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

Later activity at the Broadward spring

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Later activity at the Broadward spring
Later activity on the Shropshire site poses more difficult problems. They are discussed only briefly as they were not the focus of this project. Some confusion attaches to a complete Roman pot discovered with the Late Bronze Age hoard. Although it no longer survives, it was illustrated in 1873 and can be dated to the second or third century AD. There is no evidence of other activity in the vicinity, although there was a series of forts at Leintwardine.103 Again it seems possible that the vessel was deposited in the spring as an offering, but of course that cannot be proved.104 It could have been contemporary with part of a shale bracelet found in the excavation, but this artefact is more likely to date from the Late Bronze Age.

Radiocarbon dating suggests that deposits of animal bones accumulated around the spring during two main periods: between about AD 680 and 900, and again between AD 1430 and 1650. The bones from a palaeochannel are little earlier and have a date of AD 1330 to 1430. Although they could be interpreted as chance finds, it may be more than a coincidence that their distribution should emphasise the position of the spring and that, with one exception, no other material of the same date was represented in the excavated areas.

The radiocarbon dates from context 1031 which contained the wooden knife / dagger and the bones of a cat fall between about AD 1480 and 1650. That may be significant as Sir Keith Thomas’s book Religion and the Decline of Magic shows how witchcraft and magic remained important in England until the seventeenth century AD.105 It may be no coincidence that this was when the Broadward spring appears to have lost its significance. There is no need to argue that the site was used continuously. The distinctive character of the sites and their secluded location might have attracted attention more than once.

The seventeenth century deposit has features in common with those in standing buildings. They includes knives and the remains of cats which seem to have been intended as protection against witchcraft,106 but until recently similar material had not been discussed in relation to springs. A new development is the discovery of a series of pits in a similar environment at Saveock Water in Cornwall.107 They contain deposits which are far more striking than any of those described in this paper. Among their contents are feathers, birds’ claws, eggs, pieces of quartz, human hair and nail clippings, fragments of textile, and pins. There are the bones of pigs and dogs, and one remarkable deposit contains the teeth, whiskers and claws of a cat: a species which is also represented in the latest phase at Broadward. The two sites can be compared with one another as there are post-medieval dates for some of the pits at Saveock. In this case there is circumstantial evidence that the deposits were associated with witchcraft.

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