Length: 44.500 cm
Gift of Revd Charles T.E. Whateley
Britain, Europe and Prehistory
Room 41: Europe AD 300-1100
Pair of drinking horns
Anglo-Saxon, late 6th century AD
From the princely burial at Taplow, Buckinghamshire
Made from Aurochs horns with silver-gilt mounts
These drinking horns are made from the extremely large horns of the aurochs (Bos primigenius), the ancestor of modern domestic cattle. Such horns are among the rarest finds from early Anglo-Saxon England. They were clearly one of the most prestigious possessions and have a long history amongst the ancient peoples of Europe. Tacitus, writing in the first century AD, describes how the Germani trapped and killed aurochs and then made drinking horns which they decorated with silver mounts. These two horns from the princely burial at Taplow show that this tradition was still alive among the élite in the sixth century. They would have been used for ceremonial drinking and feasting in a great hall.
The horns are mounted with bird-headed terminals and panels of gilded silver foils at the mouth. The lip is protected by a gilded silver rim-binding held by four clips in the form of a Style I human face with high brow and rounded cheeks. Beneath the rim-binding are rectangular foils decorated with a garnet-centred rosette flanked by Style I creatures. The creatures have ‘helmeted’ heads and raised hands and are similar to those in the triangular mounts below. Each terminal is ornamented with a cast Style II bird head with a simple curling beak and rounded head.
J. Stevens, 'On the remains found in an Anglo-Saxon tumulus at Taplow, Buckinghamshire', Journal of the British Archa-2, 40 (1884), pp. 61-71, plates 1, 11-12
R.L.S. Bruce-Mitford, The Sutton Hoo ship burial-1, vol. 3 (London, The British Museum Press, 1983)