I’m going out on a limb here, writing again so soon after my thoughts regarding Malorie Blackman and her new role as Children’s Laureate. But a tweet from the British Museum in celebration of its 260th birthday today – ‘What’s your favourite piece from the British Museum collection?’ – got me thinking about two remarkable objects in its possession which I first discovered over twenty years ago.
I dug out a picture. Glory! They are just as perfect as I remembered when I first studied them on Professor Hutton’s Pagan Religions of the British Isles course at Bristol University 1990-1991. Colour, detail. Breathtaking from every angle. And so SMALL. Created without machines, magnifying glasses, modern tools. I defy modern jewellers to do better.
Historians think they were decorative pommels attached to leather thongs, which in turn were attached to the sword found in the great 6th century Sutton Hoo ship burial in Suffolk. There isn’t much of the sword left. It looks like a stretched, flattened cat-food tin that’s been left in the rain for fifteen hundred years. The sword doesn’t thrill me at all. But the decorations. Oh boy, the decorations.
Who made them? Did they use magic?
There’s a story right there.