In the last few weeks Trench 1 has been producing the majority of the finds on site. This week sees a break in the trend, with most finds coming out of Trench 3.
We’ve had a fragment of a large glass bead from the primary fill of the pit in Trench 3.
The glass is cobalt blue in colour, similar to the bead that came out of Trench 1 last week. The size and shape of the bead is however, completely different. This bead would have been very large when complete. This fragment only represents approximately a third or even a quarter of the size of the complete bead. We can tell this from the curvature of the outside of the bead, and the curvature of the central perforation.
The glass that forms the bead is interesting. It’s cobalt blue on the outer edge, and a yellowish green to the centre. The yellowish green glass has linear striations, and the blue outer looks porous and full of small holes or air bubbles. The inner glass is relatively shiny, but the outer glass looks matt in places, although this may be due to a patina which forms on glass surfaces over time. There is damage to the edge of the bead fragment which has caused the blue layer to fall off, leaving the yellowish green glass visible underneath.
The structure of the glass originally led Finds Supervisor Kate Clarke to believe that this was a medieval bead, as medieval glass is frequently full of air bubbles, and Roman glass is usually quite refined. However with further research she discovered that the bead is a fragment of what is known as a Melon Bead, and is Roman in date.
Here are some excerpts which have been useful in both dating the bead, and explaining the glass type:
‘Dark blue melon beads are a less common variety of the ubiquitous frit melon beads. Both types appear particularly common on military sites of the first and early second century, and then seem to continue in very much reduced numbers into the later second and third century AD on both military and civilian sites (Guido 1978, 100). They are often associated with horse harness (Böhme 1978, 288-9), but also occur on other forms of military equipment. One of the highest concentrations of melon beads within the province appears to be Newstead with over 129 melon beads (both frit and glass) recorded to date (Hoffmann forthcoming).’
Roman Glass from the North of Scotland by Birgitta Hoffmann (GASK Project).
‘Melon Beads were often made of faience or frit, a glass-like material with a light blue or turquoise glazed surface. The manufacture and use of faience was particularly associated with Egypt in dynastic and later times, but faience melon beads must have been made in many areas in the Roman Period. The form is also frequently found in glass of various colours, including deep cobalt blue, and in jet. Glass melon beads were made in London and probably elsewhere in Britain, but they are an Empire-wide type (footnote 13).’
The Jewellery of Roman Britain: Celtic and Classical Traditions by Catherine Johns (1996).
In summary, the bead is most likely a rare dark blue frit or faience bead from the 1st or 2nd century. As this find is from the top of pit fill 3234 the find is again out of sequence, either from disturbed earlier features, or from fill from another (possibly earlier) area.
Copper Alloy Fitting / Plate
This object is from the primary fill of the pit in Trench 3.
The artefact is a small, thin, rectangular fitting with two small copper alloy tacks protruding out from the reverse side. The tacks are positioned centrally, one at each short side. Both tacks are round-shafted and probably both round-headed, although the head of one tack appears to have broken off. Around the pin with the head still intact there is some build-up of probable corrosive material, although this could contain some evidence of what the fitting was attached to. The tack is probably a decorative fitting which would have been attached to a leather belt or horse harness. The flat surface on the front of the object may well have been decorated at some point.
Although this object came from the pit, this fitting is most likely early medieval in date, and therefore not out of place with the finds that have previously come out of the early medieval layers currently being excavated in Trench 3.
Iron Ballista Bolt
This object is an iron ballista bolt.
The bolt has a pyramidal head and conical socket and is 66.6mm in length. One face of the pyramidal head is distinctive in the way that it protrudes further out from the neck of the bolt and has an almost curved edge to the widest edge of the triangle. A ballista bolt is essentially the head of a projectile used with ballista – a spring-loaded weapon used in siege warfare.
Some suggestion has been made that this could be a crossbow bolt as opposed to a ballista bolt. After some research using a number of online collections e.g. British Museum, Kate has found a number of similar, if not almost identical, ballista bolts, mainly from Hod Hill, a large Hill Fort in Dorset. These ballista bolts are not only within a similar size range, but conform to the distinctive head shape, creating matching sections and profiles in both the head and body areas.
The ballista bolts from Hod Hill are Romano-British and from the mid 1st Century. These bolts are all one type – Manning Type 1.
This is an unusual find, particularly if the dating is correct. If this is a crossbow bolt, the dating would be more in keeping with the rest of Trench 3, as the crossbow was particularly popular in Europe during the 12th Century. As you may know from previous finds updates, we’ve found objects from several date periods within the pit sequence, including both 12th Century in the form of the Long Cross Penny and possible ‘Bamburgh Ware’, and Roman (pottery), as well as 8th/9th Century in the form of Stycas. No other finds have been recovered from this pit fill as yet and so we cannot even give a majority date.
As with the other pit fills and cuts, it is entirely possible that the pit has disturbed earlier features, or that the pit contains fill from another (possibly earlier) area.
It is however particularly interesting that this is the 2nd probable c.1st Century find (Glass Bead 7249) from a similar area of the trench within one weeks excavation. This may suggest that we are closer to the in-situ Roman layers than we have previously thought.
Trench 1 has also produced a few finds this week.
Copper Alloy Object
The object is made from copper alloy and is severely corroded, to the point where it is soft to the touch and completely fragmentary. The main fragment of the object is a thin, flat bar which flares out into a thicker circular shape in section. There was at some point before the object collapsed (as it was being removed from the ground) evidence that there was, at one end, a flat semi-circular shape which looks as though it may have been decorated. There is also one fragment, which joins on to the modern break at the flat, rectangular end of the first fragment discussed above. This fragment is a flat, rectangular bar at one end (near the break) and it progresses into a thinner, narrower extension which looks like it is going to curve backwards, however the object is broken again at this point.
Although it is probably impossible to tell at this stage of decay, it is possible that this object was originally a copper alloy decorated horse harness pendant.