4.3.4 Metals analysis

The results of the metal analysis agree with previous studies of metal-detected evidence. The sites studied in the project fall into three main groups: the largest group (39 of the 69 sites) is where the assemblage is overwhelmingly dominated by copper alloy metalwork; 23 sites have assemblages that comprise more than 60% coins and the final seven sites are characterised by a very mixed metal assemblage, sometimes dominated by iron finds.

The small group of sites with very mixed metal types entirely consists of sites whose assemblages were collected in controlled archaeological interventions: Beverley, Canterbury (Marlowe car park), Cottam B, Hartlepool, Meols, Middle Harling, Royal Opera House, Sandtun, Thwing, Torksey, Wharram Percy, and York Fishergate. This is a testament to the intensive recovery rate achieved in modern research excavations,and also has a significant impact on the range of artefact types found as the iron material includes many tool and small fittings not normally seen (or, in many cases, too impractical to be functional) in copper alloy.

Nineteen of the 23 sites where coins make up a majority of the artefact assemblage were sourced (or mainly sourced) from EMC data, which naturally only includes coins: Bamburgh Castle, Bawsey, 'Bedford productive site', Burrow Hill, Burton Fleming parish, Flixborough, London St Peter's Hill excavation, 'Near Malton productive site 1', 'Near Malton productive site 2', 'Near Royston productive site', 'Reculver productive site', Richborough, Ryther, 'South Lincolnshire productive site', Tilbury, Whitby Abbey, Whithorn, and York (16-22 Coppergate). Clearly other artefacts are recorded from many of these sites but information could not be collected within the scope of the VASLE project. The site at Kilham was sourced relatively evenly between PAS and EMC data, but almost all of the coin finds are from the EMC, which probably skews the shape of the artefact type chart. A small group remained where the sources should have recorded metalwork equally as well as coins: Burgh Castle, Caistor, Hollingbourne, Shalfleet, and Torksey.

The sites at Hollingbourne in Kent and Shalfleet on the Isle of Wight were jointly sourced between the PAS and the EMC, but almost all the PAS records in both cases were coins. Further research would be necessary to establish whether this result can be taken as having some genuine significance, or whether it merely reflects a choice by metal-detector users working the site to recover, or record, only coins.

The sites at Burgh Castle and Caistor St Edmund in Norfolk were sourced mainly from the high-quality data recorded in the Norfolk HER. The finds assemblage from Burgh Castle is currently rather small at only 27 artefacts, and the fact that eleven of these are EMC coins may well account for the relatively high rate of coin finds from the site as a whole; only six of the remaining sixteen HER finds are coins. However, the dominance of coins in the larger assemblage from Caistor St Edmund in Norfolk may add weight to the significance of the result from Burgh Castle, and these sites would probably both provide useful case studies for further investigation.

Torksey is also an exceptional site, with a clear association with a Viking army encampment. Previous studies have suggested that this was a factor in the volume of coinage (and, indeed, bullion) that has been recovered from the site, and it does seem likely that the high proportion of coin finds in the assemblage from Torksey can be accepted as a genuine result (Brown 2006).

In conclusion, there are at least two sites (Caistor and Torksey), and possibly a third (Burnham), where the dominance of coin finds in the artefact assemblage seems to be a genuine result. A similar result might be confirmed for the PAS sites at Shalfleet and Hollingbourne, and there are certainly a group of sites noticeably, though less dramatically dominated by coin finds, as discussed later). It is clearly possible, then, that the high proportion of coin finds at the nineteen mainly EMC-sourced sites identified above may reflect more than just the nature of the data collection; further study on a more detailed site-by-site basis could shed some interesting new light on coin use in the Middle and Later Saxon periods.

While only a few sites seem genuinely to have assemblages dominated by coin finds, the majority of sites where metalwork as well as coin finds have been recorded inevitably have assemblages dominated by copper alloy. It is inherently more likely, as previous studies have suggested, that iron was the most common metal used in the Middle and Late Saxon periods (Naylor 2004, 79). However, outside professionally excavated sites, alloys of copper are certainly the most common metal recovered. The analyses show that a wide range of metals, including iron, lead, silver and gold, as well as coins, have been recovered from sites known only from metal-detected evidence, and West Rudham (Fig. 343) and Wormegay (Fig. 367) in Norfolk deserve special mention in this context for the exceptional range of metals in their assemblages. Even at these sites, however, the volume of metalwork in other metals never comes close to the percentage of the assemblage that is made of copper alloys, which are undoubtedly the most common metal type for surviving objects of the period outside excavated sites.

Rarely, as in the case of Cottam B, the metal-detector users concerned have collected iron objects, particularly knives. The metals analysis fingerprint should therefore be more directly comparable with that of excavated sites. However, the same detector users also collected the assemblage for South Newbald, and did not find any iron knives. These two sites, therefore, provide good examples of where, under controlled conditions, the fingerprints can be particularly instructive. The absence of knives at South Newbald, and the higher proportion of coin finds, must reflect differential activities taking place. Excavation has revealed settlement evidence from Cottam B; although South Newbald is not accessible for excavation it is tempting to speculate that the preponderance of coinage reflects a greater focus on trade and exchange.


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