Festival of Archaeology: Julian Watters on pickaxes, brooches, dogs and Roman cups

By Ben Miller | 14 July 2014

Julian Watters, the Finds Liaison Officer for Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, on four of his favourite discoveries

A photo of a series of cracked grey and brown ancient vessels
© Portable Antiquities Scheme
A largely Roman ceramic infant’s feeding cup (circa late 1st century)

“It’s interesting because it is so unusual to get a complete vessel unless it's from an archaeological feature such as a grave.

It’s also nice because of what it is - essentially a baby's bottle - and because it can be linked to pottery from an excavation nearby and help to build up a picture of Early Roman settlement in the Ouse Valley. And a mussel has used it for a home and then obviously got too big to escape.

The vessel is of flattened-subglobular form, with a flat base and a straight rim with angled inner surface.

A circular-sectioned spout - probably foreshortened - angles upwards from a short distance below the rim.

The fabric is yellowish-grey and heavily sand tempered. There is a small amount of damage to the body of the vessel.

A mussel shell which survives within the pot is likely to be the result of the depositional conditions - the object was recovered from material dredged from the River Ouse - rather than being a Roman insertion.

Off-white concretions adhere to the inner surface of the rim of the vessel; these may also be the result of its depositional circumstances."

A photo of a dog-shaped dark green archaeological vessel
© Portable Antiquities Scheme
A solid-cast copper-alloy figurine in the form of a seated dog, probably representing a handle from the lid of a late Medieval vessel

“The animal is well moulded and of realistic, if slightly stylised, appearance; the head in particular is overly large and has caricatured features.

It is seated in an upright, somewhat cramped position, its feet resting upon a roughly rectangular base, the underside of which bears traces of solder and also numerous linear punchmarks, which would have helped to secure it in place.

In its current form, without the attached vessel, the animal is not freestanding; rather, the steep angle of the body, coupled with the large head, renders the piece top-heavy.

The rounded chest and upper arms of the dog extend smoothly into its back, the width of which gradually declines towards the rump, from where a short, slightly hooked tail projects backwards.

This tail is likely to have been practical as well as decorative, preventing over-rotation of the opened lid.

The slightly concave base of the tail may also indicate that this point was originally attached to the lid's hinge.

The animal's thighs angle outwards from the body, with the lower legs tucked beneath. The hind feet, which point forwards, are stylistically rendered, the left foot in particular being noticeably too wide.

On either side of the body, the area between the hindquarters and forequarters is deeply hollow. On one side, the groove separating the upper arm from the body contains an unidentified, red substance.

The shoulders and upper arms are largely indistinguishable from one another; the forearms, however, are clearly defined and extend downwards at a steep angle. A V-shaped groove separates the two.

The backs of the forefeet touch the fronts of the hind feet and also point forwards. Like the hind feet, they have no surface detail and the toes, for example, have not been defined.

The neck is short and of subcircular section. At the top, the neck flares into the back of the head.

The width and height of the head gradually decrease from the back to the front. The animal has a wide, flat skull, the centre point of which extends into ridge that slopes down the stop and continues into an upturned nose.

This ridge separates the eyes, which are overly large, elliptical, have clearly defined lids and protruding eyeballs. The ears consist of two sub-rectangular mouldings, one on either side of the head, and extend as far down as the lower points of the eyes.

The cheeks are rounded and the mouth is of 'V-shaped' section, straight and has clearly defined lips.

The grey surface of the object is probably indicative of a high lead content. Patches of corrosion are visible on this surface; overall, however, the piece survives in good condition.

The style of this object points towards a late Medieval date. A lid bearing a canine handle, probably from a salt, was found in a late 14th century level in London and has been compared to a complete salt in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Handles in the form of seated animals are also known from ewers of the late Medieval period."

A photo of a jagged long brown archaeological rock
© Portable Antiquities Scheme
A complete flint pickaxe (probably Mesolithic, circa 10,000 - 4,001 BC)

“This would appear to be a double-ended implement, with a pick at one end and an axe-like blade at the other.

Most of the surface of the original nodule has been removed, but one side in particular retains a significant portion of its cortex. The narrowest point is at the pick end, where the surfaces have been deliberately sloped to point, which exhibits signs of wear.

The sides gradually diverge from this point, the implement reaching a maximum width approximately one third of the way from the opposite end.

This front third represents the axe-like cutting end and has slightly convex sides which converge to a blunt point. The thickness at this cutting end also gradually declines towards the edges, creating a wedge-shaped blade.

The back two-thirds of the tool have been less carefully finished than the front third, but it is nevertheless possible to establish the likely top and bottom ends of the tool and to suggest that it may have been hafted.

The top has been abruptly retouched all the way along, forming a flat surface; this is in contrast to the lower half, where the surfaces slope towards a narrow edge.

On this lower edge there is what appears to be a deliberately created concavity, located adjacent to the start of the axe portion.

It is likely that this feature was designed to aid hafting, as it forms a shoulder and tang which would have helped to prevent the tool head slipping from its shaft.

The mottled orangey-brown surface of the object is indicative of the surface having absorbed iron and is a typical feature of flints that have been contained within river gravels.”

A photo of a dark green ceramic vessel
© Portable Antiquities Scheme
An early Medieval brooch

“This is a fragment of gilded copper-alloy openwork object. It cannot be dated very precisely, but belongs somewhere in a broad date-range covering the later 8th and 9th centuries, with a central silver rivet and the remains of iron fittings.

About a quarter of the brooch survives, with two iron rivets which originally appear to have attached an iron pin.

It can be read as a cross with four flaring arms, each one attached by a pointed apex to the small central roundel through which the tall, round-topped decorative silver rivet is fixed.

The best-surviving arm consists of two back-to-back openwork crescent shapes, each with a transverse central bar; the ends of the crescents nearest the centre are extended at the back to meet the central roundel, and the ends nearest the edge are curled round to form a solid flat circular terminal.

On one side, this circular terminal meets its neighbour from the other arm. There is also a strip of metal that runs around the whole of the original edge of the brooch, and this is interrupted at the junction between the arms by a wide, flat, solid D-shaped projecting lobe.

This lobe has the remains of gilding and iron corrosion; the gilding appears also to have been added to the reverse, where it survives only next to the iron corrosion.

The decoration on this projecting lobe is hard to see clearly, but appears to consist of two deep obliquely set chip-carved crescents or triangles with reserved circles on their edges.

There are the remains of an iron rivet in between, set in a circular rivet hole, and a second circular rivet hole blocked with iron corrosion is placed between the circular terminals of the central cross's corners. On the reverse, iron corrosion runs in a wide strip between these rivets.

It is likely that there were four lobes, alternating with the cross arms, but there is no trace of the next lobe at the other side of the more complete cross arm.

It is therefore possible that there were only two lobes; alternatively, as the surviving lobe is set slightly unevenly, overlapping the edge of one cross arm more than the other, the next lobe round may simply have been set further away and be completely lost.”


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