Brooch from Winfarthing © Tom Lucking

Anglo-Saxon Treasure from Winfarthing

In 2014 two students discovered an undisturbed grave with a trove of early Anglo-Saxon jewellery. Declared a National Treasure, Norwich Castle Museum is scrambling to find the funds to keep it in public hands.

Winfarthing brooch © British MuseumDuring the winter holidays in December 2014, two students, Tom Lucking and a friend Stuart Isaacs, went detectoring in the middle of East Anglia. As luck has it, they stumbled upon a very rich grave from c. AD 630 – 730.

After the initial find of a metal bowl, located at the foot of a grave, they luckily stopped immediately and called for professional archaeologists. Beneath the bowl, they found the undisturbed furnished grave of a woman. The grave held an assemblage of artefacts consisting of two Merovingian coin pendants with gold suspension loop, two gold biconical spacer beads, a gold openwork pendant with the form of a Maltese cross, another pendant with a Maltese cross design, a continental pottery biconical bowl, an iron knife and a collection of copper alloy chatelaine rings. These would have hung from her girdle.

The most impressive find in the trove, though, was a garnet pendant measuring 7 cm in diameter and inlaid with at least 400 pieces of garnet. This piece of jewellery belongs to a very select group of other such brooches and indicates the high status of the woman. It has been dated to the early 7th century. More intriguing, though, are the other pendants, of which two in all probability carry Christian connotations in the form of Maltese crosses. Finally, there is the significant find of the two pendants made of identical coins and fitted with gold beans intended to be part of a necklace. The coins have been identified as being Merovingian, minted near Marseilles during the reign of the French king Sigebert, c. AD 630 – 656. The coins help to date the grave post quem, to the mid 7th century period of religious change and conversion. Coins were rarely turned into pendants after c. 630, and it is likely the inhumation must be dated to this early period, which brings it close to the date of the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo. In this connection, it is noteworthy that the interlacing on the large disk brooch compares to purse-lid and the shoulder clasps from Sutton Hoo. On the other hand, the coin pendants seem rather worn. This indicates a mid to late 7th-century date, which brings it close to the final period in which furnished inhumations took place.

The landscape

Tom Lucking is a student of historical landscapes, and it is, therefore, no wonder that he has bent his imagination to speculate about the wider context of the cemetery, of which the grave of the woman seems to have been the latest. Located in heavy clay it would have been considered marginal land at this time, the ground being too heavy to plough. One of the questions raised by this conundrum is, where the settlement might be found?

A more detailed study of the finds, as well as the poorly preserved skeleton, awaits publication as does further excavations at Winfarthing. Meanwhile, the Norwich Castle Museum is working assiduously to raise the £145,050, which the treasure trove has been valued to by the Treasure Valuation Committee.

SOURCES:

“The Find of a Lifetime”. By Julie Polcrack

Assemblage. NMS-E95041. Portable Antiquities Scheme. 

READ MORE ABOUT COIN PENDANTS:

ForsideomslagThe Iconography of Early Anglo-Saxon Coinage: Sixth to Eighth Centuries
By Anna Gannon
OUP Oxford 2003