Tuesday, 6 November 2012

A Roman Bucket Mount — Painting the Fuller Picture

During my bucket mount research extravaganza where in a week or two of work I'd pulled just about every one of the damn things ever published on the Internet onto my cluttered and unruly desktop, I received a message from Muddy Mick over at Detector.co.uk's forum. He'd sent news of a mount of his own and one he'd recorded with UKDFD.

It was very interesting indeed and appeared to be one still soldered to the rim of the bucket and as such the only example I'd come across that still was. It wasn't a bull head as the general run of handle mounts are, seemed to have the general outline of a human head, but didn't appear to represent anything at all which I though highly irregular because they always do.

It looked plain, functional and apparently without decorative embellishment apart from a double band of indents across the bottom of the suspension loop and what looked like circular indents upon it. However...

Two days later I stumbled upon a find from Castell Collen Roman Fort in Wales of a handle mount in the form of a female face on an escutcheon plate in the form of a vine leaf. I didn't see the resemblance at first but later the penny dropped, because it was the same thing! It was clear that both female heads were identical but Mick's example was mutilated. It would have remained unrecognisable as such without having the two brought together for comparison.

Mick was informed and so was Rod Blunt at UKDFD who immediately updated the record with a note about this new parallel.

Mick's return message offered to make a donation to me, a kindness which I accepted most gratefully because having things in the hand makes such a difference where work on ancient objects is concerned.

A few days later it arrived by post and the surprisingly heavy package was opened...

It was enormous!

I wasn't expecting that... It was twice the size of what I'd imagined and even though I'd seen the measurements at UKDFD its weight and chunkiness still came as a great surprise. Out came the high magnification reading glasses that make my eyes appear like owls eyes to others but really are essential for close-up examination, and I set to work.

It had been partially melted hence the destruction of the face and the piece of metal attached to the back appeared to be part of something else entirely and not the folded back portion of bronze band I'd thought it to be. It wasn't possible to state with certainty that the escutcheon plate was once a vine leaf too, the destruction of its edges had removed any sign of the original outline.

It was remarkable just how much close examination brought forth that could not be appreciated in pictures and within an hour theories were forming...

"... the damage incurred was either that caused by miscasting, partial melting in a fire or in the scrap crucible. The piece on the reverse isn't folded over from the front but appears to be a separate piece of rim, and perhaps not even a piece of same vessel, that's fused to the mount. The metal of the vine leaf escutcheon or vessel wall is 2.5mm thick, the face projects a good 8mm (minus the blob of melted metal) and the suspension loop is 5-7mm thick, so it's very chunky. The handle mount is 52mm in length which is big for a bucket mount when they average 30-40mm and appears to be separately cast from the escutcheon plate or vessel wall, slight differences in patination around the joint seem to indicate solder.

I think it must have been attached to a cauldron because the rim radius would have the vessel about two feet across, it is a heavy duty item and seems unnecessarily large for a comparatively lightweight wooden stave bucket filled with a couple of gallons of liquid when it looks robust enough to hold up ten or more in a solid bronze vessel.

There's also a left eye visible just where it is on the Castell Collen mount and the same hairstyle is plain to see."

These thoughts were sent over to Rod who included them verbatim as notes on the record. Mick was delighted with the developments and glad to have a clearer idea about his find. I was chuffed to bits just being able to examine one of the many pieces I'd seen on the Internet in the hand because there's no way I'd have seen the small things that add up to a big difference otherwise.

What had been a fascinating voyage of discovery so far was made only better by the discovery of an another close parallel — from Hockwold in Norfolk came a vine leaf escutcheon plate again with the handle mount attached and in the form of the head of Bacchus!

Once again everyone concerned was informed but the verdict is that Mick's mount remains a female head which I think correct until further examples turn up that overturn that idea because the Bacchus mount looks decidedly male whereas the Castell Collen example looks anything but with its flowing shoulder length hair.

It had been such an enjoyable task uncovering the truths and forming theories about Mick's find. It's no longer just a hunk of interesting metal but a fascinating one. Of course we'll never know how it came to be destroyed but that's OK because the story of how it happened can be imagined however you prefer it...

A terrible house fire that ravaged a villa, a failed casting at the foundry or the bronze smith's apprentice spilling the partially melted contents of his crucible? You decide which, or even come up with an alternative story of your own because after establishing the few facts about the past that we can, imagination paints the fuller picture.

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