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hanging bowl

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Copper alloy escutcheon: circular and in openwork, showing an emphatic plain Latin cross flanked by two dolphins in naturalistic style. The dolphins have open and backward curving jaws. The heads are plain and the eyes are indicated by a single small punched circle. The dolphins' bodies are engraved in the bronze in linear style. They are limbless and taper into long plain tails, with no fish-tail extremity, which loop up at the bottom to pass behind the dolphin's body and end towards the interior of the escutcheon against the arms of the cross. Oblique engraved grooves at the backs of the heads suggest a mane and/or ears. Two grooves run from the head down the dolphin bodies, joining and terminating at the point where the tails pass under the bodies. To either side of these grooves and beneath them the dolphins' bodies are decorated with a line of punched dots, graded in size from top to bottom, or showing a tendency to reduce in size. The engraved work was filled with red enamel. To either side in the lower part of the design where the dolphin bodies taper are engraved triangular fill-ups. The edges of the cross and of the escutcheon sides in the openwork are bevelled. The hook-base enters deeply into the escutcheon field, almost to the top of the cross, separating the dolphin heads. The sides of the hook are flat, and its lower back carries a central line of small beads between grooves. The hook itself, seen in profile repeat in the round and in depth the flat engraved subject, the dolphin or sea-horse with back-curved jaws and curled tail. The escutcheon is dished at the back and was soldered on.


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 5thC-6thC (Sue Youngs pers. comm.)
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 62.5 millimetres
    • Diameter: 48 millimetres
    • Thickness: 1.5 millimetres
  • Curator's comments

    Youngs 1989a
    Description: Copper alloy circular hanging bowl escutcheon. Openwork defines a long Latin cross with expanded arms, the edges faceted. The surface of each mount is recessed for fine lines and spots of enamel, some of which survives. This enamel work forms a pair of profile fish with open mouths, circular eyes, bars on the head and two rows of dots along each side. The body of each fish loops under itself to form a blunt tail against the cross arms.
    One of three matching hook mounts; two are complete castings with the hooks shaped as open-mouthed beasts, their curved necks each with two decorative grooves. After joining the mount the beasts curl to form looped tails. The third mount has a substitute hook riveted in position, which appears to be modern work.

    Discussion: This set of hook mounts was originally attached to a hanging-bowl and buried, with or without it, as a furnishing in the Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Faversham. A complete bowl and mounts from several others, including 1870,0402.802, were also recovered from this cemetery. This is the only Faversham example of what F. Henry called enamel engraving (1936, 226) found on other openwork mounts. Despite the Roman look of the sea beasts, the explicit Christian symbolism of the crosses and the use of openwork place these objects in the main period of mount production. Anglo-Saxon material in the cemetery dates from the fifth into the mid-seventh centuries. Finds include another bowl mount with an enamelled equal-armed cross with expanded terminals (Smith 1923, fig. 23). Other bowls with possible Christian imagery can be dated to the seventh century from the extensive use of ‘millefiori’ (Scunthorpe Museums Service no. 57.39). There seems every reason to regard these Faversham pieces as contemporary, in an antique revival style. They epitomise the difficulties of dating without fixed points of reference.

    Date given as 6th-7th century.

    Bibliography: Smith, R.A. 1923. ‘British Museum Guide to Anglo-Saxon and Foreign Teutonic Antiquities’, London, 49-50, fig. 51; Henry, F. 1936. Hanging-bowls, ‘Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland’ LXVI, 226, pl.xxv, 2.Bruce-Mitford 2005
    Discovery and history: Found with a great number of other objects, presumably from a cemetery, by labourers during the construction of the London, Chatham, and Dover railway and later in adjoining land where earth was being dug for bricks (Gibbs Bequest, 1871, Dept of Medieval and Later Antiquities, British Museum).

    Associated finds: This was one of three escutcheons from the same bowl.
    General context of Anglo-Saxon finds from what was evidently a large cemetery.

