the sixteenth or seventeenth century and was found during excavations in Sidbury ahead of the construction of City Walls Road in the 1970s.
This type of pottery was produced in Hanley Swan in Worcestershire from the late thirteenth to the early seventeenth century in a multitude of different forms (or shapes) and by the time this dish was manufactured, this Malvernian pottery was exported across a large area to the south of Bristol and along the coast of South Wales.
This particular pot is a chafing dish, a portable vessel which was designed to take hot coals or charcoal and was used for the preparation of foods that needed to be kept warm or cooked gently at the table. Metal chafing dishes are also known such as one found in a chest on the wreck of the Mary Rose, used by a barber-surgeon for heating up irons, pitch or wax.
This object’s appeal, though, lies in its unusual appearance: its six large teeth, interspersed with smaller white examples, its applied and pierced decoration, the ring hanging from one of the handles and its vivid orange glaze.

An Archaeological Enigma from the Teme Valley

web-archers-wrist-guard-c-museums-worcestershireThis intriguing object takes us back to the very early years of the Worcester museum service and the gentlemen naturalists and antiquarians who founded the Museum of the Worcestershire Natural History Society, which later became, Worcester City Museum.

Jabez Allies was one such antiquarian who collected during the first half of the nineteenth century and donated much of what he came upon to the Museum of Worcestershire Natural History Society.

It was Allies who presented this object, found in a quarry in the Teme Valley, at a meeting of the Royal Archaeological Institute in December 1849. In the Institute’s Archaeological Journal of 1844 it is described as, “….supposed to be of the early British period, formed of a green coloured stone, and found six feet below the surface in a gravel bed at Lindridge. It is a kind of chisel, or possibly it may have been used as a flaying-knife. At one end there are two perforations, and a third hole drilled only partly through… It was presented to the Museum of the Worcestershire Natural History Society, by Rev. Thomas Pearson, of Witley.”

We now know this wonderful object in the city collection probably isn’t a chisel or a knife but a Bronze Age bracer, or archer’s wrist guard used to protect the wrist. It was a high status object, bound to the wrist with straps and formed from a rock that, at its closest, can be found in Central Wales. At some point in antiquity the object seems to have broken. It lost its perforations at one end and has been reworked into its present unusual form, perhaps to become a pendant or amulet but certainly an enigma to the antiquarians of the nineteenth century and beyond.

 

The Ham Green Coin Hoard

In 1981 86 silver coins, buried in a salt glazed stoneware bottle, were found beneath the pantry floor of a cottage in Ham Green, Redditch. The hoard was declared Treasure and acquired by Worcestershire County Museum Service

The hoard provides a typical picture of the coinage being used in England in the middle of the seventeenth century and contains mainly shillings and sixpences, alongside two contemporary forgeries, from the reigns of Phillip and Mary (1554-58) through to coins of Charles II dating to 1661-2. It is likely then that the coins were hoarded in the early years of the reign of Charles II and it appears that the neck of the pot the coins were hidden inside had been broken in order to fit the largest coins through it.

The coins span an exciting and turbulent period in the history of our County including the First and last Battles of the Civil War, the execution of Charles I, the escape of Charles II from Worcester in 1651, and his restoration to the throne less than ten years later.

One halfcrown of Charles I struck around 1644-5 and marked with a ‘W’ depicting the mint (probably Worcester) is the product of one of a number of emergency civil war mints established by the Royalists during the Civil War to ensure that they were able to pay for their military and logistical needs at a time when the circulation of currency was compromised. A similar mint had also been established at Hartlebury Castle, the home of the Bishop of Worcester.

We’ll never know what the reason for hiding these coins were, some ten years after the Battle of Worcester and the end of the English Civil War but the stories that the coins tell are fascinating nonetheless.

 

Reference: Besley, E. Redditch Treasure Trove, Transactions of Worcestershire Archaeological Society, 1986