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Burial urn

 

Height: 20.300 cm
Width: 23.000 cm

Townley Collection

M&ME OA 1495

Enlightenment: Archaeology

    Burial urn

    Early Anglo-Saxon, 6th century AD
    Probably from Lincolnshire

    This handmade pottery urn (known as a Buckelurne) is similar to a group of fifty discovered by the physician Sir Thomas Browne (1605-82) in sandy soil less than three feet deep in a field near Walsingham in Norfolk.

    The urns contained bones and small artefacts. Browne believed that they were Roman cremation urns and wrote about them in a book called Hydriotaphia: Urne-Burial (1658). This was one of the earliest published records of a British excavation.

    In the early eighteenth century antiquaries began to dig into burial mounds and graves in an attempt to understand their origin and significance. The early Anglo-Saxon barrows of Kent, with their fine jewellery, attracted particular attention. But in areas such as East Anglia and Lincolnshire, where cremation had been common, urns like this one were collected in large numbers.

    In the latter part of the eighteenth century pottery urns were the British equivalents of the fine Greek vases acquired by collectors like William Hamilton on the Grand Tour. The collector Charles Townley owned this urn, while Sir Hans Sloane and William Stukeley owned other examples of these pots from Browne's collection. But antiquarians could not date them relative to the Roman period. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that comparison with similar urns from cemeteries in north-west Germany showed that they were Anglo-Saxon in origin.

    K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)

    J.N.L Myres, A corpus of Anglo-Saxon potter (Cambridge University Press, 1977)

    B.M. Marsden, Pioneers of Prehistory. Leader (Ormskirk, G.W. & A. Hesketh, 1983)

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