Metal Objects from Rendlesham – Excavations 2021

cross shaped brooch in clear box

Faye Minter is the Rendlesham Revealed project specialist for metal objects and has completed the initial analysis of the artefacts excavated from Rendlesham last summer. Faye is our guest writer this week to tell us more.

Eighty-three metal objects were uncovered during the excavations at Rendlesham last summer. The variety of metal objects recovered is consistent with the early medieval settlement archaeology, mainly pits and sunken-featured buildings, which were revealed by the excavation. They range in date from Roman to modern, but a majority (54%) are early medieval objects of the fifth to eighth centuries. Most of the objects are made from iron (46%) and copper alloy (34%). The iron objects are corroded and mainly nail fragments, but the copper alloy objects can be more successfully identified and dated.

clear box with objects inside
metal objects individually bagged and packed for archive.

After I identified and dated all the objects, by comparing them to objects previously published from other contemporary sites, I then assigned them to functional categories. Functional categories help us to understand what the metal objects might tell us about the activities happening at Rendlesham. Most of the metal objects recovered from the 2021 excavations fall in the “building and services” category, the objects from which are mainly iron nails; followed by the “dress accessories” category, which includes brooches and buckles; and then the “personal possessions” category, which includes knives. There were also objects associated with coinage, metal working (molten metal working debris), textile production (lead spindle whorls), household objects, (vessel fragments) and military equipment (shield studs).

Now to take a closer look at some of the 2021 discoveries.

Only three coins were found in 2021, all of which were copper-alloy, Roman and late fourth century in date. One example was pierced for re-use as a pendant. Although such coins may have been pierced and worn as pendants in the third and fourth centuries, at Rendlesham the pierced coins are most likely to represent fifth- to seventh-century re-use. From the previous metal detecting survey in 2008-2017, a further forty-three pierced Roman coins were recovered.

pierced Roman coin excavated from Rendlesham

One brooch was found by metal detecting a buried soil in one of the trenches. It is a complete copper-alloy small long brooch dating to AD 450-480. These brooches were worn by women and are usually uncovered from female graves. It is relatively unusual to find these brooches in a settlement, for example only five were recovered from the seventy sunken-featured buildings at West Stow. In the 2013 Rendlesham excavations another small long brooch of the same type was recovered from the fill of a sunken-featured building , therefore it is likely that this most recent example was also from a settlement feature rather than from a grave, based on its archaeological context.

corroded brooch
small long brooch before conservation treatment
clean brooch in box
small long brooch after conservation treatment by Norfolk Museums Service Conservators

Two iron knives were found and on one example X-radiography revealed what appears to be surface decoration, likely an inlay of three longitudinal lines of a dissimilar metal on the blade. A light clean by Norfolk Museum Service conservators also revealed mineral preserved organic material on the tang of the knife, which is yet to be examined by specialists. Examples of knives with organic traces of a grip covering the tang were also found at Dover Buckland, Kent and on the five examples examined there the organic material was thought to be horn.

corroded knife
Iron knife after conservation cleaning by Norfolk Museums Service Conservators

If you are interested in volunteering for the next season of fieldwork, you can join our e-newsletter mailing list to receive updates.

This fieldwork is part of the community archaeology project Rendlesham Revealed: Anglo-Saxon Life in South-East Suffolk, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. We are very grateful to our many local and national partners who have made this project possible, and for the support of our volunteers and of the landowners and farmers who work and manage this historic landscape.

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