Sunday, 18 November 2012

Early Medieval Sword Pommel

This Early Medieval sword pommel recently discovered by us was an unexpected, but welcome discovery whilst out on a cold winter day as material evidence from the early medieval period in Glamorgan is scarce, and although this artifact will probably serve to ask more questions than provide answers it is a very exciting discovery none the less.

The pommel, which is hollow and is curved at the base, has five lobes and appears to be of the Peterson L Type VI variety (Peterson 1919).  The pommel is of probable Viking/Anglo-Scandinavian origin, a hybrid of both Saxon and Viking styles, and dates from the ninth to eleventh century. It appears that the pommel also had a tinned or silvered surface as there is some evidence of this on the curved base.

                                                         (The pommel)

The discovery of the pommel raises the obvious question of how and why it ended up in a field in the middle of Glamorgan but also questions relating to the wider context of such an item. It is of course tempting to ascribe the loss of this artifact as the result of a skirmish between a Viking raiding party and the local inhabitants of Glamorgan although the circumstances of its loss were probably far less dramatic than in combat, although that scenario still does represents a possibility.

Glamorgan as it became under Norman rule did not exist during the Early Medieval period and the tract of land which is now Glamorgan was formerly a part of the much larger ancient native Welsh kingdom of Morganwwg. The coastal tract of Morgannwg, the location of the present day Vale of Glamorgan, appears to have been sparsely inhabited during this period with only a small handful of religious sites such as at Llantwit Major, Llancarfan and Ewenny representing any signs of permanent settlement.  This is of course not to say that there were no domestic settlements in existence; we have for example some interesting associated evidence for their existence such as the Early Medieval cemeteries at Llandough and the Bendricks near Barry, as well as the possible re-occupation of the Roman building at the Knap in Barry. There is also the possibility that Llysworney was the site of a Villa belonging to the kings of Morgannwg. 

                          (Early Medieval memorial stone from Llantwit Major)

Early Medieval small finds from Glamorgan are scarce. There are only a small number of archaeological sites known, most of which as we have seen are ecclesiastical, so single artifacts such as this sword pommel are important in helping us to build up a picture of life in Glamorgan during the early medieval period. Most of the single finds reported from Glamorgan seem to consist of personal items, with some of the more prominent finds consisting of finger rings, brooches, several strap ends, a number of coins from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England, a near complete Viking sword and of course our sword pommel, with the spatial distribution of the finds covering a wide area. One common denominator is that the early medieval finds hitherto recorded are not domestic items one would associate with a permanent dwelling or settlement, but rather personal items that appear to be casual single losses, most likely lost while travelling.  

Did the sword pommel belong to a Viking warrior? Certainly the Vikings were making incursions into Wales during the tenth century with both Llancafan and Llantwit Major suffering viking raids during this period so it is possible that it was a Viking who lost this part of his appendage who was perhaps engaged in battle, or perhaps he simply slipped and fell thus losing his sword pommel in the process.  We shall never know.

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