Waldringfield church grave yard is the site of a rather extraordinary find. Fragments of Late Iron Age pottery moulds used in the production of metal horse harness parts were discovered when a new grave was being dug in 1984. Subsequent excavation near the grave revealed no other metal working debris, so the location of the production workshop is unknown.
A total of 19 pieces of moulds were retrieved, including 10 different terrets (rein guides) and four strap-union plates (used for joining two straps). The moulds were used to cast the copper alloy harness pieces using an altered form of the lost wax method.
The finished pieces would have looked quite spectacular as they were decorated with geometric and anthropomorphic patterns inlaid with coloured glass. The terret moulds feature a decorative crescent that follows the shape of the terret. There are a number of different motifs used on these moulds, the most popular being pointed lobes, circular ‘eyes’ and sometimes curls. It is the bird head motifs seen on fragments WLD1, WLD5 and WLD 029 which really make these moulds a rare find. The strap-union plate moulds feature the same decorative patterns, and the final products would have formed part of 10 different matching sets.
Amazingly there are no other known examples of terret and strap-union plate moulds, a few examples of similar finished products are known, such as the beautiful terret ring from Weybread below.
The finished terrets would have been extremely high status flamboyant items. Glass and copper alloy were expensive materials and required a considerable amount of skill and time to work into objects such as these. Unusually, these terrets are decorated on both sides even though only one side would have been visible!
The high status of these objects is unquestionable, as is their use on horse harnesses – paralleled by a British terret ring in Iron Age chariot burial in Hofheim, Germany.
However, the occasion on which these pieces were commissioned and deposited remains unknown. Were these ornate harness sets a gift to an individual? Were the pieces made purely for inclusion in chariot burials? Or were they passed down from one generation to the next only to be buried with an individual when they had no heirs?
For more information see:
Martin, Edward. 1978. Shorter Contributions: A New Iron Age Terret from Weybread. Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History. Vol 34, Part 2, Pages 137 – 140.
Rigby, Val. 2013. The Making of Iron-Age Horse Harness Mounts: A Catalogue of the Fired Clay Mould Fragments Found at Waldringfield, Suffolk. Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History. Vol 43, Part 1, Pages 24-37
View the Historic Environment Record entry WLD 001.
The ‘From the Vaults’ series is written by the County Council’s Archaeological Archives Officer