Dorset is a particularly interesting place within my study region. It straddles a geological boundary of the sandstone that dominates Devon, Cornwall and much of Somerset, and the chalklands that characteristic Wiltshire and Hampshire. At least half of the county (the eastern half) falls under the traditional ‘Wessex’ landscape. What this means is that the character of the metalwork, and indeed other materials, is quite broad and often unique within the south western region.
The PAS material to a certain extent reflects this. Over 100 findspots are recorded on the PAS database, comprising about around 130 objects. As is typically the case in Dorset, there are few hoards or multiple finds of metal objects. Instead, the focus is on individual deposits. Numerous finds of goldwork have come up, indicating traditions of certain object types that are rarely seen in other parts of south west England. However, like the rest of the region, axes are prolific, often in a fragmentary state, and spearheads occur in similar numbers as in Devon.
This post starts by focusing on predominantly complete objects, but never fear there’s a decent amount of both deliberate and accidental fragmentation thrown in towards the end!
Numerous small gold penannular rings have been found in Dorset recently. The exact function of these rings is uncertain but they occur in a variety of forms, and may be solid gold, or may have a clay or copper alloy core that is covered with gold sheet. Sometimes there are ornamented with bands of gold and electrum along the surface, representing a skilled technical process. Previously none were known from the south west, but now a total of sixteen have been found, with many found through the PAS scheme. This find from Osmington (DOR-18E227) shows the beautiful banding that was achieved.
Bournemouth Palstave hoard (2011 T589)
In 2011, a hoard of six complete palstaves and one palstave blade fragment was found. This hoard included a mixture of palstave forms, including a south-western type, southern English types and a Norman form, broadly dating to the Taunton phase of the Middle Bronze Age. The palstave fragment had broken in antiquity and likely represented accidental damage through use (click the images for larger versions!)
Frampton arrowhead (WILT-8171F0)
A rare copper alloy arrowhead has been found while metal-detecting near Frampton. It more or less takes the form of typical Early-Middle Bronze Age flint barbed and tanged arrowheads. Only a handful of bronze examples are known from the country so far, and this is the first of its kind in south west England. It hints towards the idea that there were probably object types present in prehistory that were never deposited and thus we never recover them.
Tarrant Valley Gold lunula (DOR-2198F8)
The gold lunula from the Tarrant Valley is the first of its kind from Dorset. These large ornaments are more typical of Ireland, Cornwall and France. A large piece of it (approx. three-quarters) was found in 2014, as well as a small fragment. However, one terminal was missing. In 2015, a crumpled terminal fragment was found nearby and is believed to be the missing terminal. It is likely these damages are the result of ploughing, rather than deliberate breakage in the past. This amazing object can be seen at Dorchester County Museum (click the images for larger versions!)
Shillingstone rapiers (WILT-8CBFA4)
Rapiers are relatively rare in Dorset, especially when compared with Devon, which appears to have had a minor rapier industry. Two rapiers found at Shillingstone are thus an important contribution to understanding object distribution. They are especially important for my research as one was found in three refitting fragments, while the second was found in six fragments. On the face of it, one would be forgiven for thinking this fragmentation was deliberate destruction. However, while at least one of the breaks on each rapier is seemingly the result of intent, the other damages are related to post-deposition processes, such as corrosion. This is indicated by associated damage (e.g. bending) and the state of the breaks. This highlights the importance of understanding differences in breakage patterns (click the images for larger versions!)
Endnote and Acknowledgements
This is the third 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 Devon, Somerset and Cornwall! My thanks must go to Dorset County Museum who have allowed me access to see some of this material.
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.