'Magical' glass bead

Early Anglo-Saxon, 6th century AD
From Grave 150, Long Wittenham, Oxfordshire

This extraordinary 'bead' is made of opaque white glass with translucent purple marvered trails. It is exceptionally large and made in the shape of a bun with a flat base and the upper surface divided into six segments. It has a wide central piercing.

The bead was found in 1860 in a woman's grave. Also in the grave were a ring made from the burr end of a red deer antler, an iron purse-bar and a group of amber beads, some found at the neck and one at the right hand.

The excavator indentified the piece as a spindle whorl, together with two others found in the grave, made of bone and stone. However, the high quality and shape of the piece make this unlikely. It may originally have been attached to a sword. It also seems possible that the three beads were used together, perhaps by the dead woman, for soothsaying or divination.

Similar large and exotic beads are occasionally found in male graves, where they can be associated with the scabbard, and perhaps attached to it by a rawhide strap. Because of their size and apparent lack of function, it has been suggested that they are amuletic, hence their attribution as 'magical' beads.

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More information

Bibliography

W. Menghin, Das Schwert im Frühen Mittelal (Stuttgart, K. Theiss, 1983)

J.Y. Akerman, 'Report on further excavations in an Anglo-Saxon burial ground at Long Wittenham, Berks., in the summer of 1860', Archaeologia-1, 39 (1863), pp. 135-42

Dimensions

Diameter: 4.400 cm

Museum number

M&ME 1862,6-13.35

MCS16189

Excavated by J.Y. Akerman

Location

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