Copper Alloy Harness Fitting, Stoneleigh

Description of this historic site

A fragment of copper alloy harness fitting of Late Iron Age/early Roman date, reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Notes about this historic site

1 A fragment of a decorated copper alloy horse harness fitting, probably a harness mount. In profile the fragment is gently curved across its longer axis rather than being entirely flat. The fragment includes portions of two adjoining curved edges of the harness fitting, one concave and one convex. On the reverse of the fitting, near to the broadly right angled corner that is the junction between two broken sides, there is a slightly raised area, approximately 3 mm2, of unclear shape. It is unclear if this is a portion of a feature for attaching the fitting. There is also a rounded incision approximately 3mm wide on an incomplete edge of the mount. Two fragments found previously at the same location are held at The Market Hall Museum in Warwick. One of the fragments adjoins the object described in this record.

The fragment described here is a maximum of 54.4mm long between the two broadly right angled corners (one original, one formed by broken edges), and a maximum of 33.3mm wide (measured transverse to the length measurement). The thickness of the fragment ranges from 3.2mm at the right angled corner formed by broken edges, to 3.8mm towards the thicker curved edges of the fitting. The fragment has a mass of 25.92g.

The fragment has a well developed green patina. The front is decorated with incised lines and inlaid opaque red glass. The incised lines are generally curved. The reverse is undecorated. There are a large number indentations, mostly linear and shallow, on the reverse, and a deeper and wider recessed area is visible towards the broadly right angled corner that is the junction between two broken sides. These recesses have a darker green/black surface and do not appear to have been made recently. There are also some areas, slightly recessed and pitted, with lighter green corrosion products visible.

The largest design on the fragment is formed from two spirals, probably originally joined by a now incomplete curved line, all incised. The feature shares some similarities with the “palmette derivative” designs identified by Fox (1947, p147, group B). The two spirals appear to be mirror images, although less than half of one remains. With further incised lines and inlaid cells within, each spiral forms a comma design (cf. Fox, 1958, p.147, feature 33). In fact, the comma design is repeated within each of the spirals (as an inlaid cell) and there are also inlaid cells forming peltas – curve sided sub-triangular designs. The opaque red glass inlaid cells are bordered by incised lines.

Inside each of the original edges of the fragment there is a curved incised line, with a repeating incised “VVV” design between curved line and edge. On the concave edge, the incised curve diverges slightly from the edge, forming a portion of a crescent. This is unclear on the convex edge as little of the design remains.

Two further incised lines, one almost straight, the other more markedly curved converge towards the point where the two original edges meet. These lines form the corner of a sub-triangular feature, which is almost completed by the adjoining fragment held at Warwick Museum. Nested within this sub-triangular feature is a similarly shaped area. This is largely recessed, with an incomplete opaque red glass inlay. But there is also a “wavy” line (cf Fox, 1958, p.147, design 87) of copper alloy running just inside the longest side of the sub triangular feature. There is also a geometric design of two rows of triangles (cf Fox, 1958, p.147, design 48), pointing inwards towards each other, running from the longest side of the sub-triangular design towards the corner opposite (which is on the adjoining fragment). The two rows of triangles are unclear on the fragment described here, and it is only with reference to the adjoining fragment that this detail becomes clear.

Hughes (1972, p98) points out that it is unlikely that the glass inlays on iron age copper alloy objects represent true enamelling. In an enamelling process, a layer of powdered glass is placed in contact with the metal surface and heated until it melts and fuses with the metal to form an enamel inlay. Hughes points out that in the case of the opaque red glass, it would have been extremely difficult to use in powdered form since it would tend to oxidise to a green glass. Instead he considers that this red glass was almost certainly used in small lumps which after heating under reducing conditions to a temperature just sufficient to soften the glass were pressed into the inlay cavity.

Based on the shape and parallels, this and the other fragments are likely to be a quadrilobed harness mount (see Feachem, 1991) (A. Gwilt, National Museums of Wales, pers. comm.). A variation in the quadrilobed harness mount has two larger lobes rather than four eared ones (see the example from Alltwen Neath-Port Talbot in the National Museum of Wales). The fragment discussed in this record may also be from a harness mount with two larger lobes rather than four eared ones (A Gwilt, pers. Comm.).

The use of geometric elements (triangles) and incised swags and zig zag borders suggest that the fragment may date to around AD50-80 (A. Gwilt, pers. Comm.) There are similar trends in examples from the Polden Hill hoard, also with red opaque glass decoration (see Brailsford, 1975). This hoard has been dated to AD50-80. There are similar zig-zag borders on two armour pendants in the Seven Sisters hoard, dated to AD50-75 (A Gwilt, pers. Comm. ). The Westhill and Santon hoards in East Anglia, which have similar mounts (although there are blue and yellow enamels too) are similarly dated. There is a similar harness enamelled brooch, toggle, and bridle bit from a burial at King Harry Lane, Verulanium, dated to AD50-55 (A Gwilt, pers. Comm.).

I am grateful to A Gwilt for parallels and assistance with this record.
2 The horse harness mount fragment is referred to in an article exploring the impact of the PAS scheme in understanding Iron Age Warwickshire. Two fragments found at the same location over the past 10 years are held at Market Hall Museum. The fragments are likely to be from a quadrilobed harness mount. Illustrated.

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