Archaeology

The first archaeological objects were donated to the museum by former Mayor of Doncaster, William Cotterill Clarke. His collection includes some of Doncaster’s earliest and most important prehistoric artefacts.

In the 1930s Professor C.E. Whiting of Durham University undertook several excavations at Sutton Common Prehistoric Marsh Fort, Hampole Medieval Priory and Stancil Roman Villa. His excavations record some of the most interesting and important archaeological sites in the borough, all of which are now scheduled ancient monuments. Many of the objects that he found now form an important part of the museum collections.

The 1950s, 60s and 70s were a time of huge redevelopment in the town. Excavations in Doncaster town centre led to the discovery of the Danum Romano-British shield and the rare and beautiful Medieval French parrot spouted jug.

Treasure Trove law (now the Treasure Act) has provided us with the opportunity to collect and preserve many rare and beautiful treasures found by metal detector users and other members of the public. They include spectacular finds like the Cadeby hoard of Roman coins and bracelets, the Warmsworth hoard of Civil War coins and spoons, and the Norton Anglo-Saxon gold and garnet buckle mount.  Many of these items are on permanent display in Doncaster Museum.


Medieval Gold Finger Ring

Gold coin inscribed with text 'I heit ye trim'

This ring was found in Apy Hill Lane, Tickhill, Doncaster and dates from 1400-1500. By that time, Tickhill had developed into an important medieval town and was a royal manor. The town had regular fairs and markets, and was one of the only places in the country licensed to hold tournaments.

The ring is made from good quality gold, and carries an inscription that reads “I beit ye teim”, which in modern English is “I bide the time”.  The ‘time’ in question is presumably the wedding day, making the ring a token or a pledge by the lover who waits expectantly for the time when the betrothed will be ‘officially’ his wife.

The quality of the ring would suggest that it belonged to a woman of high status. There is very little sign of wear and tear on the ring, suggesting that it may have been lost shortly after it was given to the wearer.

In medieval England, parents often arranged marriages, when the bride and groom were only children. Before the couple was married, there was a long period of courtship, which had to take place in public. It is possible that this ring was a wedding ring as it is made from gold, a tradition established by the Romans.


Norwegian Viking ‘Tortoise’ BroochesTurquoise brooch
From the burial of a Norse Viking woman, near
Adwick-le-Street, Doncaster

The name ‘tortoise’ brooch comes from its oval, shell-like shape. Although similar, these brooches differ in design, quality and the way they were made.

Brooches of this type were normally worn as a matching pair. They were a standard feature of a Norwegian woman’s dress from the 700s to the mid-900s, and were only worn by women of free-born status.

The brooches were made from the casts of an older pair, perhaps those belonging to the woman’s mother. They would be gifted to the woman as she came of age.

Other Turquoise brooch These particular brooches can be dated to 860-900 AD. On the back of them, preserved by the corroded iron pins, are the remains of the fine linen straps (of a woollen dress), and part of a coarse linen or hempen under-tunic.

From these preserved remains, the dress of the woman can be reconstructed. The design on the brooches consists of stylised animals and humans, divided into compartments.

Both brooches are battered and worn, and one shows signs of a hasty repair. An inferior quality brooch has replaced one of the originals. This perhaps suggests that the woman lost one of the original pair, had to find a substitute, but could not afford to obtain one of equal quality. Prior to burial, the silver mounts that adorned the brooches were hastily removed.


Anglo-Saxon Anthropomorphic PendantAnglo-saxon face-shpaed pendant
560-600 AD. From Auckley, Doncaster

This type of pendant is quite unusual as it is a stylistic representation of a human face. The figure seems to be wearing a helmet, from which two locks of hair are protruding on either side of the face.

If you look closely at the pendant, you can see how much detailed work and craftsmanship have gone into creating this object. Two strips of iron indicate the eyebrows, and the eyelashes are represented by incised dots. The eyes themselves are on raised stalks, which possibly held small gemstones or enamel inlay.

