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Recent Finds

Roman cetacean feast

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A near complete caudal vertebrae of a small whale has been recovered from a potentially Roman deposit from one of our sites in North Kent. It is very similar in size and shape to cetacean vertebrae found at several sites in London, in particular from Late Saxon and medieval Bermondsey Abbey, which were identified as longfin pilot whale (Globicephala melas). This small whale (varying in length between 3.5 and 6.5m) is relatively common in British offshore waters today, although more frequently spotted off the south-western rather than south-eastern British coasts. Roman cetacean finds tend to be rather rare from sites in this general area, noting for example just 2 Roman examples out of over a 100 whale bones found in London. The presence of whale bones may suggest that these animals were hunted although it is well known, throughout history, that whale strandings have occurred along various parts of the British coastline. However, whether taken from a captured or stranded/beached specimen, it is of interest that this bone has been charred (both on the anterior and posterior surfaces, see picture), which may suggest it is part of a ‘joint’ cooked on an open fire.

An east end monkey…

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We have an unusual find from a site in East London – the severed head of a monkey from a mid-19th-century context.

Our animal bone specialist Kevin says “Its wisdom teeth haven’t erupted so it is probably less than 6 years of age but definitely more than 2 years. I think it is likely to be a macaque type, the most famous of which is the variety living on Gibraltar, which is also known as the Barbary Ape. The same type also lives in North-West Africa especially in the Atlas mountains, where no doubt the Gibraltar monkeys originate.”

Kevin adds “It’s too large to be an organ-grinder’s monkey, these were small capuchin monkeys. It may have been a sailor’s pet which suffered the ignominy of being stuffed, hence the discovery of just the head (the taxidermist would just keep the head, feet and tail parts of the skeleton).”

Monkeys were highly desirable pets in the 18th and 19th centuries, to the extent that a popular book called Notes on Pet Monkeys and How to Manage Them was published in 1888.

“The menagerie and the zoological collection are incomplete without a certain complement of monkeys; and whatever else may awe, and frighten, and command the admiration of the gaping crowd, it is this department that awakens the broad grin and the hearty laugh.”

Arthur Henry Patterson


Alongside tips on the care and management of monkeys, the book is full of “amusing stories” of owners who’d acquired them with the expectation that they’d behave like mischievous children only to find them destructive and wild. Patterson suggests to be “Bully, Peggy, Mike, Peter, Jacko, Jimmy, Demon, Barney, Tommy, Dulcimer, Uncle or Knips” as suitable names for monkeys but adds that “Pets are liable to fall ill, so there is a chapter on ‘Monkey Ailments and How to Cure them.’  If they can’t be cured and die, Mr. Patterson gives us instructions how to stuff them!

19th Century Band of Hope Temperance Medal

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We recovered a white metal medal during recent investigations in Gloucester. These medals, 39mm in diameter, were awarded to those who took a pledge of abstinence from alcohol. On one side the medal reads “Band of Hope Medal – Prevention is Better than Cure – I Promise to Abstain from All Alcoholic Drinks as Beverages”. The reverse has an image of hands shaking and an open Bible with the words “Wine is a Mockery – Strong Drink is Raging – Thy Word is Truth.”

The Band of Hope was first proposed by Rev. Jabez Tunnicliff, a Baptist minister in Leeds, following the death in June 1847 of a young man whose life was cut short by alcohol. While working in Leeds, Tunnicliff had become an advocate for total abstinence from alcohol. In the autumn of 1847, with the help of other temperance the Band of Hope was founded. Its objective was to teach children the importance and principles of sobriety and teetotalism. In 1855, a national organisation was formed amidst an explosion of Band of Hope work. Meetings were held in churches throughout the UK and included Christian teaching.

