Trip report: Ædwen’s brooch

So this past weekend my wife and I went to Ely to check out this new Aedwen’s Brooch exhibit. It’s an interesting thing: a late Anglo-Saxon disc brooch found in Sutton in the 17th century. It went missing for a bit, then surfaced in a private collection in the 50s and wound up in the British Museum. Now they’ve sent it to the local museum for a bit, which I think is rather a good idea. ps076851_l

So this is the brooch itself, although the image doesn’t give you a sense of the scale of the thing; it’s just under 15 cm across (nearly 6 inches).

The main notable thing about Ædwen’s brooch is that it has an inscription on the reverse — well, actually it has two! That’s how we know the owner’s name:

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So not only is it an inscription; it’s a curse. That’s good value for money; everyone likes a good curse. And not only that, but the second inscription is a runic inscription that doesn’t make any damn sense. That’s not uncommon for runic inscriptions; it may be because by this date the runes were not generally understood and were just for looks (although to the modern eye they don’t look like much — and they’re on the reverse of the brooch) or it may be because they were thought to be magical in some way.

The “mystery” referred to is what this piece was doing in a hoard — and you can vote on what you think the answer was, using little replica Anglo-Danish coins!

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As you can see, the boring but probably correct answer is well in the lead.

It’s a fascinating brooch, is what I’m saying, and they try to tie it in to helping people (particularly younger museum visitors) learn about the Anglo-Saxon period generally, although that’s not the focus of the museum as a whole.

As for the museum generally, it’s a good little local-history museum. It used to be a jail (so did the museum in Norwich Castle — seems like one of those things), and there’s a strange and humorous little diorama of prisoners arguing and/or repenting the night before a hanging — dummies and recorded dialogue and so on.

I did spot something a bit out-of-place in one display. Here’s an image of the Roman invasion of Britain:

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Now, in looking this up I learned that there actually is evidence for the manica in 1st-century AD Britain, but look at those guys on the right and the weapons they’re carrying. Do they look a bit … Dacian to anyone else?

Anyway, that’s a quibble. It’s an interesting brooch and I thought the exhibit was small but simple and enjoyable.

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Trip report: Ædwen’s brooch

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