The Holcombe Mirror

Uplyme, East Devon, England
Iron Age, about AD 30-70

An unexpected discovery

In 1967 Devon Archaeological Society heard that a Roman mosaic pavement had been found by a farmer near Uplyme in East Devon. The Society started archaeological excavations at the site in 1969 and discovered a Roman villa. In 1970 a volunteer on the dig, Nicholas Riall, was excavating a pit found under the floor of one of the rooms in the villa. The pit belonged to a farm or settlement on the same spot the Villa was later built. In the bottom of the pit he found an Iron Age bronze mirror, which was placed there during the first century AD.

The mirror is made from bronze and is decorated with a symmetrical 'Celtic' or La Tene design. The decoration is on the back of the mirror, with the polished side where you saw your reflection on the other side. The complicated design is now difficult to see because it was badly corroded by being buried for 2000 years at the bottom of a pit. In fact, when the mirror was first found, no one could see any decoration on the mirror plate at all. It was only after it was carefully cleaned by conservators at the British Museum that the design could be made out.

The plate of the mirror is only 1 mm thick and binding strip around the edge helped to protect it. The grip that holds the handle to the mirror is decorated with two counterpoised trumpet scrolls. When you look at the mirror with the handle at the top, this grip looks like the face of a smiling cat.

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More information


A. Fox and S. Pollard, 'A decorated bronze mirror from an Iron Age settlement at Holcombe, near Uplyme, Devon.', Antiquaries Journal 53 (1973)

S. James and V. Rigby, Britain and the Celtic Iron Ag (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

I.M. Stead, Celtic art in Britain before t (London, The British Museum Press, 1987, revised edition 1997)


Length: 372.000 mm
Width: 260.000 mm
Weight: 800.000 g

Museum number

P&E PRB 1971 4-1 1



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