Artefacts of other materials

Very few Iron Age and Romano-British artefacts made of other materials have been recorded from South Yorkshire. This may in part at least be due to the acidic soils across many parts of the county, but cultural and economic reasons are also likely.

Glass

An early La Tène-style purple glass bracelet fragment was excavated from the ring gully of a roundhouse at Balby Carr (Cool 2003a), perhaps a 1st century BC Continental import. Fragments of another glass bracelet were found at Engine Lane, Shafton (Cool 2003b) – though Roman and probably from the later 1st century AD, the primary fill of the feature it was recovered from was radiocarbon dated to 380–50 BC. A gully excavated within Enclosure E7 at Redhouse Farm, Adwick-le-Street contained two fragments of a blue glass bracelet with an applied blue and white glass strip and possibly of late 1st century AD date, in addition to a shale bracelet fragment (Upson-Smith 2002: 15). The enclosure ditch did not produce any dateable artefacts, but pottery from other features within the enclosure included late Iron Age ceramics and 2nd to 4th century Romano-British sherds.

Glass bangles or bracelets were more common in north-eastern England than in other regions (Brindle 2018: 27, fig. 2.25), although it is still unclear if these objects were actually worn by people on their arms. It has been suggested that they were used as hair rings or even as rings on horse manes or as other horse fittings (Stevenson 1976: 50, 53), and they might have held apotropaic or amuletic properties too. Few are ever found complete, and this fragmentation may have been deliberate. It is possible that after the death of an owner, they were broken-up and different people took away the fragments as mnemonic items (Pope 2005). Other kinship or social links could also have been symbolised by such fragmentation.

Five objects of Iron Age cobalt blue glass were recovered from one of the possible ‘mortuary rings’ at Sutton Common, including a bead decorated with an annular ‘eye’ of white glass (Henderson 2007: 158). The glass lumps are the first evidence for Iron Age glass production in northern England, let alone South Yorkshire. The blue and white glass bead is probably later Iron Age in date, but the chemical composition of one piece of glass suggested that it was made before the 2nd century BC (ibid.: 160). This may indicate objects of different times and traditions gathered together for a ritualised ‘placed’ deposit. Another unstratified cobalt bead and a lump of blue glass were surface finds from previous fieldwork (Buckland et al. 1997: 237), and the intact bead may be another earlier Iron Age example. A globular amber bead and a globular shale bead were also recovered, the former a surface find; but the latter near the base of an outer gully forming part of Enclosure A’s ramparts on the western side (ibid.). A glass bead of indeterminate date was recovered from a hollow at Roebuck Hill, Jump (Wilkinson 2007: 23). Flint was recovered from the same context, and although this might be residual it could indicate a Bronze Age date for the bead.

There are difficulties in interpreting beads as items of Iron Age dress and personal identity when, outside of East Yorkshire Iron Age graves at least, they are more commonly found as individual objects not from burial contexts (Foulds 2017). Strings of beads can be separated, subdivided and exchanged with different individuals or passed on as heirloom objects (Giles 2012: 149), and may carry with them a variety of different social and symbolic meanings. A dark blue and yellow glass bead of Iron Age form was found at Rossington Bridge (Lloyd Morgan 2001: 24, fig. 20-33), along with probable Romano-British examples. There was a single find of a Roman glass bead at Armthorpe (Cool 2008a: 47), and part of a perforated Roman glass bead at Whirlow Hall Farm, Sheffield (Lortie and Doonan 2017: 86, fig. 63). Excavations at Templeborough produced glass melon beads and glass gaming counters (May 1922: 83, plate xxi-a); and glass annular beads, melon beads, armlets and gaming counters have been found in Doncaster in fort contexts and at Church Walk, High Street and Frenchgate (Cool 2008b: 137, fig. 3, 2008c: 282; Lloyd Morgan 1986: 93-5, fig. 21; Lloyd Morgan and Buckland n.d.: 43-6, fig. 10). Pieces of a blue and white glass bracelet were found at Redhouse Farm, Adwick-le-Street (Upson-Smith 2002: 23).

