Sunday, 18 November 2012

Early Medieval Sword Pommel

This sword pommel recently discovered by us dates from the Early Medieval period (5th to 11th Centuries) and was an unexpected, but welcome discovery whilst out on a cold winter day.  Material evidence from the Early Medieval period in Glamorgan is indeed scarce, and although this artifact will probably serve to ask more questions than provide answers, as per usual in archaeology, 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 9th to 11th Centuries AD.  It appears that the pommel also had a tinned or silvered surface as there is some evidence of this on the curved base.  

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 very tempting to ascribe the casual loss of this artifact as the result of a skirmish between a Viking raiding party and the local inhabitants of Glamorgan.  Was a Viking warrior slain and swiftly dispatched with a first class ticket to the Halls of Valhalla?  Did the sword the pommel was once attached to belong to a native of Wales?  Won in battle, traded, exchanged or who was himself perhaps slain in battle?  Or did the individual who lost it simply fall of his horse and break part of his sword?

With these questions in mind it is difficult, if not impossible, to say who lost the pommel and how, but our searches have so far have revealed that there are no other Early Medieval finds near the find spot, or indeed any Early Medieval archaeology in the near vicinity to help us place the sword pommel in some sort of context, so for the moment we must view the sword pommel as a casual single loss. 

Material evidence for the occupation of Glamorgan during the Early Medieval period, and also a Viking presence in Glamorgan is scarce, as there are only a small number of archaeological sites known, most of which are ecclesiastical, so single artifacts discovered by members of the public are very 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 (one of which was found by us a few years back) several 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 made when the person who lost them was travelling.  Glamorgan during the Early Medieval period as we know was scarcely inhabited; we do know however that Glamorgan was visited by Scandinavian traders and Vikings alike with the religious establishments at both Llantwit Major and Llancarfan known to have been targeted by Viking raiders.  Barry Island too is recorded as being a temporary base for a group of Norse raisers during the early 11th Century. Could it have perhaps been a member of this group who lost a part of their sword?  Chances are we will never know. 

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