English Heritage Press Release, 18th April 2002
RARE ANGLO-SAXON GLASS BOWL SURVIVES BURIAL FOR 1400 YEARS
Important Site's Discovery is Vindication of Portable Antiquities Scheme
A rare glass bowl, dating from the late fifth or early sixth century, has
been retrieved intact by an English Heritage conservator from a magnificent
collection of grave goods unearthed in an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in the New
Forest area of Hampshire. The graves were excavated by Time Team for a live
Channel 4 broadcast in August 2001, after a metal detectorist discovered a
Byzantine brass bucket at the site and reported it to Winchester Museum.
In what is thought to be a unique combination, the bowl, which was probably
imported all the way from the Rhineland, was found inside one of six wooden
buckets buried with skeletons in the graves. The fragile vessel, pale green
with delicate white trails on the outside, measuring about five inches
across and one and a half inches high, was a miraculous survivor not only of
its travels from abroad but of a sumptuous pagan burial rite, most likely
symbolic of feasting. It was discovered at English Heritage's Centre for
Archaeology at Fort Cumberland in Portsmouth, where the excavated artefacts
have been analysed and conserved.
The discovery of so many ceremonial buckets of this kind from one burial
site is an extreme rarity. About six inches high, they are made of wooden
staves bound with copper alloy bands and could have contained food or drink.
The grave goods included spearheads, knives, tweezers, shield bosses, copper
alloy buckles and a Frankish buckle plate richly inlaid with garnets and
blue glass. These possessions reflect the preoccupations of communities in
an uncertain age, shortly after the Roman Empire lost control of Britain.
The country had broken up into a patchwork of small territories under the
control of warrior elites, many of whom had strong links with continental
barbarian tribes. The Frankish cup and buckle plate would have been high
status objects, buried in the graves in a display of power.
David Miles, Chief Archaeologist at English Heritage, said: "It is
marvellous that this fragile cup which gives a rare and evocative glimpse of
early Anglo-Saxon life has survived intact in such wonderful condition. This
and the other remarkable finds are all the more valuable now that so many
Anglo-Saxon graves and the priceless information they contain about our past
are being lost to deep ploughing."
For conservator Margaret Brooks the discovery of the glass bowl hidden in
hard clay at the bottom of the bucket was a high point in her career. Just
retiring after 20 years with English Heritage, she said: "I couldn't believe
it when I first spotted the delicate green glass of the bowl, which was
completely unexpected as none have ever been found in buckets before. It was
a thrilling experience to tease it gradually from its hiding place and
realise it was in one piece."
The discovery of the site and its subsequent excavation represents a
resounding success for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, a pilot voluntary
recording scheme designed to encourage members of the public to report any
artefacts they find.
Sally Worrell, liaison officer for the scheme at Winchester Museum, who
initiated the project and invited Time Team to excavate the site, said:
"Thanks to the action of the public-spirited metal detectorist who reported
his find to me and enabled the dig to go ahead we now have a wealth of new
information about the site. The project has demonstrated the enormous
benefits of strengthening links between professional archaeologists and
interested members of the public who find ancient objects."
The objects from the graves were analysed in Fort Cumberland's high-tech XRF
spectrometer. This X-ray analysis technique is ideal for archaeology because
items can be placed whole inside the machine and they are not damaged in the
process. Directed at small areas, less than half a millimetre in diameter,
the X-rays can almost instantly determine the composition of the material.
Examination of the glass bowl revealed that the glass, made up of soda, lime
and silica, had been melted in a furnace and inflated and shaped on the end
of a blowing iron. Opaque white trails (coloured with tin and lead) were
added below the rim and pressed into the glass. The style is Frankish,
simpler than that produced by more sophisticated Roman techniques such as
enamelling and engraving. This particular kind of bowl is mostly found in
the Rhineland and rarely appears in Britain.
The staves of many of the buckets survived in remarkably good condition
because of the amount of copper-alloy in the bands which mineralised the
wood. The wood was identified using a scanning electron microscope. Three
buckets were made of yew, as is usual for this type of object, and when new
they would have had a splendid russet hue with light and dark stripes. One
bucket was made of pine, an unusual wood to find so far south. It could
perhaps have come from the north of Britain or the continent. Another bucket
appears to be made of juniper, though more analysis is needed before this
can be verified. If confirmed, it would be the first bucket made of juniper
ever to have been recorded.
A scrap of material found on a buckle is also being analysed and could
provide vital information about yarn and cloth manufacture.
For Time Team the significance of the finds lies in what they and people
they were buried with can tell us about life on the edge in Dark Age
Britain. It was a competitive, rapidly changing society where families would
have been jockeying for position and proclaiming their importance with the
richness of their grave-goods.
Tim Taylor, series producer of Time Team, said: "This has to be one of our
most amazing Time Teams. Not only were the large number of objects
exceptional but the
way the skeletons were laid out and the information we uncovered made us all
feel that we were working on a site that might actually change the way we
look at this really important period of British history."
Archaeologists believe that the high proportion of weapon-graves and double
burials, plus the multiple bucket burials and the number of foreign imports,
could indicate a complex society with a greater contact with Europe and the
Mediterranean than has often been supposed.
The skeletons are being examined at Bristol University. Analysis so far has
revealed that half of them were from people under the age of 25 and two were
children. No injuries and no obvious causes of death have yet come to light.
The public will be able to see the artefacts recovered from the site in a
special 'Invaders' exhibition which will travel round Hampshire, starting in
May at Andover Museum.
Images are available on the Press Association's Picselect site on
www.papicselect.com in the English Heritage folder. 0207 963 7531
1. In the 6th century it was generally the habit of west Saxons (whose area
included Hampshire) to bury bodies whole (inhumation). In East Anglia
cremation was more usual. Grave-goods were common to both practices.
2. After the Roman armies left Europe Frankish tribes who gained dominance
in the north, especially Germany and Belgium, employed a new style of
glassware with a simpler form of decoration which could be carried out at a
furnace by the glass-maker. The elite of Anglo-Saxon society still
appreciated glass vessels and imported them from the continent as prestige
objects. There is also evidence for manufacture of glass in Britain at this
time. The vessels are found in high status graves but are frequently
damaged. Buckets are known from a number of sites in the eastern half of the
country where the Anglo-Saxons settled, though generally only one or two per
cemetery have been found.
3. The Portable Antiquities Scheme was set up by the government to encourage
the recording of the thousands of archaeological objects people find every
year, either by chance or with metal detectors. A pilot scheme is currently
running in half of England and in Wales and it is hoped that this will be
extended in due course. Full information is available on the Portable
Antiquities Website at www.finds.org.uk
Contacts: Sally Worrell, Hampshire Finds Liaison Officer on 01962 848269;
Roger Bland, Portable Antiquities Scheme Co-ordinator 02072116924.
4. Archaeological work at the site included survey work by Southampton
University and English Heritage and an evaluation excavation undertaken by
Berkshire Archaeological Services on behalf of Hampshire County Council and
the Hampshire County Archaeologist.
5. The 10th series of Time Team is currently in production. The ninth series
is being broadcast on Sunday evenings on Channel 4. The Time Team website is