Metal artefacts

There is little evidence of Llyn Fawr period artefacts in South Yorkshire circa. 800–700 BC (O’Connor 2007). A decorated coper-alloy Sompting-type socketed axe (PAS 52EFB233001BD4; SYAS HER 599169), and a copper-alloy ‘swan’s neck type’ ring-headed pin (PAS 4E14515C00134B; SYAS HER 452337) recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) may represent the earliest known Iron Age metal items. Sompting-type axes are broadly dated to 800–600 BC (Boughton 2015; Burgess 1971), whilst swan’s neck ring-headed pins are usually attributed to the Hallstatt C phase of the Iron Age or 700–400 BC (Becker 2008; Dunning 1934). The pin was originally identified as a late Iron Age or Romano-British end-looped cosmetic pestle. A fragment of gold bracelet or ingot was found with a metal detector at Sutton Common on the excavation project in 2003, in trench backfill (DCMS 2003: fig. 26; Hill 2007: 160-1). It is not closely dateable but was probably older than 200–100 BC. It may have been originally deposited near the western side of the main enclosure, close to some putative mortuary enclosures, and possibly associated with them.

Most of the few Iron Age-style metal objects recorded in South Yorkshire date to the later Iron Age or early Romano-British period – the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD. A bronze sword or dagger chape found near Sprotbrough (still not fully described and published) and a decorated copper-alloy torc from Dinnington were all chance or metal-detecting finds (Beswick et al. 1990; Buckland 1986: 6). The torc is probably of later 1st or even early 2nd century AD date. It was found c. 140m away from a small subrectangular earthwork enclosure, and the find spot on a south-east facing slope was relatively unremarkable; although there was a predilection for the deposition of coin hoards on eastern and south-eastern slopes during the Iron Age and Roman periods (Bland et al. forthcoming). The possible significance of the Magnesian Limestone area for metalwork deposition is examined below. Found in six separate sections, the torc is of unique construction, but its decoration has affinities with other beaded torcs found in northern England (Beswick et al. 1990: 24-5), whilst its fastening is like examples in south-western England and Wales.

A copper-alloy tankard handle, an enamelled linch-pin, a horse harness toggle and terret ring were metal detecting finds from Rossington Bridge (O’Connor 2001: 91), and there have been metal detector finds of some brooches, harness fittings, and fasteners. A small cylindrical copper-alloy bead was found in a ditch fill outside the northern entrance of the enclosure at High Street, Shafton (Burgess 2001a), and two lead spindle whorls were recovered from Redhouse Farm, Adwick-le-Street (Upson Smith 2002: 24). At the subcircular enclosure at Marr Moor, in an otherwise finds-free ditch on the south-eastern side of the enclosure there was a complete, fresh-looking pennanular brooch of late Iron Age or early Romano-British date (C. Merrony pers. comm.). A headstud brooch of later 1st century date was excavated at Enclosure 8 at Redhouse Farm, Adwick-le-Street (Upson-Smith 2006: 8-9, plate 5), and the southern ditch of Enclosure E1 produced a copper-alloy Romano-British brooch from the fill of a recut (Meadows and Chapman 2004: 4). A trumpet brooch of later 1st century date was found at Billingley Drive, Thurnscoe (Cowgill 2004a: 49, fig. 27).

Brooches may have played important roles in projecting aspects of people’s identities, perhaps reflecting changing social ideas of the body, personhood and community during the Iron Age and Romano-British periods (Eckardt 2005, Farley 2012; Giles 2008; Hill 1997; Hunter 2007; Jundi and Hill 1998; Taylor 2013). In north-eastern England they were comparatively rare during much of the Iron Age, but their use became more common during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, especially at vici, villas and roadside settlements (Brindle 2018: 28). Group C brooches (e.g. Nauheim Derivatives, Colchester and Colchester derivatives, headstud) were the most numerous (Mackreth 2011), with penannular and plate brooches also being well represented. A disc brooch with repoussé triskele design found at Rossington Bridge Pumping Station probably dated to the mid-1st century AD (Lloyd Morgan 2001: 18).

