This is a burnt silver seal matrix, dating to the 13th or 14th century, which was found last August by a metal-detectorist near King’s Lynn, Norfolk. Despite the damage, clearly seen in the centre of the matrix is a reused oval Roman intaglio – an unusual addition. It is not known whether the medieval owner would have been aware of the stone’s more ancient origins, but the Finds Liaison Officer who recorded it, Helen Geake, suspects that it might not have been found on a Romano-British site. Instead, it may have been imported from the Mediterranean, perhaps bought on a visit to Rome.
The heat damage caused the stone to crack and become an opaque pale grey. Despite this, the stone was able to be identified as a probable carnelian, and the engraving on the intaglio is still visible: it shows a figure of the god Mars, holding a spear, with a figure of Victory to his right.
While the inscription could not at first be identified, publication of the find on Twitter provided a possible answer. Alex Cortez believes the inscription could read: DECLIN[A A MALE ET FAC BONUM] – a quote from the Vulgate, Psalm 36, verse 27 (Psalm 37 in the Authorised Version and modern Bibles), meaning ‘Decline from evil and do good’.
The find is similar to another matrix, also discovered near King’s Lynn and also set with an intaglio, although that one is of medieval manufacture, copying the Roman style. It depicts a walking elephant in profile with a castle on its back.
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 more than 1.5 million finds, visit www.finds.org.uk. Information for this find was provided by Helen Geake, Finds Liaison Officer – Norfolk.