Approximately 50 findspots have been recorded through the PAS for Devon, comprising around 100 objects. This includes fragments of all types of objects, including sword, spears, axes and other tools, from a variety of contexts.
The material gathered through the PAS has had similar benefits to that collected for Cornwall. Object types that were previously largely unknown in the county are being identified, and in areas previously lacking in material evidence. Devon is notoriously lacking in hoards from throughout the Bronze Age, though with the occasional exception. The PAS data is steadily increasing this record, though it seems that in many cases, scatters of material are more common, rather than closed deposits.
When hoards do occur, they have a remarkably similar character – they predominantly comprise ingots. The availability of tin and copper from this region makes this especially important as we currently lack evidence of Bronze Age extraction, such as mines, but we may be able to infer trade and exploitation through the material evidence. Alternatively, the material recovered from Salcombe Bay, could indicate that this material was being brought in or traded out through the south Devon coast.
Here are a few of the most interesting finds from throughout the county.
Even before the PAS, Middle Bronze Age palstaves were prolific in Devon. The PAS has added 14 examples to the Devon database, which now tallies over 100! These come in a variety of forms, but a particularly nice example was found while metal-detecting in Sticklepatch in 2016 (SOM-B6F9F7). This is a distinctly South-Western style of palstave, which have their main currency in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset.
Otterton Ingot hoard (DEV-ED41D1)
I mentioned ingot hoards above. One such hoard was found at Otterton in 2013. It contained 7 fragments of plano-convex copper alloy ingots, weighing over 2.2kg in total. All of the ingots have been broken in fragments, presumably by heating and striking larger buns. About 10 ingot hoards are now known in Devon.
Chagford axe (DEV-8101B6)
In 2004, a Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age socketed axe was found at Chagford. This axe is a class of axe called a Sompting type, which are large, heavy square-socketed axes dating to around 800-600 BC (also known as the Llyn Fawr period). This axe has a four pairs of vertical ribs on each face and the worn remains of a pellet, surrounding by a circlet at the end of each pair. This axe is only the second Sompting type known from Devon, and the first with this kind of decoration.
Ottery St. Mary scatter (DEV-89AC96)
At Ottery St. Mary, a palstave in two refitting pieces and a casting jet were found while metal-detecting within a 12m2 area. A tanged knife was also found 50m away in an adjoining field. These objects form one of the ‘scatters’ I mentioned above, whereby the objects might not strictly be considered a ‘hoard’, but were likely deposited around the same time. The palstave has broken across the stop ridge in the Bronze Age, likely as a result of a large mineral inclusion present in the break. The pieces fit back together, though have different patinas, which mean they could have been deposited differently (e.g. in different environments). The casting jet could indicate this was an area of production.
Devon gold sheet (DEV-46BB26)
Finally, in 2015 a crumpled sheet of decorated gold was recovered from a protected findspot in Devon. The sheet appears to have been part of a narrow band, adorned with three sets of three horizontal ribs, with two rows of embossed circular bosses in between. The exact object this belonged to is uncertain, but it likely formed some sort of adornment. Very little gold from the Bronze Age has ever been found in Devon, and this piece so far has no parallels across Britain. The decoration is more akin to that found on the Continent. It thus offers an interesting glimpse at the range of objects that may have been in circulation, but for which we have no real evidence, as well as the possible contacts the South West had across the Channel.
This is the second post in my series on the pieces I’ve been studying from the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. Be sure to check out my other posts on Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset! My thanks must go to Danielle Wootton (the FLO for Devon) for her help, as well as Thomas Cadbury at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, for letting me in to see some of the finds recorded through the PAS.