4.3.3 Artefact type analysis

The artefact categories chosen for the VASLE charts were based on an analysis of the artefact types present in the download of the data from the PAS database, as it was considered these would be a representative sample of the artefact types present in metal-detected evidence, which was the primary focus of the project. It proved impossible to apply the full range of artefact categories used in the national and regional fingerprints (see Section 3.2.1) to individual sites because of limitations of sample size. Therefore some amalgamation of artefact types was required to produce broader categories. Eight broad categories were defined: brooch, pin, strap-end/fitting, other dress/jewellery, hooked tag, coin, horse fitting, and 'other'. In the following discussion, strap-end/fittings will be referred to as 'strap-ends'. Although many horse fittings are usually dated to the 11th century, they were retained as a category for the project as they are particularly diagnostic of the Late Saxon period and were felt to have potential for identifying and analysing what was expected to be a smaller group of Late Saxon sites.

Twenty-three sites had assemblages that were dominated by more than 60% coinage (see Sections 4.3.4 and 4.3.5). However, in some cases this was because the information was sourced solely from the EMC database and the same sites had apparently not been recorded in the PAS. The majority of the 46 sites that were not dominated by coin finds had assemblages that comprised a mix of VASLE artefact types. These fell into several sub-groups, which will be discussed in detail in this section. A group of seven sites, however, were dominated by the 'other' category, that is, the categories selected for the VASLE analysis proved inappropriate for the artefact assemblage: Beverley, Hartlepool, Royal Opera House, Sandtun, Thwing, Wharram Percy, and York Fishergate. The relatively small size of this group was a useful validation of the categories chosen (in that they were appropriate for the remaining 62 sites), as was the fact that all the 'other'-dominated sites were sourced from published archaeological reports, which were not the primary focus of the project. The discrepancy is associated with the much larger range of artefact types found in the large volume of iron objects recovered during excavations. Since excavation reports differed significantly in the way that iron objects and metalworking scrap were recorded, it was not possible to attempt a consistent data-entry policy across different sites.

Even with the use of the broad artefact categories discussed above, analysis of assemblages from the group of 39 sites whose artefact types were not dominated by coins or 'other' produced very varied results.

The most striking similarity that emerged can be illustrated by the chart from Congham in Norfolk (Fig. 162). The proportions of 10% horse fittings and 'other' in the assemblage can be taken as roughly 'typical', and a proportion of around 15% coinage was also seen in a number of sites. However, the main result illustrated on this chart is the proportion of blue-coloured dress artefacts, which comprise around 50% of the assemblage. In this, the analysis from Congham typifies nearly two-thirds (24) of the 39 sites, although the proportions of specific artefact types vary dramatically from a site such as East Walton in Norfolk (Fig. 182), where there is a relatively even distribution across the VASLE dress artefact types compared to Canterbury (Marlowe car park excavation) (Fig. 146) where pins made up 40% of the assemblage, or Cliffe and Cliffe Woods in Kent (Fig. 150), where strap-ends comprised 40% of the assemblage, or even Barton Bendish in Norfolk (Fig. 109), where brooches comprised 30% of the assemblage.

A detailed artefact study is beyond the resolution of these results, but there did not appear much regional basis to the variation, except that sites north of the Humber generally had a dress assemblage dominated by pins: Cottam A, Cottam B, Cowlam, Meols, South Newbald. This is in line with the regional pattern for northern England, as discussed in Section Pins were actually the most common 'dominant dress' artefact, with seven sites of the 24 that had around 50% dress artefacts having this part of their assemblage focused on pins: Canterbury (Marlowe car park), Cottam A, Cowlam, Meols, South Newbald, Southampton (Hamwic) and West Walton. Narborough in Norfolk, which was not in the group that had around 50% dress artefacts (as it had a higher than average percentage of coin finds) also had a dress artefact assemblage dominated by pins, while Burnham in Norfolk had a relatively even number of brooches and strap-ends and relatively few pins. Another seven sites (of the 24) had two or three dominant dress artefact types, six of which included pins. At four sites (Congham, Freckenham, Melton Ross and Middle Harling) pins dominated the dress artefact assemblage with strap-ends, while at the other two (Hindringham and Quidenham) there were relatively even proportions of brooches, pins and strap-ends. Caistor St Edmund in Norfolk, which was not in the group that had around 50% dress artefacts (as it had a higher than average percentage of coin finds), also had a dress artefact assemblage dominated by pins and strap-ends. A further five sites (Cliffe and Cliffe Woods, Colkirk, Little Wilbraham, Oxborough and Swinhope) had dress artefact assemblages dominated by strap-ends. Firle in Sussex, which was not in the group that had around 50% dress artefacts (as it also had a higher than average percentage of coin finds) also had a dress artefact assemblage dominated by strap-ends. Assemblages from Barton Bendish and East Rudham in Norfolk, both of which were sourced from the Norfolk HER, had brooches as the primary dress artefact, while the assemblage from Coddenham in Suffolk was dominated by 'other dress/jewellery'. This was largely a result of the high number of buckles from the site, which is probably a function of the relatively early dating (Newman 2003).

The number of hooked tags also varied tremendously, from just one at the Canterbury Marlowe car park excavation, and none at the excavated Cottam A site, to the sites at East Walton and Narborough in Norfolk where they comprised 25% of the total assemblage. At the site in the parish of Ixworth (Fig. 214), Suffolk, hooked tags comprise nearly 30% of the assemblage; the assemblage is relatively small at just 29 artefacts, and seems a little idiosyncratic, although in the light of the previous sections it is worth noting that it seems much more 'normal' if the hooked tags are considered as dress fasteners. In East Anglia as a whole hooked tags make up just 9.1% of the regional assemblage (Section so these individual sites clearly stand out as unusual. Turquoise was used to represent hooked tags in the VASLE charts to reflect the fact that they may or may not have been dress items, and, while the Ixworth assemblage may suggest that they did fulfil this function at that site, the wide variation in the proportion of hooked tags from other sites may suggest that they were used for different purposes in different places.

