Jewelry is an ancient concept—from scarab rings to gold torques to bone piercings. This type of decoration spans across cultures, continents, and centuries. Countless examples from different periods have survived and can be found in museums today. Excitingly, a particularly rare piece of ancient jewelry will soon go on display, conserved and ready for inspection by a curious public. The Cheddar Brooch—an over 1,000-year-old silver and copper brooch—will be on view at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton, England, in all its delicate intricacy.
Discovered in 2020 by a metal detectorist in the town of Cheddar, the 4.5-inch-wide pin was layered in corrosion from age when it emerged from the earth. Curator of archaeology Amal Khreisheh explains, “Conservation has transformed this fascinating brooch and revealed the intricacies of its design. The fascinating details uncovered include fine scratches on the reverse which may have helped the maker to map out the design. A tiny contemporary mend on the beaded border suggests that the brooch was cherished by its owner and worn for an extended period of time before it was lost. We’re very excited that we can show the brooch in the county where it was found and share it with people in Somerset and beyond through our program of events.”
The brooch was found alone, not buried in a hoard. This suggests it fell and was lost or that it was cast aside by its ancient wearer. However, before this, it was likely a treasured item. The beaded design shows evidence of careful repair after wear. A description of the brooch's design proves how truly exquisite it is: “Interlaced animal and plant designs in bright silver and black ‘niello’ are set against a gilded back panel. The animals represented include wyverns–dragon-like creatures with two legs, wings and long tails, that would later become one of the symbols of Wessex.”
Between 800 or 900 CE, the region was in flux, according to Tom Mayberry of the South West Heritage Trust. “In 878, Alfred the Great rallied his forces in Somerset and defeated the invading Danish army. Wessex was secure, and the foundations had been laid for the creation of a unified English kingdom,” he states. “The Cheddar Brooch comes from a time that was a turning point in English history. We’re delighted that this remarkable object is going on display at the Museum of Somerset.”
Locals and other visitors will be able to swing by the museum and enjoy a piece of shiny history, and perhaps understand this period of local history a bit better.
A brooch discovered in 2020, which is 1,000 years old, has been conserved to display its intricate design.
h/t: [Smithsonian Magazine]