Buried Treasures

A rare coin hoard of medieval Long Cross silver pennies found by metal detectorists in Dodderhill was recently acquisitioned into the Worcestershire County Museum collection.

Hoards of the Long Cross period are relatively rare – only 37 are known from the whole of England and Wales and this is the second such hoard in the care of Museums Worcestershire, the first being from Belbroughton. This hoard is thought to date back to the 1270s.

The hoard includes two relative rarities: a complete 3ab1 penny of Hereford and a European-brabantinus. There are fewer than 5 Hereford 3ab1 pennies and only 9 Brabants recorded in the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, out of around 43,000 medieval coins. The Portable Antiquities Scheme records discoveries by metal detectorists and other members of the public.

This hoard amounts to 5s 2.5d, which would have been equivalent to over 40 days’ wages in the 13th century, so could either have been a considerable purse loss, or the accumulated savings of a peasant.

The coin hoard will be kept in the county thanks to generous donations from Felicity Marshall and from Worcestershire Archaeological Society.

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Here be dragons

This floor tile from the Museums Worcestershire collection was discovered during excavations at the Commandery in 2005-6. The tile is likely to be of local Worcestershire production, and dates from the 14th century when the Commandery was still serving its original purpose as a monastic hospital – a function which it fulfilled for 500 years.

The tile is thought to have been part of a single paved area, demolished sometime between the late 18th – mid 19th century. By this period, the Commandery had become a family home, and was later transformed into a pioneering school for the blind sons of gentlemen.

The tile is decorated with a four legged beast with a long curved tail. There has been some debate as to whether this creature is a dragon or a wyvern, but the lack of wings on this example may suggest that it in fact represents a dragon. The image of a dragon on this Worcester-made tile, and in the context of its original location within a monastic hospital is thought-provoking. Perhaps the image alludes to the legendary stories of Saint George, famous amongst many other saints for his traditional run-in with a dragon.

The dragon has been universally adopted, and adapted, throughout the last millennium, and across the world. There have been many suggestions as to the origins of dragon and wyvern myths – snakes, crocodiles, sea creatures, dinosaurs and even rainbows have been suggested as the common origin of the mythical beast. In Chinese traditional culture, the dragon has been viewed as a symbol of strength and good, whereas more fearful tales from other cultures present the dragon as a villain.

Roman Milestone

This slab of stone with Latin dedication has been described as a Roman milestone from the reign of Constantine the Great. It was discovered early in the 19th century in the kitchen garden of Court House, Kempsey, and used in a garden wall before finally finding a home within the Worcester City collection.

In-keeping with most Roman milestones, this slab records only the name of the Emperor, although does not offer the dates of his reign as in some instances. The word mile is derived from the Latin milia passuum, ‘a thousand paces’, for Roman miles were a thousand paces long.

Kempsey itself sits on the Roman road between Metchley and Gloucester – it was the site of a military camp, once situated close to the present church. Evidence supporting the presence of a camp was uncovered during the 19th century, including coins, tiles and the milestone itself.

A well planned and maintained road network was key in holding territory after the initial Roman conquest of Britain over three centuries before Constantine’s reign. The Roman road network connected settlements, allowing Roman trade, military might and cultural practices to spread throughout the country.

As this stone demonstrates, roads also allowed the image and name of the Emperor to travel where he could not go, stamping his identity upon new places and re-defining the boundaries of the Empire. Although the first line of text is missing from the stone, a key word in its translation is ‘INVICTO’, or ‘un-conquerable’. Whatever the stone was used for, we can assume its message was visible to the passer-by, who would have been assured of Constantine’s empiric character, and reminded of who was in charge.

 

Kate Banner

Collections Assistant

Hallow Handaxe

In 1970, a field at Moseley Farm near Hallow was ploughed for the first time in 40 years, ready for a crop of potatoes. A sharp-eyed observer, identity unknown, spotted a peculiar piece of flint on the surface and took it to Worcester City Museum.

Hewn into a teardrop-shape by overlapping chips that left tell-tale ripples radiating from the edges, it is a Stone Age flint handaxe in remarkably fresh condition. It comes from the top of gravel deposits formed between 240 and 130 thousand years ago. During the earlier, warmer part of this period, small groups of early humans called Neanderthals moved along the river valleys, before climate change drove them from Britain for more than 120 thousand years.

But this find is at the heart of a scientific puzzle: tools like these were outdated by the time the Hallow gravel was formed. Some scholars argue that handaxes of this date had been tumbled in rivers for millennia by the time they ended up in the gravels where they’re discovered, but this example shows none of the battering you would expect from such treatment. So, is this artefact one of the final clues left by a dwindling band of Neanderthal settlers, the last to lay human eyes on Worcestershire for 6000 generations?

Rob Hedge

Lost Landscapes Project Officer

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

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.