A Life In Fragments

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A Week in Fragments: Research, Experiments and Interesting Conversations

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This week has been a bit all over the place – every day has offered me interesting meetings, museums visits, plans for teaching archaeology summer classes, and many objects to look at! So this post, like my week, is going to be fragmented, and give a brief update of everything!

Research: Museum of Wales and the Wick Park Hoard

On Monday I took a trip to the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff to ogle their hoards. The links between South Wales and South West England in the Bronze Age have long been a source of interest so it was fascinating to be able to handle and analyse the pieces in the museum’s collection. Recent work by Adam Gwilt and Mark Lodwick on the increasing number of Late Bronze Age hoards is showing definite patterns in the role of the landscape in depositional practices. What I’m interested to learn is how this is mirrored on my side of the Bristol Channel. Were practices from South Wales exported across to the South West (or vice versa)?

St nick hoard.jpg

A Ewart Park (Late Bronze Age) hoard from St. Nicholas, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales (photo courtesy of the PAS)

It thus seems apt that I’m still working my way through the infamous Wick Park, Stogursey, hoard, deposited in Somerset, but bearing closer resemblance to the contemporary practices in South Wales. This Ewart Park period hoard (1000-800BC) consists of 149 objects and fragments and remains the largest Ewart Park hoard in South West England. On Wednesday I returned to Taunton museum for my third day tackling all of those pieces. Having systematically worked my way through the axes, swords and spears (i.e. the good stuff!), I’m now left with only lumps of ingot and casting waste. I can’t deny, even I’m getting tired of the fragments now. My object tally is at 95/149 so hopefully one more day should do it and then you can expect a post detailing some of my thoughts and observations! (spoiler alert: most of it was deliberately broken!)

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Experiments: Axes and Spears

From old objects to new objects then… It seems strange that after spending so long wondering about my experiments that they have started to take off with such progress that I can barely keep up! This is without a doubt thanks to Neil Burridge who has been tirelessly making moulds and models and test-casting pieces this week. The socketed axe model is now complete – based off a broken socketed axe from the St. Buryan hoard, Cornwall. This is a three-ribbed axe, typical of Southern England, and was found with a fragmented socket. The breakage is likely use-related, perhaps under pressure exerted in the hafting process, or simply as a result of impact through use. Regardless, it offers a useful example to recreate from my study region. Thanks must go to Anna Tyacke for offering an initial resin model for Neil to work from and recreate the complete socket and cutting edge. I’m really looking forward to producing replicas and putting them to use.

However, for me, the thing I’m most excited about is the production of the Type 1 barbed spearhead, like that from Bloody Pool. Spearheads are definitely my favourite of the Bronze Age objects and last week I spent a day with Neil as he constructed the model to use for the mould, assisting him in terms of getting the sizing right. This was quite difficult though, as all that remains of the originals is corroded base pieces, and a drawing from the 1850’s of fragments that have since gone missing, but indicate the overall size. This means Neil has worked from a drawing and museum fragments to create a mould, model and first test-cast, which is no mean feat!

You can see in Neil’s first test-cast that the socket core was slightly too thick in places, meaning the metal couldn’t fill properly, causing a casting flaw towards the socket-blade junction, but this is also the first time anyone has ever tried to cast one of these for nearly 3000 years! A couple more casts and I reckon he’ll have it nailed! A particularly difficult feature of these spears is the lozenge-shaped coring and the super-thin walls. I have faith in my Master Bronzesmith though!

Interesting Conversations

Ultimately, this has been a week of conversations, with numerous people offering their insights and thoughts on my project. Conversations in academia are generally underrated, I think, but often people hold knowledge beyond that which ends up in an article or book. Conversations with my supervisors, for instance, are essential for developing my thoughts on tackling my data collection and experiments, while I don’t think there’s anyone in the country who knows more about Bronze Age hoarding in Wales right now than those working at Cardiff Museum.

Dealing with the metallurgical science behind what I’m doing is particularly assisted by speaking to those who have studied it all their lives. I was fortunate this week to meet with Dr. Peter Northover who is incredibly knowledge about the structure of metalwork – it’s because of time spent talking to him that I’m now able to understand some of the breakage patterns I’m seeing in terms of the microstructure and compositional properties. It’s also because of this conversation that Neil and I are now going to be able to accurately achieve the most comparable composition for the metalwork we’re producing.

This may seem like a relatively mundane blog post, but I can’t stress how useful this last week has been in terms of getting to grips with all my various aspects. Sure, it means I’m ping-ponging all over the country and keeping my head focussed on just one aspect is impossible but that’s part of the fun of a PhD, right?!

1 Comment

  1. […] make ingots interesting. A hoard from St. Buryan, for instance, contains a broken socketed axe (the same axe that inspired my replicas), a socketed axe cutting edge fragment, a notched flint flake and 9 ingot fragments (weighing a […]


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I’m Matt, 26 years old, a glutton for academic punishment, a lover of all things Bronze Age, always willing to continue talking even when my friends have lost interest, and never happy unless overwhelming busy. Find out more here and be sure to follow me on Twitter @mgknight24 and Facebook

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