Finds Liaison Officer for Northamptonshire

Visard mask

mask 2 mask 3

Continuing from my previous post (Go with the FLO) another find I spoke about this morning was one of my favourite finds I have recorded on the PAS database – a Post-Medieval Visard mask.

Recorded back in 2010, NARC-151A67 was brought to me by a builder demolishing an interior wall in a 16th century cottage near Daventry. Folded in half and placed on a flat stone inside the wall infill, which consisted of horse hair, mud, straw, etc, was a mask. The mask is black velvet exterior, a white silk interior and a pressed paper middle layer giving it structure. Sewn just inside the mouth was a small black glass bead.

At first thinking this must be a Victorian Halloween mask, some research soon showed that this was an almost unique Post-Medeival artefact. The only object quite like it belonged to a 17th century doll, housed at the V&A museum. The Lady Clapham doll has a complete contemporary wardrobe, including a miniature mask almost identical to the full-sized Daventry mask. This gave me a potential date.

Concealed objects are not unusual inside older houses. Shoes are a common item discovered behind walls, under thatched roofs and under floorboards. There are a couple of potential reasons for concealed objects – to ward off evil spirits and witches (the theory being that if someone is afraid of being cursed by witches, you place a prayer or spell on one of their garments and conceal it to draw the evil spirits away from the individual) , or a way of keeping your ancestors close to the family. Of course, not everything is superstitious or ritual in archaeology – objects can just end up accidentally swept up or discarded as rubbish.

Looking for references to these masks being worn, some paintings appear to show women wearing them. The de Longhi paintings Al Rodotto (1751)and la Rhinocerous (1785) (both links taken from Wikimedia) feature women wearing these masks. And in ‘Omnium Poene Gentium Habitus’ by Abraham de Bruyn, published in 1581, the line: “in this fashion noble women either ride or walk up and down.” is accompanied by an image depicting a lady wearing a mask with holes cut for the eyes (image taken from www.houseffg.org)

So what we appear to have is a mask that has survived in Daventry due to its superstition-led deposition inside a house in Daventry, and a mask type that was common among gentlewomen in France and Italy between c.1560 and c.1751.

It is possible that the masks were worn to shield noble women from the weather when out of doors, to avoid sun and wind burn in order to keep a pale complexion. The mask could also hide a womans identity when out in public. But of course, held on with a bead between the teeth, the woman could not speak when wearing the mask. Raising interesting questions about women’s actual role at social functions – were they meant to be neither seen nor heard in some social situations?

Quite an important and interesting find for the local area – and further evidence that, as a FLO, you never quite know what will be landing on your desk next!

Despite being found in 2010, this does fit in with 2015 Day of Archaeology because I have spend some of today looking into the mask for a talk on Concealed Objects that I will be contributing to at Northampton Museum in September. I have also today written an email to the owner of the mask to discuss the possibility of it being loaned to the V&A and put on display with is miniature counterpart, and to allow for further research. Proof that once something has been recorded on the PAS database, it isn’t forgotten. Research continues and all our over 1 million records are there to be used into the future.

Go with the FLO

Today started much earlier than usual (8.45 – I am not a morning person!) as I was asked to give a talk to my colleagues at Northamptonshire Record Office. Newly based at the Record Office, my new colleagues wanted to know what it is that I do.

I love giving talks, its one of the best parts of my job. I get to sit and pull together all the information that has been collected, and then communicate it to members of the public who never knew what they never knew about their local history! Every artefact is like a small piece of a huge jigsaw and over time you see more and more of the bigger picture. The problem is that I have so much to pack into a hour long speech, its hard to cover everything and keep on time. I can easily do an hour each on medieval seal matrices, Roman brooches, Medieval Northamptonshire, the Treasure Act, PAS in general.

The talk focussed on how I process finds, the 1996 Treasure Act and interesting finds from Northants. Some of my favourite finds are the ones that I have had the chance do do a little extra research on.

The first case study was the seal matrix recorded on the PAS database as LVPL-E6AA83 (treasure number 2013 T39), found near Barnwell and acquired by Oundle Museum. The inscription reads BERENGAIVS. Barnwell had three Berengar’s associated with it, all members of the la Moine family. This seal dates to the 13th century, and so is unlikely to belong to the first Berengar, who died before 1166. The second Berengar had a very short succession, dying in his father’s lifetime between 1166 and long before 1248, when his son deceased. Therefore, although it could have belonged to the second Berengar for a short period, the higher likelihood is that this silver seal belonged to the Third Berengar, who appears to have become known in local legend as ‘Berengar the Black’.

‘Berengar the Black’ was Keeper of the Peace in Huntingdonshire in 1267 and went to the Crusades to escape debt in 1270. He rebuilt Barnwell Castle in 1266, but without permission from Edward I and so was forced to sell it to the Abbot of Ramsay in 1276. He died before 1286.

The great thing about using this seal matrix as an example in a talk to a room full of archivists was that we were able to show some partnership working. In the Record Office archives was the original conveyancing document (Record Office ref: YZ 3487 – image attached, copyright Northamptonshire Record Office) for the enforced sale of the castle to the Abbot of Ramsey. The document had Beregar’s personal seal attached. Disappointingly the seal does not match up with the one acquired by Oundle Museum, but it was not unusual for one person to have more than one personal seal in his or her lifetime, so it could still be his. How exciting!

