bulla-pendant(A type of hollow pendant from the Latin for bubble)
- Museum number
This object is called a ‘bulla’ (an antiquarian term derived from the Latin for bubble), a large, hollow pendant of sheet gold which would have been suspended and most probably worn for adornment.
In shape the bulla is broadly a ‘D’ shaped crescent in plan and a trapezoidal wedge shape in profile. In overall form it could be described as keel shaped. The pendant is a composite being formed of at least two piece of gold sheet. On either side of the upper edge (at the widest part) are collars formed from gold sheet and filled with organic compacted soil. This ‘false’ tube acts as a long loop from which the pendant could have been suspended. The top of the bulla curves evenly along its length forming an even subtly elegant shape. A second sheet of gold plate is rolled and fixed at its mid-point; it projects from either edge and descends to form the front and rear plates of the body of the pendant. If straightened the body plate would be broadly rectangular with a waisted mid-point and rounded C shaped external edges. The plate fits seamlessly with the tube and the fixing points are concealed. The external edges are slightly beaded. A third base plate most probably a pointed oval shape closes the two sides. Again the joints are concealed and fixing points seamless within the construct. The space constructed by these sheets is box like with a hollow void within the pendant. It is likely that the separate components of the bulla were soldered together. When solder is used on Bronze Age objects, the composition of the gold is likely to be richer in copper and/or silver than the components being soldered together. It was not possible to identify the presence of solder categorically (from the compositional analysis undertaken using XRF-analysis).
The bulla has been highly decorated with engraved stylised geometric designs; every surface is covered with intricate and highly precise evenly proportioned patterns. These designs must have been marked out using compass or dividers and has been hand cut using a very fine graver with a 45 degree wedged cutting edge. The design is such that the decoration adds an additional texture which brings out the best reflective nature of the gold and makes the decorative design seem to be constantly moving with the play of light and reflection. The decoration is applied almost entirely through cutting or engraving - there seems to be no punched or repousse style patterns. This suggests that the gold plate from which the pendant is decorated is relatively thick and that the decoration is applied after construction of the form. The design can be broken into several zones:
The ‘front’ face - which is broadly D shaped in plan - is decorated with an external C shaped border which respects and takes it form from the external edge. This border is filled with ten evenly spaced grooves or channels which are evenly cut and are continuous around the edge. Within this area the space is divided unevenly by a slightly curved horizontal decorative band below which is a D shaped panel. The decorative band is delimitated by a pair of horizontal parallel engraved lines (similar to the border) each with five evenly spaced grooves. Within the area created by the paired bands are a series of tessellating broadly equilateral opposing triangles. Each triangle is filled with diagonal cut lines; the upper row are all cut with lines running top right to bottom left, whereas the lower are decorated top left to lower right. The only triangle which differs is that on the right hand edge where the lines are cut horizontally. In the area below this band - on the body of the pendant - the space is filled with further geometric panels - at the centre is a square shaped panel filled by a saltire / diagonal cross with the upper and lower triangular wedges decorated with lines engraved top right - bottom left; where-as, the triangles to the left and right are engraved with opposing lines. Flanking this central square on either side are right-angled triangles engraved with vertical lines and the rest of the area - to left and right is engraved with diagonal lines set in plane with the angle of the triangle. From careful viewing of the engraving under magnification it is clear that the external border was cut first and the internal decoration applied later during construction - this is because in several the engraving lines cut through and therefore overlay the border. The overall decorative effect can be described as ‘solar’ in character, a feature of other Bronze Age goldwork, especially from Early Bronze Age Ireland. An illustration of the now lost Irton bulla shows that it’s ‘front’ face was similarly decorated.
The ‘back’ plate is similarly decorated with a broad external border. However, the pattern within this differs to that previously described. Here the panel is decorated by three concentric semi-circular bands each of five grooves which emanate from a horizontal band of grooves aligned on the tube. Each of these concentric D shaped panels is decorated with geometric designs: in the smallest inner panel another much smaller saltire cross is present again decorated with opposing engraved lines as described above. Flanking this square are two sub-triangular panels filled with vertical incised lines. The two descending concentric panels are again entirely filled and decorated with tessellating opposed triangles as described before.
The decision to term the faces ‘front’ and ‘back’ is subjective, based on the greater complexity of the decoration on the ‘front’ when compared to the ‘back’. However, an important point to stress is that the bulla was an example of reversible fashion: one face could be selected depending on the event, time or year or wearer. This is also true of several other bullae (see Cahill 2018), including the Irwel Canal example.
The area overlying the suspension tube is decorated differently. Here the space has been divided into two pairs of horizontal panels; each pair is separated by a spine of horizontal lines and is flanked by similar lines. The horizontal panels are again filled with opposing diagonal lines which fill the entire length of the panel in a feather like pattern. Again this decoration has been applied after the external borders as in places it overlaps the external border.
The final area of decoration is along the lower wedge shaped edge. Here the design is simpler with two flanking bands each of ten horizontal grooves with the middle panel being filled with very fine vertically cut lines. The fineness of these lines is astounding and unlike in other areas these do not cut through the border. The alternating directions in which the decoration has been engraved serves to define the edges of the decorative motifs and to enhance the effects of the play of light on all the bulla’s surfaces.
Contents of the bulla:
Some Irish bullae have been shown to have cores of baked clay and one had a core of lead (Cahill 2018). CT scanning of the bulla by the Scientific Department at the British Museum has shown that the bulla does not contain anything as dense as metal. It is more likely that it contained baked clay – or that it was empty at the time of deposition and has since filled with soil from the findspot. Loose material from the perforations of the bulla was analysed by the British Museum (using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and Pyrolysis gas chromatography – mass spectrometry) and was able to rule out the presence of beeswax and to identify quartz/silica consistent with soil/clay. Another substance was detected but at the time of writing requires further study before its identity can be fully resolved.
The bulla is formed of gold sheet and is unpatinated and in a clean state. The external edges have small areas of abrasion commensurate with movement in the soil. The front and rear faces have also been slightly crushed / depressed although the overall form is integrally sound. None of this distortion affects the overall decorative scheme although some cuts through the design.
Diameter: 7.70 millimetres (External diameter of tube like suspension)
Diameter: 4.80 millimetres (Internal diameter of tube like suspension)
Height: 36.70 millimetres
Weight: 25.40 grammes
Thickness: 13 millimetres (Across base (max.))
Thickness: 6.80 millimetres (Across top)
Thickness: 0.70 millimetres (Thickness of gold sheet or plate that makes up the body of the pendant)
Thickness: 1.80 millimetres (Thickness of rolled rim)
Width: 47.40 millimetres
- On display (G30/dc60)
- Exhibition history
2022 17 Feb - 17 Jul, London, BM, G30, The world of Stonehenge
2021-2022 10 Sep-12 Dec, Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, Gathering light Spotlight Loan
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Treasure/PAS number: 2018 T343