Keystone Garnet Disc Brooch, Carlton Colville

front and back of the keystone brooch

A magnificent, nearly complete keystone garnet disc brooch was excavated from a grave (Grave 23) which was part of the 7th century Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Bloodmoor Hill, Carlton Colville.

This is a local East Anglian made brooch copying the Kentish keystone disc brooches made during the late 6th–early 7th century. The brooch was discovered in a grave, having been placed in a leather or skin pouch and laid upon the shoulder of the deceased.

This brooch is made from silver and gilded with gold. In the centre of the brooch is a large shell boss inset with a garnet on silver niello foil. Around this central boss are four wedge-shaped garnets set in a cruciform arrangement, one garnet is missing but was recovered during excavations. In between each garnet is a shell inlaid boss, like the central boss these also have garnets set within them although these are now damaged and the garnets are missing. The rim of the disc brooch has been decorated with beaded panels and a further four (one missing) small rectangular garnets aligned with the larger, wedge-shaped ones. Between all the settings are a series of simple border reliefs, thought to be copying the animal motifs found on the brooch’s Kentish parallels.

illustration of the keystone brooch from Bloodmoor Hill.
Illustration of the keystone brooch from Bloodmoor Hill

Wider Connections

The closest parallel for this brooch was excavated from another mid-7th century Anglo-Saxon grave at Edix Hill, Cambridgeshire. It is so similar, the only difference being that the four rim garnets are aligned with the shell bosses instead of the wedge-shaped garnets, that it was more than likely made by the same craftsman producing these copies in East Anglia. This gives a fascinating insight into the social and economic networks of the Anglo-Saxons in East Anglia.

For two brooches by the craftsman to appear so far apart in the region could be explained in a few different ways: first the craftsman was itinerant and so travelled around between Anglo-Saxon communities; secondly that there is a movement of objects between places via trade or gift gifting; thirdly people from one community are moving to another e.g. through marriage; or lastly a mixture of all these mechanisms. The fact the brooch is a copy of a Kentish one suggests that these social and economic networks are not only limited to East Anglian region but were established over many miles.

For more information see:
Lucy, S., Tipper, J. and A. Dickens. 2009. The Anglo-Saxon Settlement and Cemetery at Bloodmoor Hill, Carlton Colville, Suffolk. East Anglian Archaeology Report No. 131.

The ‘From the Vaults’ series is written by the County Council’s Archaeological Archives Officer

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