Roman glass vessels appear to have been quite rare in South Yorkshire, especially on rural settlements. Part of a blue-green Roman prismatic glass bottle of mid-1st to late 2nd century AD date was excavated at Holme Hall Quarry (Wilmott 2007: 75), and a fragment of a blown glass vessel was found at Whirlow Hall Farm (Lortie and Doonan 2017: 86, fig. 63). Roman window glass is virtually unknown on most rural sites, with just occasional fragments occurring as at Rossington Inland Port Phase 1b (Daniel, Harrison and Powell 2014b: 15). Glass vessels including jugs or ewers, beakers, bowls, bottles and unguentaria were recorded at Templeborough during the 1870s and 1916-17 investigations, along with window glass, glass gaming counters and part of a glass bracelet (May 1922: 82-4, plates xx-xxi). Fragments of bottles, beakers and bowls were found during the 1950s excavations at Rossington Bridge (Lloyd Morgan 2001: 34, fig. 31).

The most significant finds have occurred in Doncaster. Roman window and vessel glass were excavated during the 1970s rescue excavations – most notably from Frenchgate, including jugs, jars, beakers and bottles (Allen 1986: 103), many from a Flavian-period pit containing broken but substantially complete vessels. Roman vessel glass was also found at Church Walk and 8–10 High Street (Cool 2008b: 139-40, 2008d: 288) and in the cremation cemetery at Doncaster Waterdale, much of this melted and fused and probably pyre debris derived from unguentaria that held perfumes used to anoint the bodies of the dead and scent the pyres along with other liquids used for libations during funeral rites (Cool 2013: 89-90). This was a relatively uncommon practice in Roman Britain and might reflect a military origin for those undertaking the ceremonies. The body of a conical blue-green glass jug with an ornate handle was also recovered at Waterdale during machining, a possible placed deposit. There was a neat break across the base of the neck and the handle. It was like a vessel from the Frenchgate pit (Allen 1986: 105, fig. 24.1).

Amber, jet, and shale

As noted above, a globular amber bead and a globular shale bead of late Bronze Age or early Iron Age date were found at Sutton Common (Buckland et al. 1997: 237). An annular amber bead of late Roman date was recovered at Rossington Bridge (Lloyd Morgan 2001: 24); and another example from across the county boundary at Sandtoft in North Lincolnshire (Samuels and Buckland 1978, fig. 7).

A pierced jet disc pendant and a similar shale example were found at Templeborough (May 1922: 123-4, plate xxxvii), and fragments of a shale bracelet at Redhouse Farm (Upson-Smith 2002: 23). Jet and shale pins, spacer beads, bracelets and a jet counter were found at Doncaster (Buckland 1986: 27, fig. 15.10; Lloyd Morgan 1986: 96, fig. 94.8; Lloyd Morgan and Buckland n.d.: 60-3, fig. 23).

Intaglios

One onyx or agate intaglio was excavated at Templeborough (May 1922: 60, plate lv.a), a carnelian example (Leader 1878: 509); and a carnelian intaglio at Rossington Bridge (Henig 2001: 16, fig. 13). A small assemblage of carnelian and glass paste intaglios associated with silver, iron and bronze rings and a bezel was excavated at Doncaster, possibly part of a disturbed hoard containing several bronze brooches, a bronze scalpel handle, and nine coins (Henig 1986: 97-9, fig. 22).

Bone

Very few bone artefacts have been identified, and this likely to be a consequence of the acidic soils on all bar the Magnesian Limestone soils of South Yorkshire. Different depositional environments may help preserve organic materials though. An antler weaving comb was found in a ditch terminal by the eastern entrance of Sutton Common (Tuohy 2007), similar to examples more commonly found in southern England, though one is known from Harborough Cave near Brassington in Derbyshire (Armstrong and Jackson 1923). A bone awl was found at Area 7, Redhouse Farm, Adwick-le-Street (Upson-Smith 2002: 24).

