Amgueddfa Blog: PAS Cymru

Vibrant discussions are a usual part of the Saving Treasures project and the Amgueddfa Cymru archaeology department.

But I’m not sure we’ve ever had one about a spoon before.

In 2015, a Medieval silver spoon was brought into National Museum Wales; it was found while metal-detecting around Pembroke and can be dated to about the 15th century. The spoon has a rough engraved cross on the underside of the bowl and is in two pieces.

The handle, or stem, has been bent and twisted round, while the bowl has been folded in half and then in half again.

The question bugging us is: why?

Why deform this spoon so greatly?

The deliberate destruction and deformation of objects is not unknown in the Medieval period, though presently we can’t find any parallels for this object.

Many silver coins were, however, damaged for various reasons.

Folding a coin in half, for instance, had a ritualistic function; it was often performed as part of a vow to a saint to cure an affliction or ailment. The coin would then be taken and placed at a shrine. However, Portable Antiquities Scheme data shows that many appear to have been lost or buried in seemingly random locations.

So, we wondered, could the spoon have served a similar function?

Medieval silver spoons were often considered intimate possessions that were carried around much of the time. Dr. Mark Redknap at Amgueddfa Cymru has suggested the engraved cross may represent an ecclesiastical ownership mark. The deliberate destruction of a personal item may have held some significance to the owner, much as a prized possession would today.

Another explanation is that this represents material intended for the crucible, to be remelted and recast into another object. The breaking and recycling of objects is well-known since the Bronze Age. Viking hacksilver involved silver objects chopped and broken either for recasting purposes or as a form of currency, exchanging fragments based on weight.

Fragments of silver spoons are in fact known from hacksilver hoards from Gaulcross, Scotland, and Coleraine, Northern Ireland.

Of course, the Pembroke spoon was buried nearly a 1000 years later than the hacksilver hoards so it cannot strictly be compared. Nonetheless, it is reasonable to think the spoon was broken, folded and twisted into small, compact pieces that would fit more comfortably within a crucible.

We might not find many broken spoons because they were remelted into other objects. The weight of the spoon would comfortably produce other common Medieval objects, such as finger rings, mounts, and pendants.

We will probably never know the reason behind the destruction of this spoon. But it’s always nice to speculate.

 

Notes and Acknowledgements

The spoon was recently declared Treasure following the Treasure Act 1996 and will be acquired by Milford Haven Museum through the Saving Treasures: Telling Stories project. The full record for the object can be found here: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/860650

My sincere thanks must go to everyone who engaged with our call for ideas on what this object represents on Twitter. In particular, I’d like to thank Sue Brunning for directing my attention to the hacksilver hoards mentioned in-text.

The Bronze Age is full of different types of objects.

The discovery of metal about 3500 years ago meant new objects could be made or redesigned.

One such object is the axe. For thousands of years people across the world had been making axes out of stone. Bronze Age axeheads were then made out of metal in different shapes and sizes.

By the Late Bronze Age (1100-800 BC), axes were made with sockets, which allowed for the insertion of a wooden haft/handle. Often they had loops to secure the haft with binding, such as leather strips.

In South Wales, a specific form of axe seems to have been very popular and has been named the ‘South Wales axe’.

These axes have thick, flat socket mouths and a loop on one side. They are often heavy and poorly made. There are three raised ‘ribs’ on both faces of the axe. These are sometimes parallel and sometimes converging.

Hundreds of these axes have been found buried in Wales, either on their own or in large hoards of objects. Sometimes they are complete and sometimes they are broken; the reasons for this are uncertain.

An example has recently been found in the Trevithen Hoard, Torfaen, and is currently on display at Pontypool Museum.

South Wales axes have also been found across England, and as far away as northern France.

This implies these products were traded and exchanged over long distances.

The function of these axes is unclear. These axes may have been left in a rough condition because they were used in agricultural activities, such as cutting roots and breaking plough soil.

Whatever the reason they appear to have formed an important part of the Late Bronze Age in South Wales. As more are discovered, archaeologists will continue to gain insights into these objects.

 

Happy Day of Archaeology everyone!

Today, the 28th July 2017, is the annual online event in which archaeologists from across the country blog about archaeology. The idea is to showcase the diversity of the subject and highlight what individuals are doing on and around this day.

This year we’ve badgered people from across the museum to contribute posts on who they are and how they engage with archaeology through their various research and projects and on a daily basis.