Dragonesque brooches were a distinctive form with a relatively restricted distribution in Britain, focused on north-eastern England (Brindle 2018: 30, fig. 2.28). The majority have been recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme, but an enamelled example was found at Templeborough (May 1922: 71, plate xiv.1), one at Holme Hall Quarry near Stainton (Bevan 2006b: 31), and another at Church Walk in Doncaster from an early Roman fort context (Cool 2008b: 136, 138, fig. 40). It has been suggested that this brooch form might have been associated with a particular social or tribal group, perhaps the Brigantes (Mackreth 2012: 12); but such distributions may also reflect localised workshops and marketing as there were probably at least two further regional sub-types (Eckardt 2014: 128-132; Hunter 2010: 100). Aucissa-type bow brooches were a novel Roman form introduced from the continent, with possible military associations. The one found in the ditch of the enclosure at Scabba Wood with the stamp or maker’s mark ATGIVIOS may date to c. AD 40–65 (Mackreth 2011: 132; Merrony et al. 2017: 55, fig. 30). This may be one of the earliest Roman artefacts in South Yorkshire. An unstamped example was recovered by metal detector near to the vexillation fortress at Rossington Bridge (O’Connor 2001, fig. 55.2). All told, 14 Romano-British brooches were recovered from the 1916–17 excavations at Templeborough (May 1922: 71-3, plate xiv), including two early 2nd century examples found in the same pit by the baths; and also a bow brooch fragment from the more recent investigations (Rogers 2016: 71). Ten brooches were found during the 1960s–1970s excavations in Doncaster (Lloyd Morgan 1986: 84-93, figs 19-20), with another few examples known from older finds.

Isolated finds of Iron Age and Romano-British brooches on excavations or by metal detectorists are usually regarded as accidental losses, yet many discoveries from South Yorkshire have been made away from or on the edges of settlements known from cropmarks and other evidence (Dearne and Parsons 1997; Lloyd Morgan 2001; O’Connor 2001). This phenomenon has been noted in other regions of Britain (e.g. Farley 2008, 2012). Worn on clothes and to fasten cloaks, some brooches may have caught on other clothing or been snagged by vegetation. But were Romano-British people always so careless with their personal items? Brooches were highly personal items, worn close to the body, and rubbed by hands and clothing (Giles 2012: 140). Some could have been heirloom objects, acquiring biographies and evoking memories. Even old or broken examples may have been valued therefore, and it is also possible that some breakage was deliberate. During the Romano-British period, some brooch types such as plate brooches and ‘horse and rider’ examples were possibly associated with visits to temple and shrine sites, and/or with certain deities. It is possible that some brooch finds were not accidental losses at all but rather were personal apotropaic or propitiatory offerings made at places in the landscape.

A group of late Iron Age and early Romano-British brooches were found in river deposits at Rossington Bridge and between the vexillation fortress at Rossington and the River Torne (Lloyd Morgan 2001: 16-18; O’Connor 2001: 91, fig. 55). Part of an iron cauldron chain and a ‘poker’ were also recovered from palaeochannel peat deposits at Rossington Bridge (Buckland, Hartley and Rigby 2001: 10), close to a possible wooden trackway. Many cauldrons and suspensory chains have been found in Iron Age or Romano-British river, hoard or grave contexts (Manning 1983), whilst the ‘poker’ with its paddle-shaped end is an enigmatic artefact whose exact function is unknown, though they may have been part of hearth furniture, or used in smithing. The Rossington Bridge finds may represent material in an eroding midden, as an ‘occupation layer’ of black organic sand with artefacts and bone was noted, though the records are poor. Alternatively, they could have been local objects discarded by the Roman military during their occupation nearby; or might have been late Iron Age or Roman deliberate deposits. Some human bone that was also recovered exhibited signs of deliberate disarticulation and defleshing (ibid.: 82). These finds may thus reflect the importance of wet and watery places in prehistoric and Romano-British depositional practices and cosmological beliefs (Bland et al. forthcoming; Chadwick and Ghey 2015; Walton 2016). The presence of the river, together with a possible wooden trackway and evidence for unusual depositional practices, suggests that this site had special social significance before or even during military and industrial use.

