Archive for March 5th, 2020

Metal detectorist find rare Roman horse brooch

Thursday, March 5th, 2020

Jason Price was scanning a field near Leasingham during a Detecting for Veterans event when he discovered a rare, even unique, horse brooch from the late Roman era.

Horse bow brooch, Roman Britain, ca. 200-410 A.D. Photo courtesy Portable Antiquities Scheme. Horse bow brooch, Roman Britain, ca. 200-410 A.D. Photo courtesy Portable Antiquities Scheme.

He said: “It was the last field of the weekend and it was heavily ploughed – so I didn’t hold out much hope of finding anything. You can imagine my surprise when my detector started buzzing.

“About eight inches down I found something caked in mud. At first I thought it was a piece of litter, but as I cleaned it off, my jaw dropped open. There it was – a horse brooch. I was shaking. I’ve found things like coins before, but never anything like this. Absolutely amazing!”

Dating to 200-410 A.D., copper-alloy bow brooch is intact, complete with its hinged pin. The horse’s head is lowered at the end of an arched neck, a realistic posture but with a stylized, elongated muzzle. His eyes and nostrils are circular grooves. His ears are gently rounded in profile with central recesses. The back of the arched neck is crossed with 14 grooves representing the mane. There is no bridle or reins, but a saddle or saddle blanket is outlined on the back. Circles at each corner of the blanket may be decorative pompons.

Horses were popular motifs on Roman brooches, but the ones that have been found in Britain before now are plate brooches: two-dimensional depictions of a horse or horse and rider in profile. Most of the horse and rider plate brooches have been found at temple sites, suggesting a religious significance, perhaps even a Romano-Celtic riding deity.

Three-dimensional zoomorphic brooches have been found in Continental Europe but are much more rare in Britain. They are also of significantly later date — 3rd-4th century versus late 1st, early 2nd century for the Continental examples. This is the first known horse brooch in the round ever discovered in Britain.

The nearest parallel is a brooch of unknown provenance now in the British Museum. It’s a plate brooch, albeit more rounded than they usually are, and as with other zoomorphic brooches (this cockerel, for example) from Roman Britain, the British Museum’s horse brooch is dotted with colored enamel. It is known as an Atelier A type, defined as an animal placed on a bar as if they were walking on the ground and characterized by circular enamel decoration.

The Leasingham horse has no enamel circles, nor are there tell-tale recesses from lost enamel. It’s possible there was some of it in the grooves, but even if there was, this horse pin still wouldn’t match any of the known zoomorphic brooch classifications. That makes it entirely unique, a new type find.

The brooch will go on display later this year at the Collection Museum in Lincoln.

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