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The Winchester Hanging Bowl

The Winchester Hanging Bowl was found in an Anglo-Saxon grave during excavations led by local archaeologist W J Andrew at Oliver's Battery, near Winchester, in 1930

Made of beaten bronze, with two spirally decorated enamelled and tinned roundels on the inside and the underside of the base, the bowl bears a further three roundels terminating in hooks shaped like aquatic birds on the rim. The best parallels for the spiral designs are to be found in the Book of Durrow, a late 7th century manuscript now housed at Trinity College, Dublin, suggesting that the bowl was acquired through trade, as a gift, or commissioned from a British or Irish metalworker.

The hanging bowl seems to have been designed to be filled with clear liquid, so that the internal basal roundel could still be seen when it was in use. The provision of suspension hooks suggests that it was stored hanging from the rafters, so that the roundel on the underside was visible. In a Christian context, one might envisage the clear liquid to be holy water, and such a bowl to form part of the 'church plate'. Ostentatious display of treasure and use at secular feasts in an Anglo-Saxon hall might also be imagined.

Oliver's Battery Burial

In August 1930, archaeologists arrived on the site of the old earthwork at Oliver's Battery, two miles to the south-west of Winchester. As they dug into the ditch, they discovered the skeleton of an Anglo-Saxon man, aged 25 to 30, about 5 feet 9 inches tall. On his breast was a rare and beautiful bowl of beaten bronze, with bright red enamelled fittings and suspension hooks each one in the shape of a heron's head.

There were two other objects with the burial, a fine 'seax' or long knife with a silver pommel, probably used for hunting, and a javelin, now very fragile and corroded. Local archaeologist W J Andrew had set out to investigate the date of the earthwork, and instead turned up this unexpected find- which, at least showed, of course, that it must be earlier than Anglo-Saxon, and not constructed by Oliver Cromwell's troops, even if it had been used by them.

The prominent position of the grave on the earthwork and the quality of the grave goods proclaim the high social status of the dead man. As the bowl was dated to the late 7th or 8th century, he may have been amongst the last in Winchester to have been buried in the pagan Anglo-Saxon manner, rather than in a churchyard. The provision of the bowl may also express hopes for him in the next world at a time when many had been converted to Christianity, but the old heroic ways of life- and death- had not quite passed.

Object Details

Anglo-Saxon, late 7th or 8th century AD

Diameter 287mm. Height 124mm.

Object number: HMCMS:A2007.31.1