    Discussion of the three escutcheons (.1248.’70 - .1248.’70b): Though the three mounts were cast from the same mould, their finishing is slightly different. There are variations in the number and distribution of the spots. In one the triangular fill-ups seen at the bottom of the other two are replaced by a series of oblique grooves resembling the feathered feet seen in some Germanic animal-style (e.g. Bruce-Mitford 1978, figs. 36, 39, 49) but not readily connected with a dolphin body.
    The dolphins are strikingly similar to those on the ring-headed pin from Armoy, Ireland, in the British Museum (1898,0618.21), and also seems related to the fifth-century animal-style of the Kentish silver or silver-gilt quoit brooches (Kendrick 1938, pl. XXXI). These analogies apart, these Faversham escutcheons are unparalleled in the hanging-bowl series and their dating has been much debated.
    The great difference between these and the run of sixth-century escutcheons may be thought to tell against a sixth-century dating. Counter-sunk enamel spots are typically Roman, but occur also on the Dover escutcheons (Dover Museum, 0/1440, the other unaccounted for since 1988) and on the Sutton Hoo fish (1939,1010.110), which seems to have been buried c. AD 600, and in Irish metalwork (e.g. Youngs 1989, 21, 25).
    Examination in the British Museum Research Laboratory has failed to establish traces of tinning.
    The analogies sometimes suggested between the Faversham dolphins and the Benty Grange escutcheons (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford: 1893.276; and City Museum, Sheffield: J93.1190) and the looped creatures in MS Durham A. 11.10 are much less compelling than those with the Gallo-Roman art of Vermand, as Kendrick and Leeds saw (Leeds 1936, 8-9).

    The hook is finely modelled and the whole escutcheon exhibits a strong assured sense of style.

    Bibliography. Allen, J.R., 1898, Metal bowls of the late-Celtic and Anglo-Saxon periods, ‘Archaeologia’ 56.1, 48, fig. 7; Smith, R.A., 1907-9, Bronze hanging bowls and enamelled mounts, ‘Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London’ 2nd ser., XXII, 69; Kendrick, D.T., 1932, British hanging-bowls, ‘Antiquity’ 6,168, fig. 4c; Leeds, E.T., 1936, ‘Early Anglo-Saxon Art and Archaeology, being the Rhind Lectures Delivered in Edinburgh 1935’, Oxford, 8-9, fig. 1; Kilbride-Jones, H.E., 1936-7, A bronze hanging bowl from Castle Tioram, Moidart: and a suggested absolute chronology for British hanging-bowls, ‘Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland’ 71, 214; Kendrick, D.T., 1938, ‘Anglo-Saxon Art to AD 900’, London, pl. XXXIII; Henry, F., 1940, ‘Irish Art in the Early Christian Period’, London , 37; Åberg, N., 1943, ‘The Occident and the Orient in the Art of the Seventh Century’, vol. i, ‘The British Isles’, Stockholm, 73; De Paor, M. and L., 1958, ‘Early Christian Ireland’, London, fig. 4d; Thomas, C., 1961, Animal art of the Scottish Iron Age’, ‘Archaeological Journal’ 118, 55, fig. 14b; Ozanne, A., 1962-3, The peak dwellers, ‘Medieval Archaeology’ 6-7, 20, fig. 8b; Henry, F., 1963, ‘L’Art Irlandais’, vol. I, Pierre-qui-Vire, 83, fig. 20c; Fowler, E., 1968, Hanging-bowls, in J.M. Coles and D.D.A. Simpson (eds.), ‘Studies in Ancient Europe: Essays Presented to Stuart Piggott’, Leicester, 294; Longley, D. 1975. ‘Hanging-bowls, Penannular Brooches and the Anglo-Saxon Connection’, BAR, BS 22, Oxford, 19, fig. l0g; Kilbride-Jones, H.E., 1980b, Hanging-bowls in ‘Celtic Craftsmanship in Bronze’, London, 245, fig. 80.2; Bruce-Mitford, R.L.S., 1987, Ireland and the hanging-bowls – a review, in M. Ryan (ed.), ‘Ireland and Insular Art AD 500-1200: Proceedings of a Conference at University College Cork, 31 October – 3 November 1985’, Dublin, 37; Brenan, J., 1991, ‘Hanging Bowls and their Contexts: An Archaeological Survey of their Socio-Economic Significance from the Fifth to Seventh centuries AD’, BAR British Series 220, Oxford, cat. no. 27.


  • Bibliography

    • Youngs 1989a 36 bibliographic details
    • Bruce-Mitford 2005 37 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G41/dc16/sC

  • Exhibition history

    2013 26 Jul-16 Oct, Germany, Paderborn, Diozesanmuseum, Christianisation of Medieval Europe
    2005 14 Mar-30 Oct, Woodbridge, The National Trust-Sutton Hoo Exhibition Centre, Hanging Bowls

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Excavated 1858-1868

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number



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Object reference number: MCS5453

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