A Life In Fragments

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Bronze Age Metalwork at Wells and Mendip Museum

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Believe it or not, two years into my research, I still haven’t finished my data collection. The spread of objects across the South West has proven far more troublesome than even I anticipated. Nonetheless, I persevere and my latest venture took me to the beautiful tiny city of Wells.


It’s been a while since I last visited a museum collection, so in many respects the Wells and Mendip Museum was the perfect museum to ease me back into the swing of things. I first visited Wells back in 2013 so am familiar with its modest, but varied, collection of Bronze Age goodies, and I was warmly welcomed back.

Wells Collection.jpg

The museum displays boast a series of token metalwork pieces, stretching from Early Bronze Age flat axes to Late Bronze Age swords, demonstrating the development of technology across the period. And, as always, it’s the stories behind these objects that intrigue me most so I’ll share two of them here.

horrington spearheads.jpg

Two basal-looped spearheads found at Horrington Hill.


The material from Horrington Hill, Wells, has some of the most complicated find history I’ve yet had to unravel, but the outcome is definitely one of the most intriguing. So far five spearheads have been found over the last 40ish years:

  • 1973: A schoolboy noticed two Middle Bronze Age basal-looped spearheads sticking out of a bank near the summit of the hill. He donated one to Wells Museum, while retaining the other, which unfortunately has never resurfaced.
  • 1976: Another schoolboy found fragments of a side-looped spearhead near the original findspot, though the location of these fragments is now also unknown.
  • 1990s: The lower half of another basal-looped spearhead was found in the same rough area, which was then donated to Wells.
  • 1998: Metal-detecting uncovered evidence of a fifth spearhead in the form of a long broken socket (CORN-3367F7).
  • 2009: An upper blade fragment of a spearhead was found, which refits perfectly with the lower half of the basal-loop spearhead found in the 1990’s.

Following me so far?

WEL-P003b b-l spearhead (8).JPGThe refitting pieces found in the 1990s and 2009 get more interesting as, upon closer inspection, it was found that this spearhead had never been prepared for use. The breakage appears to have occurred while removing the spearhead from the mould, and the whole thing was left as-cast, complete with sprue stumps around the socket. Perhaps even more significantly, the first spearhead that was donated to the museum way back in 1973, was also left as-cast and the details and dimensions match perfectly with the spearhead in two pieces. They even share the same casting flaw in the side of socket indicating they came from the same mould.

Missing spearheads.jpg

The two missing spearheads from Horrington Hill. The fragmented one was found in 1976, while the complete specimen was found with the first in 1973 (drawing from Pearce 1983, Plate 83)


The surviving images of the other spearheads are unfortunately not sufficiently detailed to indicate whether these were also left as-cast, but this assemblage of material may very well represent a dispersed spearhead hoard, which would make it the second one ever found in South West England (the first being my favourite Bloody Pool hoard).

WEL-P005 Rodney Stoke (11).jpg


The second particularly interesting object here is a sword blade found in Rodney Stoke, possibly near Stoke Wood, though further information is not known. This is the lower blade of a leaf-shaped sword broken in antiquity across the upper blade below the shoulders. It’s difficult to know what type of sword this blade originally belonged to. Susan Pearce considered it could be a Ballintober type, typical of the Penard phase of the Middle Bronze Age, based on the wide blade and lack of bevelled edges, though this could equally apply to a Wilburton type sword, which were produced slightly later on. Ian Colquhoun and Colin Burgess decided to simply categorise it as “Miscellaneous”, which seems like the safest option.

rodney stoke reworked end.jpg

Classification becomes harder as the blade has been reworked after breakage. The upper blade has been tapered inwards slightly, removing the original edges, and two holes, aligned linearly, have been drilled through the centre of the upper blade. This is interesting because, firstly, it indicates the reworking of this blade for reuse, and secondly because the technology to drill through the metal so neatly is very impressive. At the point of drilling, the metal is about 8mm thick and the holes were approximately 5mm in diameter. To my knowledge, we still don’t fully understand how such holes would have been drilled so effectively without incredibly time-consuming processes. While it makes sense to reuse broken implements, this sword is the only one I have ever seen in Britain that has had new holes drilled into it through the centre of the blade (though I welcome any further examples anyone knows of!)

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The remaining pieces of metalwork in Wells Museum consist of other blades, spearheads and various axes all found within the local area, some deposited near hillforts and in caves. While the collection is only small in comparison with the county museums, the state of these objects, ranging from as-cast to used to broken and reworked, offers an important contribution to how we might understand Bronze Age society in this area.


Thanks must go to Barry Lane and David Walker at the Wells and Mendip Museum for accommodating my research, as well as the rest of the volunteers. To see more of what the museum offers, please visit: http://www.wellsmuseum.org.uk/.




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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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