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8 Jul 2021

Darting Tongues and Snarling Jaws – Fragmentary Dragons and Beasts from Shropshire

Hidden deep within the staffing structure of Birmingham Museum Trust are a crack team of archaeological finds specialists called Finds Liaison Officers. The team of four are employed to deliver the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme across the whole West Midlands region by identifying and recording objects found by the general public, especially metal detector users. Their role also includes working with items of treasure and the following story concerns artefacts recovered from Shropshire and recently declared treasure by a coroner.

Finds from the early medieval (Anglo-Saxon) period are exceedingly rare from Shropshire. So, the discovery of two partial fragments of silver artefacts is really exciting even if neither of them are complete or bigger than an inch high.

The first find is a dragon headed mount possibly broken from the tip of a strap end. A strap end is a decorative protective plate fixed to the end of a leather strap on a bag or belt. This was found in Romsey in South East Shropshire and dates from the 10th century most likely of Anglo-Scandinavian (Viking) form. The terminal is extremely detailed with a curled snarling mouth, flared nostrils and wide bulging eyes. It is cast from silver, but the hollows have been gilded and additional black niello details have been applied creating a striking design.

Romsley Dragon

Romsley Dragon

The second is a fragment of a four-sided decorative mount from Cheswardine, North East Shropshire. This mount again is broken but has two pairs of beautifully depicted interlaced animals. One is an upright animal with backward arched head, gaping jaws and lolling tendril-like tongue; the other is a crouched beast or dog with an elongated ear and backward facing head with wide snarling jaws that bite its own tail. The art style on this piece is known as Trewhiddle decoration which is named after a large hoard of metalwork found in Cornwall.

Cheswardine Mount

Cheswardine Mount animal detail

These two finds are of county importance not just because of their rarity but because of the amazing skill of the crafts people who made them 1300 years ago. Both were discovered through responsible metal detecting being reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Shropshire Museums’ Service is hoping to acquire both these finds for the people of the county to displayed at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

Peter Reavill,
Finds Liaison Officer,
British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme / Birmingham Museums’ Trust

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