Wednesday, August 21, 2019

A Pair of Doors

Doors should be common survivals from the past. Should be, but aren’t. As long as we’ve had formalised buildings, we’ve wanted ways to other people out and our stuff safely in. Doors are the simple, reliable technology that accomplishes this. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, historic doors simply don’t seem to survive in anything like the numbers they should. Partly, it’s because they face the weather and by the time they’re replaced, they’re more likely to be burnt for firewood than reused in another way. I also suspect that doors, from at least the medieval period onwards, could be prestige items and were salvaged and reused for as long as possible before they had to be replaced. As an analogy, I’m thinking of the repeatedly reused door jambs at Deer Park Farms, Co Antrim – if the door posts were valuable enough to be rescued and recycled into later houses, perhaps solid doors were too.

However you look at it, early doors (excuse the pun) are infrequently preserved. Just as erratic in terms of survival is decorative ironwork, which tends to corrode or be reforged into other objects. Thus, this pair of oak doors, strengthened and decorated with ironwork, are a peculiarly rare survival.

These are from Gannat in central France and date to the 13th century. Interestingly, these were created at an important juncture as from the end of the previous century new fashions in decorative ironwork in the Auvergne were emerging. These were characterised by a use of the Greek honeysuckle and palmette forms, repeated in geometric forms. However, these examples also display chiselled and scored decoration, a hallmark of earlier ironwork in the region.

Part of the reason this set of doors has survived so long is precisely that they were recycled and rehung. In particular, the marks caused by the later addition of an external door handle and a keyhole indicate that the pair were rehung upside down.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Co Leitrim: Archaeological Objects at The British Museum

The British Museum holds six items identified as coming from Co Leitrim. The majority of these (5) are assigned to the Bronze Age while the remaining artefact is assigned to the Early Medieval period. The most common object type represented are spear-heads (4). All six artefacts are made of Metal.

Bronze Age: Metal items
Copper alloy basal-looped, socketed spear-head. Blade: leaf, base curved, flat. Midrib section: lozenge with wide ridge. Incorporated loops, rectangular plates. Socket damaged. Blade edges sharp, corroded. Dark brown, bronze and green.

Copper alloy socketed spear-head, pegged. Wood traces in socket.

Copper alloy dirk.

Copper alloy socketed spear-head, side-looped.

Copper alloy socketed spear-head, side-looped.

Early Medieval: Metal item
Glenade Bog
Copper alloy bell, pyramidal, two lugs and two holes on top; row of punched dots either side of one corner; rivets either side of slot in base; cast.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

‘Bellarmine’ Pottery Vessels and impure thoughts

There is a tendency among some archaeologists, myself included, to describe all and any pottery with a beardy face on it as ‘Bellarmine’. It’s supposed to be named after Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, not for his venomously anti-Protestant views as mocking him for his equally vociferous dislike of alcohol. Somewhere along the way, the name seems to have lost favour and the worthy alternative of ‘salt-glazed stoneware’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

The jug on the left dates to around 1600 and was made in Frechen, Germany. The three medallions around its waist identify it as having been made for Jan Allers,  a Dutch bottle dealer. The patchy colourtion in blue appears to be the result of a misfiring accident – the bottle may not have come out looking exactly right, but it was still able to serve its purpose. The one on the right is slightly earlier, dating to around 1540, and is from Cologne. The face is beautifully sculpted, being closer to a genuine portrait than the much more amateur and cartoonish mask on the other example. I do wonder about the symmetry of the beard. It’s nice and all, but there is something distinctly vaginal to the arrangement. Maybe it’s just me and my corrupted mind, or maybe the sculptor was adding a further layer of mockery to Bobby Bellarmine … ‘Old Vagina Beard’! … But I’m probably just broken in some fundamental way …