Prick spur - question mark - found in England from the Viking Age or Anglo-Norman period


Prick spur ? element found in England from the Viking Age or Anglo-Norman period


'It is hard to make allowances for the oddities of human figures, it is harder still to make rational judgments about the carvings of unidentifiable animals, yet without making the effort we will be continually troubled with the inconsistencies in what we make out of what we think to see'.


'.. but it is quite another matter to assume that the interpretation put upon them in their original culture would also have been carried over'


With these quotes from Rita Wood book Paradise, the world of romanesque sculpture, I like to start off the first object of this collection of artefacts from the era of the Viking Age. Rita Wood's statements are wise ones. Of course they aren't limited to sculpture of the romanesque period, but are - very much so - needed in the back of the mind when it comes in the ever-going-on interpretation of Viking Age objects.


First of all: excuse for the more than ugly title of this page, addressing this item. It has a reason why, of course, wich I will explain on this page. This is going to be a 'living document' on this object/type of objects, as in- and hindsights are ever developing, as it will show us.


In the beginning..


There was - and still is an utmost intriguing object from copper-alloy, about 60 mm long, 40 mm high and 20 mm wide.. rare, as it is from three-dimensional nature. Depicting a helmeted man with a horn on a horse-like animal, riding it.


Having been found in 2005 or 2006 in England in the East Midlands, Leicestershire in Charnwood - the PAS record (link) isn't conclusive on this, it immediately was a remarkable, important find, wich nevertheless was 'returned to the finder' - to my luck, because of why it got on the market. The record addressed it stylistically to the Viking Age, perhaps the 11th century.

Two key arguments I think then excist for addressing this object so. From the 11th century (or: approximately) several 'horse related adornments' - like fittings/strap junctions/deviders, stirrup mounts and terminals and harness pendants have been found the last 20, 25 years often in very elobarate decoration/forms. This kind of horse harness decoration, at least found in England, belongs to the late(r) Viking Age.


Then: a man on a horse with a drinking horn. How much Viking would one have it? Or, is it?

The Searcher's Magazine published the object in 2006 (see image) - and was aroused as could be. Addressing it to a drinking horn. Of course, the object would make quite an impression on a drinking horn. Everybody would drink out of your personalized horn, being a Norse man or viking at the time itself and seemingly being of common practise then. But, is it?



The key question is what kind of imagenery we are looking at ?.

The PAS record for example is addressing the animal as 'horse or dog?'. Now, it may seemingly feel strange to ride a dog with a horn in your hand, it might have had deliberately so be depicted. The dog having a common known meaning in the imagery related to the rider with its horn. We have to keep all things in mind, as stated very often here, the smith did not left his portfolio for us.


In the PAS record addings since 2005/2006 have been made to recent finds in Seehausen and Mecklenburg Vorpommern. The Seehausen example does resembles the example, found in England. Yes, there is the 'rider' again, holding a horn with somewhat curled, outstreched arms in front of him. The animal not further to be recognized as the front is missing on this piece. Some distinct differencies in my opinion also. I agree on the similar form, but not its distinct decoration. The example found in England I think is of a more crudely casted decoration, hence the same three dimensional casting witnesses for the great skill of its caster. The more crudely casted imagery wich can be recognised on Anglo-Scandinavian items also.

So, a main research question here is: What seemingly, commonly known - over a larger region - imagery had been used and can it be addressed to imagery known from p.e. mythology?

In the PAS record, a link to 10th- to 12th century Slavic four-faced god figurines holding drinking horns has been pointed out (e.g. one from Zbrucz, Ukraine - see link in the PAS record). Now, first, four-faced god figurines is something different than the one-face figurine we are discussing here.

Another research question wich pops up in my mind is: Isn't the exact meaning of an object not excluseviliy that one, with wich purpose it was casted in the area it was 1) or found or 2) casted or 3) bought from a trader from p.e. another area?


In other words: having been found in England, is it possible that, to the owner, this depiction might have had it roots in Norse mythology? Like a reverse Scandinavian valkyrie artefact/brooch? A man on horse, - if we think of this object as part of the prick spur - the long goad - who had adorned it with such imagenery because it had a special meaning to him? The meaning of: 'If I die on horse in battle, I will go to a good afterlife (Walhalla), strongly underlining its belief with the image of a rider on a horse with a drinking horn (derived from a valkyrie like woman). Call this long-stretches, but without long stretches, our research ground isn't expanding any further. I always try to place myself in the mind of the owner in the time, questioning and second-questioning its thoughts. And one could addresses such thoughts both from the perspective of the smith who made the item, as from the receiver/wearer/user of the artefact. Maybe this sounds revolutionary, but I am just throwing a bal up here. Maybe a research question within itself!


And: of course: leaving aside the question: was the object ever used with the purpose of being part of a prick-spur, as the PAS record states: 'the object has no obvious breaks or signs of fixing it to anything'..

Had the object ever been used, or used just for being 'beautiful', and so never connected to a horses equipment? See for example a sword strap devider where one find of, was used/re-used as a trefoil brooch.


Now, having showed the artefact to James Grham-Campbell, he responded:


I'm afraid that I have to disagree with the PAS record where it states that 'stylistically it belongs to the Viking Age' - and likewise Scott's claim that its 'decorative scheme is clearly Scandinavian'. Why should this be from 11thC rather than the 12th?





For me, the animal-head displays no convincing Scandinavian characteristics - and conical helmets are standard for the 12thC!


Then: If so, and being from the 12th century, could the Charnwood example be of Anglo-Norman origin, using a known depiction/decoration from another area. And, if, possibly being of Anglo-Norman origin, imaging the of course, well known imagery of cavalry men, feasting before or afterwards with drinking from a drinking horn, as an image on the Bayeux tapestry clearly shows us.


Another key question here is: if the horse(like) part of the prick-spur doesn't appear to be Scandinavian, what is it then? Is the type of (overall) execution to be recognized in other artefacts from Anglo-Norman origin? Or does it unmistakingly has its firm ground in the area in - nowadays - Germany where similar(like) (parts of) objects have been found in other type of artefacts distinctively from that area/region?


For the Anglo-Norman questions, maybe Steve Ashley can be consulted as he published an article Anglo-Norman elite objects from castle and countryside in Castles and the Anglo-Norman world.

If not by himself, he - or maybe Kevin Leahy from the PAS, or Barry Ager - formerly curator Early Middle Ages of the British Museum will add their thoughts in this 'growing document'.



Firmly - 'to be continued'..