News is written by Mike Pitts
Geophysical survey revealed nothing related to the gold find
A complete gold lunula found at Mangerton, Co Kerry in 1842, now in the British Museum (21cm across)
First Scottish gold lunula in over 100 years
Who made them, when, and why is far from clear and a new find is unlikely to change that. But scraps of gold found by a detectorist in Dumfries & Galloway will focus attention on the mystery that is the lunula, a flat, crescent-shaped neck ornament thought to date from around 2300–2200bc, and described by some archaeologists as a symbol of power.
This is the first lunula to have been found in Scotland for over a century. Emphasising their rarity, a piece found near Brampton, Cumbria, in 2007 was the first from Britain in 100 years; and a complete lunula recovered in Ireland in 2010 had originally been found in 1945, was then kept in a chemist’s safe until stolen by burglars, and was found by police in a skip.
The unnamed detectorist found the new lunula in a cultivated field near Garlieston in March. The gold sheet, probably hammered out from a bar, is very thin (0.15–0.5mm) and decorated around its edges with incised and punched zigzags, lines and dots. Like the other Scottish finds, it is less fine than typical Irish lunulae. It had been cut up and folded, and the two pieces do not join; together they amount to just under a third of the original collar. Initial surface analysis by Susy Kirk of National Museums Scotland has shown that the metal contains 11% silver and 0.5% copper. Further analysis may indicate whether the lunula had been made of Irish or Scottish gold.
Lunulae have been found across western Europe, from Scandinavia to Portugal, but the great majority (over 80) have been found in Ireland, which is where most are believed to have been made. One from Crossdoney, Co Cavan, lay in a wooden box which has been radiocarbon dated to 2460–2040bc. Their decoration is similar to Beaker pottery dated to 2300–2000bc, and the designs of gold lunulae seem to have inspired jet necklaces made around 2200–1950bc. The difficulty for the researcher is that, unlike many object types of their era, they seem rarely to have been placed in graves, nor lost or hidden on settlements, so are found alone.
Such was the case with the Garlieston lunula. The finder undertook a thorough detector survey of the field; Stranraer Museum and the Wigtownshire branch of the University of the Third Age walked the field looking for artefacts; John Pickin of Stranraer Museum excavated two test pits; and Historic Scotland commissioned Rose Geophysical Consultants to undertake a geophysical survey. No more metalwork was found, nor any
Detail of punched and incised decoration
The Garlieston lunula (larger 8cm long)
evidence for why the lunula might have been buried there.
Alison Sheridan, head of early prehistory at National Museums Scotland, told British Archaeology that this is only the fifth definite Scottish lunula.
“It’s a nationally significant find”, she added. It has been reported to the Treasure Trove Unit in accordance with Scottish law.
6|British Archaeology|September October 2011 Complete prehistoric swords excavated in Fens
Recovering a sword
Sometime in the first century BC two iron swords were cast into a river in what is now Cambridgeshire. Such events, with echoes of the mythical Arthur’s sword Excalibur being thrown into an enchanted lake, must have been common: many prehistoric weapons have been found in old lakes and rivers. What is highly unusual is that in this case, the two swords were carefully excavated by archaeologists, and found to be almost complete, with their wooden handles and scabbards still intact.
The swords were recovered about 7m apart in the silted channel of the old river Nene at Must Farm, near Peterborough. Supported by Hanson Building Products, the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) has been investigating prehistoric riverside settlement at the farm since 2004, after significant discoveries in Hanson’s quarry; News earlier reported a bronze age eel trap from the site (Jan/Feb 2011/116).
The present excavation season began in July, and the tops of wooden stakes for fish weirs soon became visible. In the first ten days the two iron swords and three metal rings were found, as well as a bronze age sword made around 1300–1000bc. The blade of one of the iron swords had been twisted back on itself, presumably a deliberate act, says Tim Malim of SLR Consulting, before it was consigned to the slow-moving waters at the edge of the Nene. The handle of the older sword has a delicate tin pommel, and its blade had also been broken in two. Mark Knight of the CAU says that altogether nine swords have been found around the old river channel, including three in the late 1960s when the Must Farm quarry was first opened. Other prehistoric weapons have been retrieved from the area, most spectacularly a complete bronze age spear, with its long wooden shaft and metal tip. Disarticulated human bones are common at the same levels as the metalwork, though not in direct
A rarely seen lead alloy pommel under the handle of the bronze age sword association.
The channel assemblage, says Knight, looks increasingly like the metalwork from the well known Flag Fen post-alignment, of similar age and also in the Cambridgeshire fens. The Must Farm channel was inside a “roddon”, a ridge of hard silts from an earlier tidal creek, which seems to have been used as a causeway across the corner of the fen basin. People could have walked along the raised banks much as they crossed the basin using Flag Fen’s artificial alignment or causeway, apparently making similar ceremonial or religious sacrifices.
The two iron age swords (100–0BC), one of them bent back on itself before being placed in the river; the complete sword is 92cm long
Detail of iron age sword handle, made from spindle tree wood; the other handle is ash
British Archaeology|September October 2011|7