Copper Alloy Bowl, Creeting St Mary

front, side and back of a copper alloy bowl

A Medieval copper alloy bowl, dating from the 11th to the 13th century and found in the Mid Suffolk area.

The vessel is made from a sheet of metal hammered to an omphaloid shape. It is moderately damaged on one side by modern disturbance due to deposition in the ground, but the bowl had already suffered damages, in fact it bears two old repairs along the edge. The inner face of the bowl is decorated with a roughly engraved motif, depicting three large semi-oval petals or leaves, which display further curvilinear engraved details.

The bowl belongs to a type of copper alloy vessels, which is wrongly named ‘’Hanseatic” and it is mainly found in the Baltic area. The name “Hanseatic” comes from the commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns, precisely the Hanseatic League, which was created in the late 12th century and dominated Baltic maritime trade for three centuries along the coasts of Northern Europe. Over the period, a network of alliances grew to include more than 150 cities.

The league succeeded in establishing additional trading post in Bruges in Flanders, Bergen in Norway, and London in England. These offices became significant enclaves. The London office, established in 1320, stood west of London Bridge near Upper Thames Street, the site now occupied by Cannon Street station. It grew into a significant walled community with its own warehouses, church, offices and houses, reflecting the importance and scale of trading activity on the premises.

Although the Hanseatic bowls are primarily associated with ports in the Hanseatic League and with marine archaeological sites, the link is no longer considered correct but the name is retained for convenience. The bowls were profane dishes for food or washing hands. They were artefacts of high symbolic value. In addition to practical and hygienic purposes, they also demonstrated the owner’s status. These vessels can be linked to the behavioural codex, where a pragmatic striving for cleanliness is combined with symbolising rank, status, and prestige. Their use for washing hands during or before festive meals, and maybe also before greeting or leaving, demonstrated the value system of their owners.

In England, they have been found in London, Leicester and a few other places. The centres of production appear to have been in the region of the Lower Rhine and the Meuse, famous in the early middle ages for engraved metalwork, although might have been more spread out. One bowl found in London is engraved with a simple design and may be a local imitation.

View the full record on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database

Thank you to the finder for allowing this object to be featured.

This find was recorded by the Suffolk Finds Recording Team, supported by the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

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