Rare lead doll found by mudlark

A rare intact lead doll from the 16th or 17th century has been discovered by a mudlarking metal detectorist in Long Whatton, in Leicestershire. Sarah Brackstone found the small piece in a brook near her home this February. She reported her discovery to finds liaison officer for Leicestershire and Rutland where the modest little toy caused something of a sensation because it is the only complete 16th century doll to be recorded in the database of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS).

 

It is a lead sheet alloy child’s toy two inches long in the shape of a woman wearing a gown with a triangular narrow bodice and a full skirt. A semi-circular headdress or hairstyle outlines her round face. The moulded features — circular eyes, triangular nose, mouth upturned — are raised from the flat surface of the face. The back of the head is decorated with raised pellets and the initials “T T” which experts believe may be a makers mark. Two circular loops project out from the shoulders; in the center of both is a flattened loop. Experts think the loops may indicate the doll was used as a puppet on strings to entertain children.

The gown is intricately decorated front and back. In the front, the bodice has transverse lines that look like lacing. The skirt has a central triangular panel made of moulded lines. On either side of the triangle panel are three pairs of raised round pellets of different sizes. Two rectangular panels with intersecting lines that create six triangular sections go from the lower part of the triangle panel to the edge of the skirt. The hem is decorated with a zig-zag pattern. The back of the dress has two swagged rows of pellets on the shoulders and moulded lines forming a downward-pointing triangle to the waist. The gown has a curved row of pellets over a rectangle with vertical lines. The bottom features a zig-zag pattern with a pellet in each triangle.

Figures like these are rare because lead is so malleable that it is easy to manipulate and reshape. That also makes it easy to break. The shape of the doll, a slender waist and an even more slender neck, makes it susceptible to breakage. There are several disembodied torsos in the PAS database, and one example that is in three pieces — broken at neck and waist — and missing an arm. It is also heavily corroded, unlike Ms. Brackstone’s find.

Because the doll is made out of a base metal and does not qualify as official treasure, it has been returned to the finder. Apparently she has been fielding offers from collectors in the US, but for now at least, Sarah Brackstone plans to loan her little lead treasure to the British Museum.

One thought on “Rare lead doll found by mudlark

  1. Frankly, I doubt that this tiny (5*2.5cm) lead sheet ever had been a children’s toy. To me, this appears to be a talisman or amulet – Witchcraft, or maybe anti-witchcraft. What if we just burn it anyway!? 🤔️

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