I’ll try to get round to writing some shorter posts about some other interesting case studies I used in my talk.

But for the rest of the day, I’ll be catching up on some emails and recording a box of 20+ finds from one finder so I can get them back to him next week. No treasure in there – some Roman coins, a saxon strap end, some Post-Medieval buckle fragments – but all important parts of the jigsaw. They are all bagged up individualy with a 10 figure grid reference written on each bag. A text book example of best practise!

But first, a coffee!

A FLO’s Life

I have been the Finds Liaison Officer for Northamptonshire since October 2008, and trying to give an account of what it is like to be an FLO, and the challenges, joys and bizarre incidents I have encountered over the last (almost) 4years in a one day diary post is impossible.

I am hosted in Northants County Council by the Archive and Heritage Service. This team includes the HER (Historic Environment Record) and the Record Office, who are generally archivists, and so although I am part of a team which curates and maintains the Historic resources of the county, I am very much alone in what I do. I handle, research and record archaeological artefacts discovered by members of the public. Being the only FLO in what is a relatively small county in the Midlands (when compared to my colleagues in Kent, Essex and the North) has its challenges and rewards like any other job.

Despite meaning to engineer my diary so that I had something interesting to report on for today, my diary is actually relatively quiet compared to other days where I do Finds Surgeries in museums and Council Offices across the county. Finds Surgeries allow  members of the public to meet me and bring me artefacts they have discovered, and want me to identify and record for them. 90% of these surgeries are used by metal detectorists, who deliberately search fields with the intention of discovering archaeological artefacts. The majority of whom do their own research and have a good understanding of what they have found, bringing them to me for the purposes of recording them for archaeological knowledge and research, rather than for ID alone.  But of that remaining 10% I am often delighted by the range of artefacts discovered accidentally by people digging their garden, or walking across the countryside, and who are genuinely amazed by what they have found. A case in point is PAS database record NARC-894AF2, found by a young lady when digging a rockery in her back garden and whose father very sheepishly brought it in to me at a Finds Surgery in Daventry, hoping he wasn’t embarrassing himself by bringing me a rock! In fact what he had brought me was a genuine Acheulian hand axe, dating to the Lower paeleolithic era and adding to our scant knowledge of Palaeolithic Northants. Yes, that was in 2009, so maybe I am cheating by mentioning it here – but it gives you the perfect case in point – you never know what is coming through the door in this job!

In an age when few museums have archaeological curators on staff to advise people on their finds, the FLO in most counties tend to be the first port of call for people with questions about archaeological artefacts and treasure. These questions range from wondering about a date and meaning of Willow pattern pottery in their back garden, to showing me flints found in the garden, driveway or field wondering if they are worked and of importance (very rarely the case, but it isn’t impossible and I’d always rather people double checked than didn’t try at all!), to large collections of metal detected artefacts from people who have detected for a long period of time and want to record them with the PAS. In between those categories are the metal detectorists who visit me every month to record their previous months finds, and we have a regular turn over of artefacts.

This type of collection is one which I am working my way through now. It has a range of pottery, Roman coins, medieval pennies and some post-medieval finds which I will not record but will offer the finder an ID for them by writing on the bag (“Georian fob” and the like). Each object is in a bag with the findspot location written on it, which is ideal. This collection is a accurate representation of the general finds from most fields. People get very excited over Treasure cases, and the discovery of a treasure case is sometimes the only press metal detecting and PAS gets. The reality is much less headline grabbing, but much more archaeologically significant.

After I have battled my way through that small collection, I have these large boxes of pottery to wade through from a field walker in Geddington which will probably, for the sake of time and my sanity, end up as a bulk report for the HER rather than an individual record for each sherd on the PAS database.

Fieldwalkers pottery collection

 

After that, I have approximately 25 emails to reply to, mostly from people wanting to know where to meet me so I can see their objects, or wanting to know how I am getting on with their objects and when can they have them back (I try for a 2 month turn around, but the more finds that come in, the harder this self-imposed deadline gets).

Then will be preparation for Monday’s Finds Research Group (FRG) meeting. I was asked to be on the FRG committee as a representative of the Post-Medieval period by the late, great Geoff Egan,who is still sorely missed. Post-Med to modern finds are often disregarded by archaeologists, and by my work with the FRG and Post-Med Arch I am trying to increase the realisation among the archaeological community that they are a valuable resource which will be lost to future generations if we don’t stop disregarding them now. I hope I can do Geoff proud on this! 🙂

It would be remiss of me to mention what I do in a day without mentioning the time I spend on Twitter, which in some jobs would be labelled as time wasting! But as an archaeologist –  in addition to finding out all about what Stephen Fry and John Prescott are up to on a daily basis during my coffee breaks – I have found it a massively valuable resource in finding out about research projects and exhibitions which I would have no idea about otherwise.  Social media is here to stay and should be used as a resource by everyone to communicate events and ideas. And judging by the really interesting post already up there from #dayofarch, many people are coming around to that.