Saturday 29 January 2022

"Keeping Away the Fever" in a Field

          Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus Tecum,        
benedicta Tu in mulieribus et benedictus
 fructus ventris Tui, Jesus. Sancta Maria,
Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae.
Another "Man finds exciting thing in field" story. It makes a change from "fireman rescues cat from tree" as a column filler on slow news days. William Nordhoff, 49, a former Lance Corporal in the army and a keen metal detectorist found an 800-year-old brooch in a field in Pewsey Vale, Wiltshire (Henry Martin Metal detectorist finds unique £5,000 medieval brooch in field Mail online 27 Jan 2022).  
A coroner dated the medieval brooch, which weighs 5.77g, to 1150-1350 AD, and [...] an auction expert estimated it could be worth up to £5,000 [...]. The roughly circular brooch has a bevelled edge that has part of a Christian devotional prayer inscribed on its four surfaces along a diameter of 24mm. The Hebrew letters A, G, L, and A on the inner inscription are believed to have amuletic properties, according to the coroner's report, invoked as a charm against fever during the medieval period.
Not only does the journalist have problems understanding how circles work, but he's not going to tell you the name of the prayer (even less where it comes from) "The Latin written on the brooch translates to: 'Hail Mary full of grace the Lord/is with thee/blessed art thou amongst women/and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. Amen."

And of course, the perspicacious reader will have spotted that the lettering AGLA is not "Hebrew" as reported above but Lombardic Latin script (it would look like this in Hebrew: אגלא ). This seems to have been a Kabbalistic acronym for ʾAtā gībōr ləʿōlām ʾĂḏōnāy, "Thou, O Lord, art mighty forever". If so, it is interesting to consider how this could have passed (presumably as some kind of charm) into mainstream medieval culture. There are some 40 examples so far known to the PAS, they map out as below. The PAS interprets it as "a charm against fever". 

 So here is an exercise for all those British aficionados of interpretive games with dots on maps. What does this mean in the case of loose finds, often offsite or decontextualised? Answers on a postcard please (or in the comments below). 
What makes it unique is its four inscribed surfaces, its relatively good condition, and the fact there were no spelling mistakes made in the inscription. The inquest concluded there are no others like it.
Just what inquests are for, eh? And just look at the plough damage and the effects of being in soil water full of artificial fertilisers. It probably would not have lasted another few months in those conditions. OK, inquest, what's the archaeological context?

Mail-reading Brexiter Toby Leggott comments that he wants it on a plate:

Hat tip: anonymous reader

UPDATE 19th February 2022

"The brooch contains religious and magical inscriptions in Latin and Hebrew" (Owen Jarus, 'Metal detectorist finds medieval gold brooch with supernatural inscriptions' Live Science 18th Feb 2022). No.   
When are news reports about archaeology going to concentrate on the person who used and wore this item back in the fourteenth century rathe than its modern discoverer/ Surely that is what archaeology is about, no? 

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