Length: 3.800 cm
Room 41: Europe AD 300-1100
Beaver tooth pendant
Anglo-Saxon, 7th century
From a barrow at Wigber Low, Derbyshire
This incisor from a beaver has been set into a delicately ribbed gold tube with a tiny loop so that it could be hung from a cord worn around the neck. The gold setting suggests that beaver teeth were highly valued by the Anglo-Saxons who, like many early societies, placed great faith in amulets of all kinds. The tooth was found in the high status burial of a woman, together with two silver pins set with garnets, two beads threaded onto silver rings and part of a dark purple glass bead, also perhaps worn as an amulet.
Although now extinct in Britain, the beaver was known in early Anglo-Saxon England and several other teeth mounted as pendants have been found in graves, often those of children or adolescents. The significance of the beaver, in comparison to the boar or wolf, is uncertain. Pliny describes it as having ‘a formidable bite, cutting down trees on the river bank as if with steel'. He also recommends a cure for toothache which involved using teeth as a protective device against tooth problems; it is possible that Anglo-Saxons wore beaver teeth to protect against tooth decay and toothache.
J. Collis, Wigber Low, Derbyshire: a Bron (University of Sheffield, 1983)
A. Ozanne, 'The Peak Dwellers', Medieval Archaeology, VI-VII (1962-63)
H. Geake, The use of grave-goods in conv, BAR British Series 261 (Oxford, 1997)
A.L. Meaney, Anglo-Saxon amulets and curing, BAR British Series 96 (Oxford, 1981)