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Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Seven Dials - Two Beautiful Bone Handles

The area of Seven Dials is just beyond Bath's Roman city walls. It forms a cross section through the defensive ditches that protected the city until the end of the English Civil war. During the next few centuries the ditch became a town dump and in the 20th century the site contained a night club and garden centre.

A dig was commissioned in the 1990's on the cleared site prior to the building of Sainsbury's supermarket which occupies the site today. Some of the most interesting finds from this dig were two unusual bone handles.

[A photograph of the two handles]

The first find is a handle made of bone with carving suggesting plant stalks, possibly wheat, tied in a bundle. It has a drilled hole at the end which would have held the metal blade. The end shape may have been used to hold a loop allowing the knife to be suspended from a fastening.

The second find is a handle of carved and turned ivory. It has inlay of green stained ivory and amber. Three sizes of amber suggest that the material may have been turned into a rod and sawn into discs. This may show an element of mass production in the making of these handles.

Although now worn away, showing the item was used regularly, the second handle has etched decoration. Together with the inlay this makes a pattern of flowers and leaves. Similar patterns exist on other handles elsewhere. This, together with the layer In which it was found, shows a likely date of the early to mid 1600's.

[Reconstruction of the second handle.]

This is a reconstruction based on study of the artefact. Deciphering the pattern was made harder by the heavy wear on the item. The blade is based on those from similar knives. The handle could also have been from a fork or a spoon.

As shown in the reconstruction, either handle may have been longer due to a metal bolster between the handle and blade. A copper fragment from the site showing traces of gilding may have been a part of this.

Both handles were most likely knives. Although they are quite small compared to modern cutlery the size is consistent with other examples of the same age. One reason for the small size was that paired sets of a knife and fork or even two knives were designed to be portable as people carried their cutlery around with them. Finely made and decorated sets were used to show off wealth.

Will - Collection Volunteer

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating and beautiful objects. Nice to see something that isn't Georgian or Roman for a change.