Urethral syringe used in 19th century venereal treatment declared best archaeological find

By Ben Miller | 27 May 2014

See the syringe declared Wessex Archaeology's best find of the past year, plus some of the finest artefacts uncovered so far in 2014

A close up photo of a bottle-shaped brown and grey 19th century implement
The British Marine Aggregate Producers Association, English Heritage and Crown Estate Protocol picked this 19th century syringe as their top find of last year© Courtesy BMAPA
Alan Humphries, the Librarian of the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds, identified this as a urethral syringe used to treat ailments in men by injecting substances directly into the penis.

Sarah Bond, of London’s Museums of Health and Medicine, suggested that this is a syringe for delivering enemas rectally. There is a comparable example pictured in the Wellcome Trust’s online image library, dating from the late 19th century.

Both agree that this example is likely to have been made and used during the late 1800s for the presumably distinctly unpleasant treatment of venereal ailments or the introduction of an enema.

A photo of a curved gold key
© Courtesy BMAPA
Of this year’s finest finds so far, this brass art deco style key was reported by Greenwich Wharf.

It was discovered among a cargo from Licence Area 430, which lies in the East Coast region.

The key is a mass-produced example, likely to date from the inter-war period of the 1920s and 1930s, and would have been used to open an item of furniture.

How the find came to be on the seabed is unknown, although its discovery offshore in the region suggests it was probably lost overboard from a vessel.

It could have been discarded by accident or deliberately, perhaps flung in a fit of rage.

However it arrived, its loss almost certainly caused someone great inconvenience.

A photo of a slab of stone on a table next to a measuring ruler
© Courtesy BMAPA
This find is from Lafarge Tarmac’s Burnley Wharf. Identified as a lamp wick mechanism, it is likely to have been manufactured during the Victorian or Edwardian periods.

This example may have come from Southampton or Portsmouth, as it was dredged from an area known to contain a spread of domestic debris interpreted as blitz rubble from the south coast.

A photo of a small light brown stone with a hole in its centre on a light blue table
© Courtesy BMAPA
Measuring only a centimetre in diameter, this glass bead was discovered at Burnley Wharf and joins a similar bead, discovered last year at Greenwich Wharf, as one of the smallest but most interesting finds ever reported by Wessex Archaeology and English Heritage’s Protocol, which advises industry staff on how to protect our submerged heritage.

The Greenwich bead is thought to be Saxon, dating from the Early Medieval period from 410 AD to the Norman Invasion of 1066.

This time has, in the past, been saddled with the negative label of The Dark Ages, as some academics viewed Saxon England to be technologically less advanced than the preceding Roman period.

Far from being dark, the Saxon period was alive with myth, magic and folklore. Against this setting, the Greenwich bead – and potentially the Burnley bead, which experts believe may also be of Saxon origin – were made and lost to the sea.

While they may have been washed from the shore or dropped overboard, they may also have been lost with vessels travelling around the coast of the UK.

A wreck of this age would be of national, if not international, significance.

A photo of a large brown boulder on a table
© Courtesy BMAPA
This enigmatic iron, circular find was discovered at Burnley Wharf in November 2013. It has not yet been conclusively identified.

It measures 8.5 inches in diameter and has two bolts embedded in one side.

Their positioning off-centre indicates that this find was not intended to rotate on an axis.

The opposing face has a central recess which has become filled or was deliberately filled with a hard substance.

It might have been used as a weight or counterweight or it might be connected with a spread of post-war domestic debris known to lie off the south coast to the east of the Isle of Wight.

It demonstrates how difficult it can be to understand archaeology from the seabed. It is not always possible to identify finds – they are often broken and corroded, making interpretation hard, especially when working from photographs alone.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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