Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Saxon thoughts (part 1)

I have been reading a lot these last few days, and need to gather my thoughts in to some sort of order.  Basically Anglo-Saxon study, and a particular time within this Saxon immigration to Britain.  The second half of the 7th century is basically where I am at.  The moment when the pagan gods were replaced by Christianity, or at least for time lived alongside each other, though if one looks at the later Viking raids and settlements the old gods once more appear.  This period is called the Conversion Period.  This changeover of religious beliefs is reflected in the A/S cemeteries, but  the abandonment  of the  old pagan custom of depositing grave goods with the dead did not die out till the 8th century.  So the settled Saxon people during the 7th century  still had the custom of interesting pagan bed burials.  Though to be sure, who would not want to be buried in their bed!  The first time I  had come across such a burial like this  years ago was the Swallowcliffe Down burial of a female, identified by the things she was buried with. Excavated in 1966 by Vacher,  the book can be found on the net, which I will tackle later. But for now the bed burial at  the  Street House, Loftus excavation of the 7th AD Century A/S cemetery, and in particular Grave 42 and one of the brooches found there.

Shield Shaped Pendant from the Street House A/S Cemetery

"This shield shaped was found in grave 42, alongside the two cabochon pendants and a gold wire bicone bead, the pendant measures 27mm wide and 37 mm long, including the suspension loop and has a unique shield shape.  The pendant has a gold base upon which a framework of extremely thin gold bands less than 1mm thick, is set with 57 cloisonne gemstones, each in a separate cell.  The small size of the cells is thought to indicate a reuse of old garnets, an established 7th AD Century practice.  Each of the garnets approximately 1mm thick has been cut separately and not all form a perfect fit within the framework of cells.  All of the gemstones overlie a thin layer of gold foil impressed with a dimple pattern, placed to enhance the stone by reflecting light from behind the gem. The stones in situ are set flush with the top edge of the cell.  This suggest that the cells were part-filled with an unknown (presumably) organic substance, and the foil and gem floated on top to bring them to the correct height, the pendant has three tiers from the lowest outside edge, with the top of the central gem giving an overall depth to the pendant of 9mm...........

The centrepiece of the pendant is a larger gemstone that measures a maximum of 16mm wide and 15mm long with a series of incised lines forming a scallop shape.  Its thickness is unknown."  Stephen Sherlock.

Jewellery  is a female acquirement, though I know that is somewhat short of the truth, but things that glitter are something we all like to dress ourselves up with, and so it was with our Anglo-Saxon brethren, mostly they wore brooches to fasten their cloaks and dresses.  A  chatelaine with useful households accoutrements would dangle from a chain round their waists.  What is interesting though is  the style  and the craftmanship of the various ornaments, and the fact that many of the objects had been made from  earlier antiquarian bits and pieces such as Iron Age beads, or Roman coins, or even old garnets taken from other jewellery.  This would of course  point to the fact that gold and precious jewels were limited, and I suppose that this would be the case in a developing nation country such as England in  that period called the 'Dark Ages'.

What had struck me at the time was the fact that Saint Hilda was contemporary with our 'royal princess' and so was Saint Cuthbert, though I doubt that Cuthbert or Hilda wore jewellery as such.   Cuthbert did have a cross though.....
Saint Cuthbert's Cross, probably kept at Durham Cathedral

Pectoral cross, circa 640-670 W. 6 cm. Garnets set in individual gold cells on a gold cross-shaped base plate. The central garnet is mounted on a white shell of Mediterranean origin. English. The arms are decorated with beaded wire, dog-toothing and dummy rivet heads. The suspension loop is secondary. Repairs show that the cross was not new when buried in the grave of St Cuthbert in 687. A number of decorative elements and the general concept of a cloisonn√© cross show an awareness of Kentish jewellery of the 7th century, but the shape of the cross and the use of dummy rivets may place the piece in a Northumbrian environment.

When I started thinking about all this my mind was on the beautiful square headed brooches of earlier times, and as I ploughed through the PAS database, hardly any appeared, though there was a good selection of other types and I began to realise that I was undertaking a massive educational read, which needed some books, two are already ordered but not the one for £125 for just square headed brooches, such books are so expensive!

There is of course a male bed burial in Essex, dated mid 7th century, the Saxon Prittlewell burial, had both Christian crosses and pagan grave goods in the mound.

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