Festival of Archaeology 2014: Roman gold, a medieval matrix and an amulet in Cornwall

By Ben Miller | 19 July 2014

Festival of Archaeology 2014: Three top discoveries from Anna Tyacke, the Finds Liaison Officer for Cornwall

A photo of a large gold ancient ring
© Portable Antiquities Scheme
Roman gold bracelet or necklace fragment

A broken and distorted component of Roman gold jewellery, probably a necklace link.

The fragment comprises a parallel-sided band, made from thin gold sheet, fractured at one end and with a double-eyed fastening loop at the complete end.

Following breakage, the fragment was bent back on itself: first the looped end, then the broken end. The latter resulted in a partial tear.

Denting of one rim may have occurred concurrently or subsequent to the ancient damage.

The band has a front (outer) face and a back (inner) face. The latter displays working marks but no finishing marks and was evidently not intended to be seen.

The front face is ornamented with a restrained and finely applied décor: ribbed and channelled mouldings divide the band into two equal panels, each occupied by a plain zone balanced by a line of five embossed ring-and-dot mouldings (at the fractured end breakage occurs across the edge of the fifth example).

Soldered to the complete end is a lyre-shaped twin loop of filigree wire.

The function of this object, while almost certainly part of a piece of jewellery, cannot be unequivocally identified.

However, assuming a symmetrical design, it seems probable that the band was broken just short of its end which would have terminated with a second soldered lyre-shaped fastening loop (or possibly a double hook). As such, it can be conceived as one link from a necklace or bracelet.

A photo of an ancient silver coin with a depiction of a bird in its centre
© Portable Antiquities Scheme
Medieval silver seal matrix

A cast silver seal matrix, circular in plan, with a soldered suspension loop on the back.

The seal has a central device of an eagle with wings outstretched looking right, surrounded by the Lombardic inscription:

The seal is of Thurstan of Treago. From historical records, Thurstan was active circa 1240-50.

His elder brother, Simon, is better known - he was Lord of the Manor until circa 1259.

Both witnessed charters together and occur in the Pipe Roll of 1242. Thurstan was the recipient of a grant of land at Trevedras, in Mawgan-in-Pydar, from Laurence de Lanherne, who was an ancestor of the Arundells, making him a tenant of the Lanherne estate in the 13th century.

Thurstan himself made a grant of land at Trevenna in Mawgan-in-Pydar. This charter is at the Cornwall County Records Office and has lost the seal that it once had (the slits for the tag can be seen), but it was likely sealed with this matrix.

The symbol of the eagle is said to come originally from the Champagne region of France, and this seal may be harking back to Norman ancestors, but the eagle also represented the Holy Roman Empire in Medieval times.

The loop allows the seal to be suspended as a pendant but makes it more difficult to be used as a seal, as more pressure would be needed than can be applied to the offset loop.

A photo of a large thin gold archaeological artefact
© Portable Antiquities Scheme
First pestle amulet
A gold centre-looped pendant amulet resembling similar examples of cosmetic pestles, in copper alloy, from kits or cosmetic sets, often associated with a small mortar, for the preparation of powdered cosmetics.

This example has seven facetted edges running the length of the boat-shaped body of the amulet, with a ridge at the base which does not look like it has ever been used to grind anything.

It may have been used to represent such a tool, as a symbol, especially as it is made of gold.

The bead or loop is hollow and made in two parts which have been soldered together and then, in turn, soldered to the boat-shaped body of the amulet.

The solder might have been an alloy of gold and silver which would have lowered the melting point to allow the two parts to join together.

The loop hole is perpendicular to the body of the amulet, which is unusual as most examples run parallel instead.

This would have allowed the amulet to be suspended as a pendant around the neck so that it could lie flat against the chest.

The crescent was a pretty well universal lunar symbol, with fertility as just one - albeit an obvious one - of its potential realms of power.

It dates from between the 1st and 4th centuries.

  • A day of activities, Cornish Hero: St Piran - Man of Tin, is at the Royal Cornwall Museum until 4pm on July 19 2014. The Festival of Archaeology runs until July 27 2014, visit archaeologyfestival.org.uk.

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A photo of a group of children handling archaeological artefacts under supervision
The Royal Cornwall Museum's Curator of Archaeology, Jane Marley, shows young visitors some archaeological artefacts© Courtesy Royal Cornwall Museum
A photo of a man in a black cape carrying a black flag on grassland
The museum's Festival of Archaeology event focuses on Cornish hero St Piran – a Man of Tin who would have taken a keen interest in the recent excavation at the local oratory named after him© Courtesy Royal Cornwall Museum
More on the Festival of Archaeology:

Roman gold coins and daggers of war in the west

Medieval rings, Bronze Age hoards and Iron Age discoveries

An Iron Age comb, medieval matrix and Bronze Age vessel
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