Curious Saxon artifact stumps experts. In a mall.

Unknown Saxon artifact and its CAT scanA circular Saxon object found in a tomb at The Meads, Sittingbourne, in 2008, has so far stumped book research, microscopes and CAT scans. Nobody knows quite what it is.

It’s a disk made out of wood, silver and bronze and there are some holes on it suggesting that it was mounted on something, but beyond this at-a-glance level of evidence, scientists have so far not penetrated.

Despite using microscopes, X-rays and reading articles about burial grounds, the Canterbury Archaeological Trust (CAT) has been unable to identify it.

CAT believe that the object could be a decorative form of mount as it was discovered next to a sword.

Finds manager of CAT Andrew Richardson said: “We don’t currently recognise it, but it may be a decorative mount on something, but we don’t know what it’s mounted on.

Tests will continue, of course. A chemical analysis of the wood might hint at whether it was attached to something else, and since the disc was found with over 2,500 other artifacts in this Saxon burial ground of 229 graves, there might be some other items found with it that could suggest they were once mounted together. If there was a common pattern to the corrosion areas, for instance.

Two shields and two spears were found in the same grave as the disc. So far they haven’t found anything on the weapons to suggest the circle was mounted on one of them, but they’re still looking. The wealth of the grave goods indicates the deceased was someone of high status in his community.

Perhaps most interestingly/oddly of all, this analysis is being performed in a lab in what appears to be a shopping mall, the Forum Shopping Centre, to be precise. They have a display up not only of the disc, but of several weapons and other pieces found at The Meads.

You can go watch them poke at things and use titrating pipettes and whatnot. Some of the sciencey-analysis types are actually volunteers trained by the professionals to use microscopes and X-ray scanners to help analyze and process the thousands of artifacts.

It’s a bit weird that you could watch laboratory archaeology being done by professionals and volunteers between The Gap and Williams Sonoma, but it’s also kind of brilliant.