Mystery Object Suggestions
November 29, 2011
Thanks, everyone, for your suggestions as to what the ‘mystery object’ might be. Sorry it has taken a while to get around to replying to you, but there was a mountain of emails and other work waiting for me when I got back from Washington. Anyway, let me finally try and comment on some of the ideas that have been put forward:
It’s a lid of some kind:
This seems a possibility. The open end of K130 certainly has rivet holes around the edge, showing it was fixed to something else. This could well have been some kind of stopper, possibly to fit into the mouth of a vessel of some kind. One favourite suggestion is that it might have been the stopper for a drinking horn. This would be the first one of these known, but then the hoard is springing lots of surprises on us. The vessel would have to be small though; we estimate the original diameter of the bottom of K130 was about 7.0-7.5 centimetres (3 inches).
Specifically, it’s the lid of a thurible or censer:
The big problem with this suggestion is that there are no holes in K130, which would actually be the cover over the burning incense. I can’t think of a censer cover that doesn’t have holes to let the scented smoke out. There is also no sign of any smoke residue on the underside of K130. (For the same reasons I don’t think it is likely that this the cover of an oil lamp.)
It’s a drawer or cabinet handle:
I can see where the idea comes from, and I agree the shape is very reminiscent of this, but I don’t think there is any evidence that the Saxons had such elaborate furniture. I also don’t think the assembled pieces would have been strong enough to last very long in use as a drawer handle.
It’s a mount from the top of a helmet:
This is an interesting suggestion. Nothing similar has been found so far, but helmets of this period are exceptionally rare, so this isn’t really a major problem. The one thing that is clear is that the assemblage could not have supported a plume or animal figure or feathers: it ends in a decorated glass gem (on the tip of K545) and that is it. Of course the glass gem would then be on the very top of the helmet and out of sight when it was being worn, which doesn’t seem the best use for one of the really striking decorative elements. I also wonder whether the rivet holes in the lower edge of K130 really look strong enough for the job. We need to talk to one of our friends who makes reproduction helmets and see what he makes of this idea – watch this space!
It’s a sword hilt:
I don’t think this assemblage would be anywhere near strong enough to work as a sword hilt. Also, there is nowhere for the tang of the sword blade to fit, so we would have to imagine all these three bits perched on top of the hilt, which would make it rather unwieldy. Finally, this would be a unique shape for a sword hilt. Of course, this isn’t a cast-iron reason to reject the idea since the hoard is giving us a lot of things we’ve never seen before, but we do have pieces from over ninety ‘normal’ hilts already.
It’s a candlestick:
The big problem with this idea is that the open end of K130 was rivetted to something else, so it presumably wasn’t open and thus couldn’t have held a candle. You could not have put a candle in the other end because K545 ends in a mounted glass gem.
It’s part of a spindle:
If you assume this is part of a spindle, then presumably you have to see the shaft of the spindle as being rivetted into the open end of K130, but the opening is about 7.0-7.5 centimetres (3 inches) in diameter, which would be absolutely huge for a spindle shaft.
It’s a mirror:
I presume the idea is that the inner surface of the open end of K130 was the reflective surface that formed the mirror. Two big problems here. First, something was rivetted to K130 at that end so the inner surface probably wasn’t visible. Second, if it was visible, there was a lot of ‘stuff’ going on inside that concave area of K130; for example, this is where the silver connecting piece that attached to K1055 was anchored – and that’s not really what you want in the middle of a mirror. You might be able to argue, though, that some kind of reflective surface was fixed to K130, meaning our mystery object formed the handle. Again, this would be unique, but ….
It’s a stamp, to seal things:
A nice idea, but the glass gem at one end (on K545) is smooth, so that wouldn’t work as a seal matrix. At the other end, the open end of K130 is about 7.0-7.5 centimetres (3 inches) in diameter, so whatever was rivetted to it would really have been much too big for a seal matrix.