We have been amazed by the positive response, not just from within History and Archaeology but from a whole range of disciplines. The topic of posts thus ranges from prehistoric Cardiff to botany to archaeological curation to snails! It really shows how broad and varied archaeology truly is, beyond the traditional view of woolly jumpers, beards, and whips (though it has been known!)

These posts are all hosted on the external site: www.dayofarchaeology.com and links to blogs from our staff are listed below and will be added to throughout the day.

We hope you enjoy!

Adam GwiltAn Archaeological Curator’s Day / Diwrnod ym mywyd Curadur Archaeolegol

Dr. Rhianydd Biebrach The Saving Treasures: Telling Stories Project

Dr. Ben RowsonSnails at Snail Cave, and elsewhere in Wales

Jonathan Howells - From Housing to History and Archaeology

Kristine Chapman - Rare Books from the National Museum Wales Library

Sarah Parsons - Photographing Archaeology

Dr. Heather PardoeHarold Augustus Hyde’s Contribution to Welsh Archaeology

Dr. Elizabeth WalkerContemplating and communicating the Palaeolithic landscapes of Wales

Sian IlesMarvellous medieval tiles-public engagement at Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales

Matt KnightA Day in the Life of an Archaeology Intern / Diwrnod ym mywyd Archaeolegydd preswyl

 

Archaeologists have made a significant Bronze Age discovery in the Torfaen area of south Wales, which will help people to understand communities living in Torfaen around 3,000 years ago.

A Bronze Age hoard was discovered by local metal detectorist, Gareth Wileman, in November 2014 while metal-detecting in the area of Trevethin, Torfaen. The hoard consists of five Bronze Age artefacts, including three socketed axes and two spearheads; this discovery was subsequently declared as treasure in 2016 by H.M. Coroner for Gwent.

The Bronze Age artefacts, which date back 3,000 years, were the first of their kind to be displayed in Pontypool Museum after being presented as part of the Torfaen Treasure Day on Friday, 7 April 2017.

The Rt. Hon Lord Paul Murphy of Torfaen, President of the Torfaen Museum Trust, opened the event, followed by guest speakers from Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and local MP, Mr Nick Thomas-Symonds.

The Bronze Age hoard has sparked media interest and you can read articles from the BBC, ITV and South Wales Argus to name a few.

We sent our journalism students who were on a two week work placement with the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project to Pontypool Museum to interview the finder; Gareth, and find out how he feels about his discovery.

He said:

“I’m glad they’re being displayed somewhere smaller like Pontypool, especially as it provides new information on what life could have been like here thousands of years ago. Everyone knows about the mining times and that’s what Pontypool is known for, the Big Pit.

“Obviously this will now show that 3,000 years ago there was more happening up here than what people thought, and I think now Pontypool could be known for having Bronze Age artefacts and an older history.”

Gareth started metal detecting after coming across a YouTube video, he said:

“I had done a bit of metal detecting when I was a lot younger. I had found small cheap things like 20 pence when I used to do it in the garden.

“I started reading more about metal detecting and metal detectors. Then I went and bought one and started going out with it.”

His first find was a 1927 silver Florian coin, which inspired him to pursue his hobby. One aspect Gareth was keen to encourage was the need to report your findings as soon as possible to the museum or your closest Finds Liaison Officer. He wants others who take up metal-detecting to let the museum know if they find something as it could have historical importance.

“Anything you find then you should just let the museum know otherwise it could end up anywhere. The worst thing about it is when people find stuff that others would love to see, but it ends up being sold or put into a private collection.

“Not necessarily everything is interesting, but it’s good to know that it has been found and where it was found and then museums can take it from there.”

 

“The Trevethin hoard is a significant Bronze Age discovery in this area of Wales, where little was previously known. The quick reporting to the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales by Gareth enabled us to carefully excavate the find-spot and ensured that we can now better understand these communities living in the Torfaen area 3,000 years ago.” -Mark Lodwick Co-ordinator of the Portable Antiquities Scheme for Wales (PAS Cymru)

 

The hoard is being acquired by Pontypool Museum with grant funding from the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project. This project, funded via the Collecting Cultures programme of the Heritage Lottery Fund, is acquiring archaeological objects discovered by members of the public for public museum collections across Wales. The project is also encouraging communities to engage with their pasts and portable archaeological heritage, by funding a programme of community archaeology projects led by staff in museums throughout Wales.

