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Jeweller's hoard from Snettisham

The Snettisham jeweller's hoard

  • The Snettisham jeweller's hoard (gems)

    The Snettisham jeweller's hoard (gems)

  • XRF of snake ring

    XRF of snake ring

 

Height: 17.500 cm (pot)
Capacity: 1.600 litres (pot)

P&EE 1986,0401.1-356

Room 49: Roman Britain

    Jeweller's hoard from Snettisham

    Roman Britain, buried around AD 155
    From Snettisham, Norfolk

    This hoard, found during building work in 1985, represents part of the stock of a jeweller working in the area in the second century AD. The scrap silver, ingots, the few pieces of scrap gold, and a quartz burnishing tool all indicate manufacturing. Though it has no direct connection with the great Iron Age hoards found at Snettisham, it may be evidence of a long tradition of gold- and silver-working in the area.

    Pot: The container for the hoard is a grey-ware vessel made locally. Though it looks small, its spherical shape gives it a surprisingly large capacity of slightly over one and a half litres, and it easily contained all the objects. The bracelets, however, had to be bent or broken to pass through its narrow mouth.

    Coins: There are 110 coins in the hoard, 83 silver and 27 bronze. A high proportion of the silver coins are of the Emperor Domitian (reigned AD 81-96), and were already around 70 years old when the hoard was assembled; they were almost certainly being melted down for conversion into jewellery. The latest coins are posthumous issues of the deified Empress Faustina I, dated to AD 154/5, and these give us the date after which the hoard must have been buried.

    Gems: All the engraved gems (117) are of carnelian, and most of them (110) are unmounted, awaiting setting in suitable rings. The style of engraving is very simple, and there is no reason to doubt that the gem-engravers worked within, or in association with, the jewellery workshop.

    Jewellery: Because this is a manufacturer's hoard that can be closely dated, the large series of similar rings are particularly interesting. They show the range of variation possible in a single type at one time and place. There is a series of standard Roman gem-set rings, and an even larger group of snake-rings of a simple type which were mass-produced using hammer and dies. The chains, necklace-clasps and pendants belong to standard early-Roman types, but the snake-bracelets are of a stylized form best known in Britain.

    Scrap metal: The hoard contains scrap silver in the form of fragments and offcuts of jewellery and roughly shaped bar ingots. The six pieces of scrap gold in the pot suggest that the workshop may also have made gold jewellery.

    Burnishing tool: The quartz burnisher would have been set in a handle. In itself, the object is undatable and difficult to classify, but in the context of this hoard, it may be identified as a polishing tool. Examination under a Scanning Electron Microscope has revealed traces of metal, confirmed its use as a polishing tool, but the metal is gold, not silver, additional evidence that the Snettisham jeweller worked in both precious metals.

    Textile fragments: Two tiny fragments of linen cloth (not shown), one originally attached to a coin and another to a ring, are important because it is very rare for textiles to survive in Roman Britain, and these two scraps are from a dated context.

    T.W. Potter, Roman Britain, 2nd edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

    R.A. Abdy, Romano-British coin hoards (Princes Risborough, Shire Publications, 2002)

    C. Johns, The Snettisham Roman jewellers (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

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