It’s the top of a parasol:
It does look very ‘top-like’, but again the big problem with this this suggestion is the diameter of the open end of K130, which is where the shaft of the parasol would presumably have been fixed if this group of objects formed the finial at the top. The opening is about 7.0-7.5 centimetres (3 inches) in diameter, which strikes me as way to chunky for the shaft of a parasol.
It’s the decorative tip of a shield boss:
This was my initial idea when I first saw the piece reassembled, but this was really because it looks a bit like the tips of some Anglo-Saxon shield bosses. If it is from a shield, this would have to be a very elaborate example, mainly intended for show, although if this assemblage was rivetted to the tip of an iron boss, the shield could still function perfectly well. It is only fair to say that numbers of my archaeological colleagues don’t believe this idea! When it comes back from Washington we will need to look very carefully for any evidence as to what sort of material K130 might have been rivetted to.
It’s the upper part of a shishas (or hookah):
The real killer for this idea is that there is no hole through which the smoke could be drawn. Also, of course, the Anglo-Saxons didn’t have tobacco, nor am I aware that they smoked anything else. (If anyone has any evidence that they did, I would be fascinated to hear it.)
It’s the end of something that had to be rolled:
This is another idea that has been suggested here at the museum. One thought was that it might have been the terminal to a rod that held a scroll of some kind.. (K130 was damaged when the original object was disassembled; originally it was circular and either flat or slightly domed (like a saucer). I suppose the scroll idea runs up against the same problem as some of the other suggestions – the open end of K130 suggests that the rod that the scroll was rolled around must have been something like 7.0-7.5 centimetres (3 inches) in diameter, which again seems really excessive.
It’s a spice grinder:
This one can’t be correct, I’m afraid, as the pieces were rigidly fastened together – no movement, no grinding!
It’s the top of a staff of office, sceptre or a whetstone:
Again, these are ideas that we had thought of here, but they all seem to fall foul of the quite large size of whatever was fixed to the open end of K130 – a diameter of 7.0-7.5 centimetres (3 inches) just seems to big for a handle for any of these objects.
It’s a bit mount:
This is another interesting idea. I am not well enough up on horse harness to assess this suggestion myself, so could anyone let us know how exactly this would work. My immediate question is whether the assemblage would be strong eough for this kind of use. It doesn’t appear to have been particularly robust. One archaeological colleague suggested that it might be a mount from a saddle, but again I wonder if this would have put too much strain on it.
It’s a reworked brooch:
I can see what might make someone suggest this, but there are no signs that any of the pieces have ever had any form of pin fitting attached. The idea that the hoard is – or includes – loot is quite feasible. This is going to be one of the areas that will have to be very carefully assessed over next few years, as we prepare the hoard for publication. Given the activity of the successive Mercian kings, we could be dealing with material from East Anglia, Kent and/or Northumbria, as well as from Mercia itself.
I hope that people will find these musings of interest. Of course everything I have said could turn out to be quite wrong – but that is half the fun of the hoard!
Please do keep sending us your ideas – we really do treat them all seriously as they all stop and make you think. Don’t worry if we turn most of them down, remember that we have the advantage of being able to handle the object and you don’t. We know that you are having to come up with ideas just based on the photographs.
Someone asked about the emblem that we are using as the Staffordshire Hoard logo. This is actually a piece of animal interlace design, of the kind that crops up on lots of objects in the hoard. (Even much of the filigree decoration on the pommel caps is a degenerated animal interlace; if you look carefully you can sometimes make out a slight lump or thickening that is what is left of an animal’s head.) The design that forms our logo is actually made up of what I call two ‘gripping monopedes’- each animal has basically been reduced to an elongated jaw that bites the torso of the other animal. You will see an eye at the back of the head, behind the jaw. Sticking out from the back of the body is a single leg (hence ‘monopede’) which ends in a three-toed foot. Presumably these patterns had some specific meaning for the Anglo-Saxon craftsmen who produced them, but we do not know what this may have been. I do like to think, though, that they also reflect some sense of fun and wonder as well.
Dr David Symons, curator at BMAG, Research Advisory Panel.