And so I reach the final of my four counties: Somerset. Again, it is a diverse environment, some parts flooding heavily, contrasted by upland areas which served as centres for barrow cemeteries and monuments, as well as embanked settlements that acted as precursors for hillforts. Inevitably the character of metalwork recovered through the PAS differs from the previous counties presented: there’s less gold than Dorset, fewer ingots than Devon, more spearheads than Cornwall.
94 findspots were recorded when I stopped extracting the data at the end of March, consisting of 118 objects. Inevitably this number has already increased, but I have to stop somewhere! Hoards of objects found together are rare occurrences, with the majority of objects being found singly in landscapes.
To anyone who is familiar with the Bronze Age in Somerset, this may come as a surprise, as large numbers of Middle Bronze Age hoards have historically been found. The PAS record thus starts to readdress the balance between single and hoarded objects.
Here is not the place to discuss these issues, but it’s some food for thought while you gaze upon some of the interesting pieces that have been found so far.
Chewton Mendip miniature axe (GLO-095477)
In 2007, a tiny copper alloy socketed axe was found. I absolutely love these objects. It’s difficult to definitely attribute it to the Bronze Age, as they are found throughout the Iron Age and Roman period, but they appear to be imitations of larger Bronze Age socketed axes. Could they have been amulets? More and more of these are being found and they are widespread across England.
South Petherton sword (SOM-FBC596)
The hilt and upper blade of a Late Bronze Age Ewart Park sword (c.900-850 BC) was found in two refitting pieces. The blade piece was found in 2010, while the hilt was found in the same field in 2011. It’s difficult to tell whether the breakage of this object was deliberate or not without actually holding the bits in my hands, but it’s likely that the breaks were probably intentional. Other Bronze Age objects have been found in the area, including an Early Bronze Age axe and a Middle Bronze Age spearhead. There may have been something significant about the South Petherton area during the Bronze Age.
Portishead hooked knife (GLO-5E5633)
This is a socketed, hooked knife, found in 1999. These are similar in form to other Late Bronze Age knives, but the blade has been deliberately bent over to give it a hooked appearance. This object is relatively rare and the purpose of it is unclear.
Somerset has always had a relatively large proportion of spearheads, especially compared to Cornwall, so it’s no surprise that six tips and upper blade bits have now been recorded, alongside five more complete, but damaged examples. The reason behind these breakages isn’t always clear. Some of them might be related to use or damage while in the ground, but others could have been deliberately broken. Spearheads would have been important as hunting implements, as combat weapons, and maybe as symbolic objects. Here’s a few of the examples from Chilcompton (GLO-FF6DB7), Evercreech (SOM-4756B5), Ilchester (SOMDOR-3396D3), North Petherton (SOM-028812) and Stocklinch (SOM-649A51).
The Priddy Hoard (SOM-1C2C53)
This is one of the first finds that sparked my interest in destruction. Seventeen gold bracelets, torcs and rings were found while metal-detecting in 2005 having been deposited in a ‘tight ball’. Basically they’d been crushed and made unusable. This hoard broadly dates to the Middle Bronze Age. About 50m away, two palstaves were also found, which would have been contemporary, though an exact association is uncertain. The hoard is currently on display at Taunton Castle Museum and I strongly urge you all to go see it!
Endnote and Acknowledgements
This is the final 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 Dorset, Devon and Cornwall! Thanks go to Steven Minnitt of the South West Heritage Trusts (Museums Service) for allowing me access to the Priddy hoard of gold bracelets!