In addition to the 24 sites discussed above where dress artefacts formed around 50% of the total artefact assemblage, the analysis of assemblages from a further group of nine sites showed dress artefacts (not including hooked tags) comprising considerably more, from 60% to 90% of the total assemblage: Cottam B, Elsham, Nettleton, Osbournby , Seething, West Rudham, Whissonsett, Wormegay, and Rocklands. The level of 60% is clearly somewhat arbitrary as some sites discussed in the 'around 50% group' had very nearly 60% (notably Colkirk), while Rocklands, listed here has only just over 60%. However, these are the only two sites that are very close to 60%, and only Whissonsett and West Rudham in this list have more than 70%, so the 60% threshold forms the most natural boundary between the two groups. Within this group, three sites (Cottam B, Elsham, Wormegay) still showed pins to be the dominant dress artefact, and the site at Whissonsett in Norfolk had pins and strap-ends together dominating the dress assemblage. However, brooches were much more important than in the '50% dress' group, with the 'high-dress' assemblages at both Nettleton in Lincolnshire and Seething in Norfolk dominated by brooches and a combination of brooches and strap-ends dominating at Rocklands and West Rudham in Norfolk. The final of the nine 'high-dress' sites, Osbournby in Lincolnshire, was dominated by strap-ends.

Four of these 'high-dress' sites (Elsham, Nettleton, Osbournby, and Seething) were based on an assemblage of less than 40 artefacts, so may become les unusual if more artefacts are recovered. However, it is not inherently implausible that a site might have a metalwork assemblage dominated by dress artefacts. Obvious explanations for such an assemblage might be economic isolation or relative poverty, but the assemblages from the five sites with larger 'high-dress' assemblages did not unequivocally support either. Coins were present at all the sites, forming around 20% of the total assemblage at Cottam B and Rocklands, a little more than 15% at Whissonsett, a little more than 10% at Wormegay and a little more than 5% at West Rudham. However, the large number of coins from Cottam B is related to the high volume of coinage in 9th-century Northumbria. All of these sites also had a small percentage of silver artefacts in addition to their copper alloy and coin assemblages, and assemblages from Cottam B, West Rudham and Wormegay also included a very small fraction of artefacts in gold.

The relative percentage of coin finds within the artefact assemblage also seemed to be a significant result for the 39 sites where the artefact type assemblage was mixed. A level of around 15% seemed to form something of a 'normal' level, with ten sites producing approximately this result: Canterbury Marlowe, Cliffe and Cliffe Woods, Congham, Ixworth, Middle Harling, Quidenham, Swinhope, Tibenham, Cottam B, and Whissonsett. A further 13 sites had a percentage of coin finds below this level: Barton Bendish, Colkirk, East Walton, Hindringham, Lackford, Little Wilbraham, West Walton, Elsham, Nettleton, Osbournby, Seething, West Rudham, and Wormegay. These fell into two clear groups. The first group, comprising six sites, had relatively low total assemblage volumes: Elsham (27 artefacts), Lackford (14 artefacts), Little Wilbraham (26 artefacts), Nettleton (33 artefacts), Osbournby (30 artefacts) and Seething (34 artefacts). There are many conceivable explanations for a low coin recovery rate from small assemblages, the most obvious perhaps being the amount of time the site has been worked on by metal-detector users, although a factor such as intermittent or specialised occupation in the past is also obviously possible. However, a significant group of seven sites have a low percentage of coin finds despite large, in some cases very large, metalwork assemblages having been recovered from the site. Four of these have coin assemblages at around 10% of their total assemblage – Barton Bendish (72 artefacts), Colkirk (53 artefacts), West Walton (79 artefacts), Wormegay (100 artefacts) – so are not too far from the apparently general level of around 15%. However, three sites, two of them with massive assemblages, have percentages around half this general level: East Walton (7% of 58 artefacts), Hindringham (8% of 173 artefacts), and West Rudham (8% of 143 artefacts). The fact that all three of these sites are in Norfolk may not be significant as around half of the sites with mixed assemblages (19 of the 39) were sourced from the high-quality data available in the Norfolk HER.

Of the sixteen remaining sites that were not dominated by coinage but where coinage comprised more than 15% of their total artefact assemblage, the majority (ten sites) fitted in a group where coins were between 20% and 30% of the assemblage: Burnham (25% coins of 65 artefacts), Coddenham (25% of 213 artefacts), Cowlam (27% of 66 artefacts), East Rudham (23% of 26 artefacts), Freckenham (25% of 116 artefacts), Melton Ross (25% of 28 artefacts), Meols (30% of 158 artefacts), Oxborough (30% of 56 artefacts), Rocklands (20% of 53 artefacts), and Southampton (Hamwic) (27% of 498 artefacts). Most of these have a coin find percentage around the 25% mark, which could be identified as a secondary peak to the 15% level previously identified. Of the remaining six, two – Firle (39% coins of 28 artefacts) and Narborough (45% coins of 29 artefacts) – had relatively small total assemblages. However the other four – Barham (39% coins of 165 artefacts), Caistor (52% coins of 50 artefacts), Cottam A (36% coins of 75 artefacts), and South Newbald (38% coins of 399 artefacts) – do show a significantly higher percentage of coins than the other sites with mixed artefact type assemblages.


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