Thursday, 4 March 2021

The Hanson's "Known as All-Buckinghamshire Too Bad Harness Brooch" (II): Context of Deposition

Following on from: The Hanson's "Known as All-Buckinghamshire Too Bad Harness Brooch" (I): Discovery Among the Tiers

The PAS records x-marks-the-spot information about the position of the findspot of objects reported to it. Like a Treasure map. A dot on a Kossinnist distribution map. An outlier of the Southwester decorative style. 

But of course that is not archaeological context. Not by any means. That is lost when an artefact hunter hoiks an object out of the ground without recording it. In what kind of associations was this object found? A site with pottery of the 1st century AD, a ploughed out chariot burial? A ploughed out hoard? Or none of these? Was it an isolated find, buried in a pit, was it found with other horse-care items? 

It is interesting that the finder refers to what he found as "it", the significance of which is that there are three separate pieces, the stem is snapped across, and the crescent-shaped headplate is loose (just slotted onto the stem by a projecting round pin and its difficult to see how it stayed on in use). Apparently they were found together. There had been an iron pin, but all that remained of that was rust on the pin mechanism.

No mention is made of an analysis, but it seems likely that, as the auction catalogue says, that this is a high tin bronze. The corrosion of these alloys is very variable, so not much can be made of the current state of the object. But  it is difficult to account for the present condition of the pin, even taking bimetallic corrosion into account. Note that the end of the looped segment is more heavily corroded than the catchplate, was it in contact with another metal object in the ground? Or is the discolouration there due to contact with decaying organic matter in the ground? 

What is interesting is the break across the straight looped element. The object has been snapped. Was this done when Mr Pusey pulled it out of the ground (like the Holborough brooches discussed here a while back)? What is interesting is that it appears (at least the auction catalogue makes no mention of it)  that the thinner projecting pin of the catchplate is not snapped off. The straight looped element has a convex curve to it and appears to have been snapped in two by pressure from the front. There is corrosion in the crack visible on the rear and (stress?) corrosion at this point on the front.


How could this have happened? If the object was on the surface and got stomped on, or driven over, the two pieces would be scattered and the edges of the break not so fresh. This snapping probably happened to a buried object with the soil around keeping the fragments in place. Being driven over by agricultural machinery seems a likely cause. But it should be noted that there is no other trace of damage by agricultural machines (no plough/harrow bashing that is so often postulated, no scratching of the patina) and no trace of chemical fertiliser damage. The fact that all three parts were found together and not scattered by subsequent ploughing is significant.

The detectorist is quoted as saying it was dug up from a depth of "eight to ten inches" (approx 20-25 cm) which presumably is meant to mean it was within ploughing depth. But the state of the object does not support that. Was it found on grassland?  Or was it dug out from below plough level, from the fill of an underlying feature? 

Finally, I'll note one curious passage from the auction catalogue which I'll not comment, beyond saying that its potential significance apparently was spotted by Andy Brockman, but the PAS volunteer making the record seems not to have noted it and asked deeper questions. Adam Staples writes that the characteristics of the find "make it very unlikely to be a casual loss. More probable is that it was carefully placed in the ground". A deposit or hoard? What an odd thing to say, in the circumstances. 

It should be noted that, although they are clearly visible in the dealer's photos and some mentioned in the auction catalogue, the PAS volunteer recorder Michelle Ray did not describe any of these features in her cut-and-paste "description" of the object. We will return to the question of the reliability of the PAS-hosted "DENO too bad" record later. 

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