From the Vaults - September 2016

Glass and Antler Inkwells from Staunch Meadow, Brandon (BRD 018)

This month we focus upon seven internationally important Anglo-Saxon inkwells from Middle Saxon settlement at Staunch Meadow, Brandon. Six of the inkwells are made from colourful glass and the remaining inkwell was carved from an antler tine (tip).

In addition to the inkwells, styli and inscribed ecclesiastical objects were common discoveries at Staunch Meadow indicating a sophisticated, high status, literate community dedicated to the monastic activity of manuscript production and ecclesial inscriptions.

Glass Inkwells SFs 2128, 2374, 5525, 5954, 5955 & 5984

Seven fragments of glass, belonging to six different inkwells were discovered during the excavations. These glass vessels were cylindrical in shape with a depression in the top surface, in the centre of the depression was a perforation less than 1cm in diameter. The depression was designed to collect any ink drops allowing them to run back into the well. It is estimated that these vessels stood 5-7cm in height.

This type of inkwell is very rare in the UK with only three known examples from Southampton and one example from Lurk Lane in York – the few other known examples come from North East Europe  and the Middle East. It is very fortuitous that our inkwell fragments have come from the tops of the wells; otherwise their function may have never been identified!

The Brandon vessels were particularly colourful: one vessel is made of pale green glass with blue streaks, another is made of green glass with blue streaks, one is a rich dark green and three were black - one of which had yellow glass trail decoration applied to the surface. 

Above: The eight glass inkwell fragments (Image property of Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service)

Given that the other fragments of glass inkwells found at Southampton and York matched the same colouring and decorative designs as some of the globular beakers from Brandon, it is thought that there was one English maker producing the glass for all of these sites. As there is no glass blowing evidence on this site the glass inkwells may have been bought in by the Church – perhaps for the purpose of establishing a scriptorium.

Antler Tine Inkwell SF9879

The antler inkwell is a delightful object made by hollowing out the antler tine and shaping it to resemble a drinking horn. Antler is an unusual choice for this type of inkwell as they are normally made form horn or glass, as seen in Anglo-Saxon manuscript portraits. 

Left: St. Matthew’s Portrait from the  Ebbo Gospels depicting a horn inkwell (Image from: http://www.historyofpainters.com/ebbo_gospels.htm)

Right: Evangelist Portrait from the Maeseyck Gospels depicting a glass inkwell (Image from: http://dailyweaving.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/st-aidan-remembering-celtic-saint.html)

The inkwell is delicately decorated with engraved chevrons at the hollowed end and would have also had a decorative mount and copper alloy cover. The most beautiful part of the decorations is the runic inscription carved upon it, which reads “Wohs wlfdurn deo[.]” and translates to “I grew on a wild beast”. The object speaks on its own behalf and in riddles, which may seem a strange concept now – but was a common way of inscribing objects during the Anglo-Saxon period. Someone at Staunch Meadow took great care making this object. 

Above: Drawing of antler inkwell, Below: Photograph showing the runes inscribed on the antler inkwell (Illustration by Donna Wreathall, Images Property of Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service)

Further Information From:

Tester A. , Anderson S. , Riddler I. & R. Carr, 2014. Staunch Meadow, Brandon, Suffolk: A High Status Middle Saxon Settlement on the Fen Edge. East Anglian Archaeology Report 151 (Currently Out of Print - Digital copies are to be available from EAA soon)

Article compiled by Julie Kennard (Archives Assistant)
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