Duck-shaped Roman lock component

IMAGE: Portable Antiquities Scheme/CC BY 2.0.

Carrying on the ornithological theme from last issue’s ‘Finds Tray’, which profiled an early medieval brooch featuring a bird, this Roman lock component was cheerfully cast in the shape of a duck. The copper-alloy object was found last autumn near Basingstoke in Hampshire, and it is thought to date to between c.AD 43 and c.AD 400.

At only 46.2mm in height, 35.6mm in length, and 15.5mm in width, the item weighs just 21.63g. There is a ridge around the circumference of the object’s base, which is flat with a long projection at the centre. This projection tapers ever so slightly at the end, but it has a rectangular cross-section, which is 7.5mm wide and 4.1mm thick. There are two cutaway sections towards the projection’s tip, and these probably once connected with another lock component, behind a lock plate, to open the latch.

The small but finely decorated object features delicate lines which have been cut into its metal surface. These shallow ornamental grooves depict the duck’s wings, which are closed, and the feathers of its wing tips. The duck’s tail is marked by a little recess, which separates the tail from the wings. The bird has round eyes measuring 4mm in diameter and inlaid with red coral, and the features of its neck and beak have been emphasised with further lines.

While the waterfowl’s species has not been determined, a similar find was made in Switzerland at Augusta Raurica, a Roman archaeological site on the southern bank of the Rhine, around 20km east of Basel. This Continental lock component was found in situ, alongside a lock plate, which helped to illustrate how it would have worked.

For more information on this lock component, see or search for HAMP-47B5C4 on the PAS database.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is an initiative, funded by the DCMS, to encourage the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. For more information on the Scheme, and to browse its database of over 1.5 million finds, visit Information for this find was provided by Simon Maslin, the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s Finds Liaison Officer for Surrey and eastern Hampshire.