Bringing an Anglo-Saxon brooch back to life

Given the prominent location of this woman’s grave, overlooking the Ock valley, and the elaborate items she was buried with, it is likely she was a member of a leading family.

West Hanney, Oxfordshire

This Anglo-Saxon garnet-inlaid composite disc brooch was discovered by a metal-detectorist near West Hanney, Oxfordshire, in 2009.

When it was found, the site was carefully excavated and it was revealed that the brooch was part of an apparently isolated but elaborate burial of a woman in her 20s. The brooch was found near her left shoulder, while other grave goods – including fragments of a glass vessel, two ceramic cups, a chalk spindle whorl, and an iron knife – were discovered near her legs. This brooch is quite similar in style to two others found in furnished burials at Milton, approximately 10km to the east of this site, and, in general, is very similar to the Anglo-Saxon disc brooches found widely in Kent, which are thought to emulate Frankish fashion. The typology suggests that the brooch was probably made between AD 610 and 650, with radiocarbon dating of the grave providing a date of AD 622-665. This suggests that the brooch was probably only a decade or two old when it was buried.

Given the prominent location of this woman’s grave, overlooking the Ock valley, and the elaborate items she was buried with, it is likely she was a member of a leading family. Overall, her burial can be viewed as part of an upsurge in richly furnished women’s burials that began around AD 630, which broadly corresponds to a period of apparent female prominence within land-controlling families and religious institutions.

In this image you can see the brooch both before and after conservation, as well as a digital reconstruction of what it may have looked like originally. Work on the brooch was led by archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, and the image was created by the Institute’s photographer Ian R Cartwright.

Text: K Krakowka
Image: Ian R Cartwright
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