Additional iron objects from Rossington Bridge included hipposandals and a possible pilum or javelin head (Lloyd Morgan 2001: 20-23). A Roman military dagger found during dredging of the River Torne in 1988 near Rossington fortress and now in Doncaster Museum had an iron blade, a bone handle and a wood and leather sheath. Of likely mid-1st century date (P. Buckland pers. comm.), it has never been published. Possibly an accidental loss, it might also have been a deliberate deposit in a wet locale. The Doncaster shield was either from an auxiliary cavalry unit or was a campaign trophy (Buckland 1978, 1986: 51). At Doncaster, iron spear and pilum heads, copper-alloy sword and dagger chapes, terret rings, a phalera, a patera handle, lead spindle whorls and various iron and copper-alloy harness and military fittings were identified, and a small bronze child or cupid figurine was found in the 19th century (Buckland 1986: 14-15; Cool 2008c: 279-81; Lloyd Morgan 1986: 83-93, figs 18-20; Lloyd Morgan and Buckland n.d.: 7-11, 37-8, figs 2-4, 7-8). Roman metal items from Templeborough included iron tools such as a mattock and a scythe anvil, weapons such as spearheads, lead weights and a plumb-bob, and copper-alloy phalerae or harness mounts, terret rings and belt fasteners, ferrules and a handbell (May 1922: 74-80, plates xiv-xviii; Rogers 2016). An iron spade shoe from Gunhills, Armthorpe (Cool 2008a: 48, fig. 33) is an interesting everyday agricultural tool. Lead spindle whorls were found at Redhouse Farm (Upson-Smith 2002: 24).

The distribution of metalwork across South Yorkshire should not be taken at face value, however, as there are recognised biases in the PAS data (q.v. Brindle 2011; K. Robbins 2012, 2013, 2014). It is notable how many finds are from the Doncaster district. This reflects a greater preponderance of arable agriculture and ploughed fields on the Magnesian Limestone and Sherwood Sandstone areas at the east of the county, contrasted with mainly pasture and moorland to the west on Coal Measures and Millstone Grit locales. The Doncaster district also contains several accessible woodlands with upstanding Iron Age and Romano-British earthworks; and seems to have a much higher number of detectorists than other parts of South Yorkshire. Although many metal detecting finds from the area have been made by responsible detectorists and recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme, it is likely that several coin hoards and other metal objects have been illegally dug up without any recording (P. Robinson pers. comm.). There has long been a problem with ‘night hawkers’ in *these areas, and many known enclosure sites have been plundered. Iron Age coins may be under reported, and the Yorkshire region is one of the parts of Britain most adversely affected by illegal detecting (Oxford Archaeology 2009).

Nonetheless, better relationships between archaeologists and detectorists facilitated by the PAS have led to the recording of some interesting Roman-period metalwork too, including a Roman gold marriage ring found near Bawtry (DCMS 1999: fig. 21), and a wine strainer or dipper handle from Marr with a maker’s mark (DCMS 2006: 49; PAS SWYOR-1CD5F6) likely to be of mid-2nd to 3rd century date. This find might reflect more Roman-style drinking practices, but these artefacts could also have been used for beer or for medicinal purposes – an example deposited in the so-called ‘Doctor’s grave’ in 1st century AD Colchester contained residues of Artemisia or mugwort, commonly used for healing remedies (Crummy 2007: 397-8).

Cosmetic grinders, tweezers, scoops, probes and nail cleaners were excavated at Doncaster and have occurred in limited numbers on rural sites, or as isolated metal detector finds (Buckland 1986: 27; Dearne and Parsons 1997: 73, fig. 9; Lloyd Morgan 1986: 88, fig. 19.14). A cosmetic mortar was found at Edlington Wood (Corder 1951: 90-1, fig. 17: 9), along with trumpet and penannular brooches, and a miniature decorated bronze vessel. Two stone palettes that were part of toiletry sets were recorded in Doncaster (Lloyd Morgan 1986: 95-6, fig. 21.6-7). Overall though, toilet and grooming instruments were apparently rare on rural settlements. This might indicate that outside urban centres and ‘Romanised’ settlements, there was less concern to establish or maintain ‘Roman’ identities through personal grooming.