Where water wells up from the earth: excavations at the findspot of the Late Bronze Age Broadward hoard, Shropshire

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Macehead (Fiona Roe)

Part of a macehead was found in a nineteenth century deposit consisting of dumping into the fill of a stream (fig 13). The surviving end is flattened, while the macehead is broken across the shafthole and was also split in two lengthwise so that the fragment now measures just 52.5 by 45 by 30mm, with a weight of 117g. It is light brown in colour and the surface is smooth but with a series of small cracks that are suggestive of burning; this may also have caused further damage at the more complete end. The shafthole is basically cylindrical and smoothly made but bored at an angle. The macehead was not thin sectioned but appears to be made from a quartzite pebble and this may account for the slightly uneven shape, with one side more curved than the other, while the hardness of the material would have caused some difficulty in boring the hole, so that it is not quite central. Quartzite was used to make 20% of maceheads for which petrological identifications are available, so the choice of material is not unusual.

The flattened end is a decisive feature, since it differs from the rounded ends of Neolithic Ovoid, Pestle and Cushion maceheads75 and this detail suggests that the fragment belongs within a smaller number of Early Bronze Age maceheads with central, straight-bored shaftholes.76 The most recent review of these later examples commented on the disparate forms that appear after about 2000 cal BC.77 It seems most likely that the fragment from Broadward could belong in the Largs group,78 which encompasses a dozen or so maceheads with flattened ends and is named after a Scottish find associated with a tripartite cinerary urn. This however has incised decoration around the shafthole, reminiscent of the grooved ornament found on some later Scottish battle-axes. A better comparison can be made with the macehead found in barrow C39 at Towthorpe, Yorks East Riding.79 This macehead is somewhat problematical however, since Mortimer does not state that it was restored at one end, and the plaster remodelling is barely shown in his illustration, although it may approximate to the outline he must originally have seen in the ground. This macehead was found with an inhumation burial and associated with a flint knife and a bronze dagger that is related in form to one of those from the Bush Barrow assemblage.80

It appears more usual for Largs group maceheads, when associated, to be found with cremation burials. Three Scottish examples are known but these maceheads are all larger and relatively broader than the Broadward one, as is the example found in a cist at Cleughead Farm, Glenbervie, which has been dated to 1730–1540 cal BC,81 placing it within Needham’s period 4.82 Another of these maceheads occurred with a cremation in a Cordoned Urn at Cambusbarrow83 while at Larg a number of cinerary urns containing cremations were found, although the macehead and further cinerary urn sherds were recovered separately. Other centrally bored maceheads of varying forms have also been recorded in association with cremations.84 If the find from Broadward belonged with another such cremation burial, the cremation process could account for the traces of burning that have been noted above.

It is only possible to suggest a wide dating range for Largs group maceheads, which are likely to fall within Needham’s Early Bronze Age periods 3 and 4 between around 1950 and 1550/1500 cal BC85 and so some thousand years later than the main series of maceheads. If the comparison with the macehead found at Towthorpe holds good, the Broadward macehead could also be approximately contemporary with the grave group from West Overton G. 1, which included a bronze axe of Willerby type comparable with that from the Bush barrow assemblage.86 The West Overton grave group is now dated to 2020–1770 cal BC,87 providing a link with period 3 or slightly earlier than that, while other Scottish Largs group maceheads could belong within period 4, as does the one from Cleughead Farm. At Broadward the macehead cannot be contemporary with the hoard of bronze objects, which must be later. Maceheads with centrally positioned shaftholes do not generally occur within Wessex itself,88 the Bush Barrow example being a somewhat anomalous find, as is that from Clandon, Dorset89 so that a burial with one of these uncommon maceheads on the Shropshire–Herefordshire border would not be out of place.

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