At Church Field, Rossington a fragment of bone knife handle survived acidic soil conditions through being partly mineralised. Only one sherd of sand-tempered late Iron Age or early Romano-British pottery was also recovered (Atkinson 1998: 19), so the handle could be Iron Age or early Romano-British in date. A Roman bone pin was noted from the Market Place site in Doncaster (Buckland and Magilton 1986: 52), and several bone pins, gaming counters, dice and a late Roman or post-Roman bone comb have also been identified (Buckland 1986: 27, fig. 15.14; Cool 2008c: 282; Lloyd Morgan 1986: 96, fig. 21; Lloyd Morgan and Buckland n.d.: 46-52, figs 14-15). A bone toggle was found at Rossington Bridge (Lloyd Morgan 2001: 24, fig. 21).

Worked wood

Wooden Iron Age artefacts are incredibly rare within South Yorkshire as elsewhere in Britain but include the possible solid wooden wheel from Sutton Common, now unfortunately destroyed (Whiting 1936); and the notched log ladder of poplar or willow wood found in anaerobic waterlogged deposits at Sutton Common (Buckland et al. 1997: 233). The poor feature sampling strategies adopted during the open-area excavation of Enclosure A at Sutton Common undoubtedly restricted potential finds of further wooden objects. A wooden trug and a finely worked wooden comb of probable late Iron Age or Romano-British date were recovered from partly waterlogged deposits at Rossington Bridge (Lloyd Morgan 2001: 25, figs 22-3), amongst other worked wooden objects that unfortunately have not survived.

Leather

Few leather artefacts have been recorded as so few waterlogged or anaerobic contexts have been excavated. Leather shoe or sandal soles were reported by J.D. Leader from a well at Templeborough (Freemantle 1913: 101; May 1922: 59), though this is not described in his 1878 publication (Leader 1878). Leather shoe and carbatinae soles and other fragments were found at Rossington Bridge (Lloyd Morgan 2001: 25-7, fig. 24), though they were allowed to dry out so were not well conserved. Fragments of a leather one-piece shoe were found at the base of a ditch at FARRRS (Daniel 2017: 31-2), and a one-piece shoe came from a pond or waterhole at Finningley (Mildwaters 2008: 175). Elsewhere, a hob-nailed sole found at High Street, Doncaster (Lloyd Morgan 1986: 93) may have survived because iron minerals in the nails partly penetrated the leather.

Research questions

  • Can locations be identified where the preservation of possible organic artefacts made of wood or basketry might survive, such as underneath alluvium or peat deposits?
  • Fragmentation was an important part of prehistoric and Romano-British depositional practices. Querns, glass and shale bracelets and necklaces, pottery, animal bone and even some human remains seem to have been broken down, some of this material later being reconstituted in novel combinations. How can we advance our understanding of such practices?

Priorities and implementation

  • Where peat or alluvium deposits are likely to be encountered during excavations, robust sampling strategies must be developed to increase the likelihood of organic finds being discovered, particularly if these deposits will be affected by compaction and/or drainage that lowers water tables;
  • In future, all wells, waterholes and deep pits should be thoroughly investigated, as preservation in situ can rarely guarantee that organic deposits stay anaerobic. This must include excavating below the water table;
  • Curatorial project briefs must incorporate this, and adequate contingency funding for excavation and post-excavation of waterlogged remains must be included in Written Schemes of Investigation (WSIs) prepared by field units when proposing work;
  • The locations of finds of different materials on-site need to be plotted and shown on the site plans included in client reports as well as publications;
  • Intra-site and inter-site artefact comparisons should be encouraged (see above, below);
  • Other researchers have commented upon the significance of practices of fragmentation for different periods and places (e.g. Brück 2006; Chapman 2000; Chapman and Gaydarska 2007; Pope 2005). There is thus a developing theoretical framework for future discussions.