The Band of Hope and other temperance organisations of the period fought to counteract the influence of pubs and breweries with the specific intention of rescuing ‘unfortunates’ whose lives had been blighted by drink and teach complete abstinence.

by Sean Rice

An exciting find from Bermondsey Square

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We have a wonderful rare find from Bermondsey Square – a moulded Chinese stoneware lion sejant figurine from a late 18th century domestic context.


This has been tentatively identified as an incense stick holder,  香插, xiang cha (‘incense device for insertion’) or possibly 香台 xiang  tai (‘fragrance platform’). It’s 6cm tall and almost intact except for the missing lower jaw which may have once held a ball. It has applied spiral, snail shell-like objects on its head and along its back to represent the lion’s mane. A damaged small hollow cylinder, possibly an incense stick holder, was applied to the base at the back of the figurine between the fore and hind legs. In experiments carried out recently in the PCA London Offices, it was found that a joss stick can stand nicely in the presumed holder. There is also a rectangular space between the creature’s front legs and into its hollow body. If a joss stick, or possibly a small briquette of incense, is placed there, the smoke comes out of the creatures mouth, which was probably the intention.

Ceramic lion figurines have been made in China since the Tang Dynasty period (AD 618–907), although the Bermondsey find is more likely to date from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD) and was probably made in the Fujian or Guangdong provinces.

Incense stick holder figurines have been around for more than a thousand years and there are many examples: one from the Ming Dynasty (a dynasty earlier than this Qing Dynasty specimen) in the British Museum, and another featuring the “Lion-dog” also from the Ming period:

Incense holders familiar to those of us lucky enough to have visited the Far East and seen them in use in temples are far larger, in order to accommodate multiple sticks, and are generally called ‘censers’ 香爐 xianglu…- there are very many specific terms for these important ritualistic items! The Bermondsey Square figurine is likely more secular, being a small table-top or travelling size incense holder to keep away insects such as flies and mosquitoes while at a desk writing or eating at a table.

The lion figurine, which has been erroneously called Fo-Dogs or “Dogs of Buddha” since C.A.S. Williams (1932) wrongly termed these items, may possibly also represent one of the many mythical creatures in Chinese iconography. In Chinese culture, the lion, not native to the region, symbolizes power, wisdom, and superiority.

Lion figurines could also take the form of water droppers (shuizhu or shuidi) used for adding water to ink stones for calligraphy as part of a stationery kit. These have a cavity in the body and a hole on the spine, whereas this example is hollow with openings at the mouth and between the front legs. Excavations at the Huai An ( 怀安 ) kiln in Fuzhou City, Fujian Province uncovered Tang Dynasty period lion figurines and water droppers as kiln wasters, while a couchant find from the Philippines was dated to the 14th century. Dating the Bermondsey lion figurine is somewhat problematical from published examples, although the item was found with pottery dated c. 1730–50 and indicates a mid-18th-century or earlier date.

How the item was utilized and viewed by its users in Bermondsey can only be guessed at and the find may have simply been an ornamental import from a fashionable source, reflecting the passion at the time for all things oriental!

Icenian silver coin with a previously unknown die stamp – another first for PCA

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We’ve had an amazing find this week from a site in Suffolk

The coin is an Icenian Bury E type silver unit, of which Talbot (2017) records only 4 known examples. The reverse die of this coin (the side with the horse) is known on three of them, two of which are sub-classified by Cottam and Rudd (2022) as type 30, and the other with this die is a type 31. The remaining Bury E type has a similar (but different) reverse die and is sub-classified by Cottam and Rudd (2022) as type 29. This new coin appears to represent the fourth recorded example of that particular reverse die.

However, the obverse die on this new coin is completely unrecorded, showing a right facing bust (usually thought to be a god) with a two-headed snake in an S-shape in front. This is a different style to the other Bury E types, which usually have ‘roundels’ in front and around the bust. The double-headed snake designs are only really seen on the Bury A and H types, which Cottam and Rudd date c.55-50 BC, while the Bury E types are dated c.40-35 BC, so this coin might potentially require a slight re-think on the dating sequence of those coins.