Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sword Stud discovered in Wales

The discovery of a sword stud beneath shops in Monmouth, Wales, could be evidence of an Anglo-Saxon period settlement, which might rewrite Welsh history. According to a report in Western Mail, at barely a centimetre across and almost unrecognisable after centuries underground, the stud could shed light on an almost unknown era of Welsh history.

Hardly anything is known about the Anglo-Saxon period in Wales, which roughly bridges the six centuries between the demise of the Roman Empire and the Norman Conquest. The discovery of the site where the sword stud was found is "one of the most important early medieval sites in Wales," according to Stephen Clarke, chairman of the Monmouth Archaeological Society.

"The structure may be centuries older than these (carbon) dates as they follow the removal of posts which must have been erected years before," said Clarke. "It survived until dismantled in the late 1000s or early 1100s when the Normans dug a huge defensive ditch across the site, from the Castle to the River Wye," he added.

The buildings are ancient and date from before the Normans arrived. It could be evidence of occupation unbroken since the Dark Ages. The tiny sword stud is a silver pyramid 12mm high with a 12mm square base and a setting for a stone at its top, similar to two found in the burial of the King of East Anglia at Sutton Hoo. It was used on leather straps, which held a scabbarded sword to the sword-belt, and none have previously been found in Wales, where any Anglo-Saxon material at all is extremely rare.

A preliminary report, based on pre-conservation assessments, by Dr Mark Redknap of the National Museum Wales suggests it is similar to those found elsewhere in the UK and dated to the sixth and seventh centuries.

But Neil Maylan, of the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust , a specialist adviser to Monmouthshire council, was less certain about the find’s significance.

“We know very little in reality about what was happening in Wales between the Romans and the Normans,” he said. “We have lots of legends and stories but very little in the way of absolute fact and archaeological record.

“It’s possible that what we’ve got with this find is evidence of the Normans arriving. It’s also possible it’s earlier but the Anglo-Saxon stud doesn’t prove that. All we can say for certain is that there was activity there at the Normans’ time, which is still hugely significant.”