 

 

 

Over the last few months you may have seen the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories team on social media using the hashtag ‘Finds Friday’, where we’ve been showcasing some of our wonderful treasure and non-treasure items recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme Cymru.

This month we’d like to focus on two special finds from Wales: The Abergavenny Coin Hoard and a prehistoric feasting site in Llanmaes.

Why these two finds?

Both have been nominated in a nationwide competition, held by the British Museum and The Daily Telegraph, to search for the nation’s favourite treasure item from the ‘Top 20’ list.

2017 marks the 20th anniversary since the passing of the 1996 Treasure Act and items on the ‘Top 20’ list highlight some of the most important treasure discoveries since the Treasure Act.

We might be a tad biased towards which ones we’ll be voting for, but we want to share the history behind these finds as they really do have a story to tell, or in the case of Llanmaes, an enigmatic mystery as to what was actually happening at the site. You can read about the 20 items by clicking this link, and don't forget to vote!

Llanmaes

Our first nomination on the ‘Top 20’ treasure list is a site, rather than a single group of objects. The discovery is a prehistoric feasting place and settlement, uncovered in Llanmaes, in the Vale of Glamorgan.

This important site was discovered following the reporting of a potential treasure find by two metal detectorists in 2003, and excavation continued for the next seven years by archaeologists from the National Museum of Wales, assisted by students from Cardiff University and local volunteers.

The story behind Llanmaes

The earliest remains on the site, dating to about 2150-1950 BC, are the cremated remains of an adult male, which were buried in an urn. It seems that this burial provided the focus for later settlement, which yielded treasure objects such as a gold bead. One mystery object in the shape of a great white shark’s tooth has left archaeologists puzzled. We’re not too sure where it came from or why it was left there!

By the beginning of the Iron Age (about 675 BC) this settlement had been abandoned, but the site continued to be the focus of human activity in the form of feasting, which left behind an extensive midden deposit. This is the first known example from Wales, of a class of middens representing remarkable accumulations of cultural material gathered by communities at the beginning of the Iron Age. This has revealed an extraordinary prehistoric feasting mound, containing thousands of pig bones, further feasting vessels, bronze cauldrons, pottery and axes.

Unexpectedly, nearly three-quarters of the animal bones were from pigs – a far higher proportion than is usual for such deposits, and, even more remarkable is the discovery that the majority of the pigs’ bones were from the right fore-quarter of the animal. Similarly, some of the axe-heads are of a type associated with parts of northern France, so it seems as though people were converging on Llanmaes during the Early Iron Age from a wide area to engage in cultural activities which had clear rules and accepted practices.

Feasting seems to have come to an end at the site during the Roman period, when changing cultural practices made the earlier rituals less appropriate, but evidence of continued Roman occupation suggests that it still held meaning for local people into the 4th century AD.

The community at Llanmaes were closely involved with the excavations over the years, and the National Museum’s Archaeology department brought in a number of school groups to work with artists on creative responses, such as performances, inspired by the site.

Abergavenny hoard

In April 2002 three metal-detectorists had the find of their lives in a field near Abergavenny, Monmouthshire where they found a scattered hoard of 199 silver pennies.

The Abergavenny hoard is the earliest Norman hoard from Wales and provides a vivid picture of monetary circulation in the Welsh March in the 1080s CE. It includes 130 coins of the Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Confessor (1042-66) and 69 coins of the Norman king William the Conqueror (1066-87).

Where did they come from?

Norman incursions into Gwent (present-day Monmouthshire) had followed hard on the heels of the conquest of England by Duke William in 1066 and they brought with them the habit of using coins.

The 199 silver pennies provide a rich mixture of issues of Edward the Confessor (1042-66) and William the Conqueror (1066-87); there are coins of 104 moneyers from 36 mints, with Hereford prominent.

The coins had been lost or hidden in a cloth bag, after about 1080 CE and for most people living in that time they would have represented several months’ pay. However, the lack of positive archaeological context makes it impossible to judge whether the coins had been concealed deliberately or were simply lost. We shall probably never know quite why these coins ended up in the corner of a field in Monmouthshire but, as well as expanding our knowledge of the coinage itself, they will cast new light on monetary conditions in the area after the Norman Conquest.

And there we have it, our two treasure finds on the ‘Top 20’ treasures list.

The online voting continues until May 15th, and you can vote for LLanmaes or the Abergavenny Hoard by following this link:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/wellbeing/mood-and-mind/treasure-20-vote-favourite/.