Looking at the cheeks, we can see that they were emphasised by two garnet slivers. One of these is now missing, to reveal the silver foil beneath. This would have added depth and colour to the garnet.

Below the nose we can observe two compartments – these probably held enamel inlay or gemstones, to represent the teeth. The entire pendant has been gilded with gold as a finishing touch.

The pendant has some close parallels with the warrior helmet found at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. It was obviously meant to be worn around the neck on a chain, and was perhaps a kind of talisman, or good luck charm. It may even represent an Anglo-Saxon god such as Woden or Odin.

As this item is of exceptional quality, it would be fair to assume that it once belonged to someone of high social standing.


Reconstructed Storage Jar
Late Iron Age, 150 BC-100 AD. From Pickburn, Doncaster

Reconstructed storage jar from the late Iron AgeThis is the only near-complete Iron Age vessel found in Doncaster to date. The pot, from Pickburn Leys, is one of the most important finds from Iron Age Doncaster, and arguably also from South Yorkshire.

It has allowed archaeologists to see the form and manufacture of Iron Age pottery in the area and also disproves a long-held theory that this area was aceramic (without pottery) during the Iron Age.

The pot is very similar in fabric and shape to those made in Lincolnshire, and so may be an import. However, it is equally likely that it was made locally, but copied the more established local potting traditions to the south-east.

Pots such as this would have been used mainly for the storage of food, but were perhaps also employed for cooking on open fires.

Iron Age pottery in South Yorkshire is relatively rare. It is difficult to be sure if this is because it was not manufactured and widely used, or because the pottery itself is very friable and tends to fall to pieces in the ground.


Doncaster Trade Token
Issued by Benjamin Marshall of the Angel Inn

Doncaster trade token Issued by Benjamin Marshall of the Angel Inn

This is a rare survival of a local trade token issued by the landlord of the Angel Inn – one of Doncaster’s most important late medieval taverns. It stood on Frenchgate, where Marks & Spencer now stands, and was known as The Bear In the earlier medieval period.

The inn received many notable visitors, including James I, King of England, who broke his journey to rest there in 1616, and again in 1617. The tavern later became known as the Old Angel Inn.

The name on the token is that of Benjamin Marshall who was the owner of the Angel Inn. He was a person of some repute locally, serving as a captain in the Civil War and being elected Mayor of Doncaster in 1669.

Token coinage was an illegal form of replacement money which began in 1648, during Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth. It was minted and distributed by local businesses all over the country, without the government’s authority, and was created to plug a shortage of official small change.

Token coinage was rendered obsolete when Charles II had new supplies of official coins minted in 1665. A royal proclamation in 1672 banned the use of illegal trade tokens and ordered that they all be melted down. The tokens that survived -like this one – were the ones that got lost, forgotten about or buried.


Collared Urn, Ground Battle-Axe and Accessory Cup
Burial group: early Bronze Age, from Wheatley Lane, Dockin Hill area, Doncaster

This burial group is one of Doncaster’s earliest recorded archaeological discoveries. We know that the collared urn was discovered before 1887, as it is figured (drawn) in, but not mentioned in the text of, John Tomlinson’s Doncaster from the Roman Occupation to the Present Time.

These three objects are recorded separately in the early museum stock book as having come from Doncaster. They are probably survivors of a burial group discovered in 1844. This was described in a letter by William Sheardown Jr to the Doncaster Chronicle:

“An olla, urn or jar, seven inches high was recently found in the sand-pit near Docken Hill; it being made of earth, very light and porous and only sun-dried. It contained a small vessel of similar material which had in it an ornament or some other articles of brass, and it was covered with a large flat earthen pan. Close to it was a celt of polished stone and perforated in the middle for a handle…”

Since there are no other early antiquarian references to Bronze Age burial artefacts such as these, it is reasonable to assume that the three museum items are the surviving objects from this group. What happened to the brass ornament, the flat pot, or the cremated remains hinted to have been stored inside the pot, we will unfortunately never know.

The sand pits can be relatively accurately located, placing this burial somewhere along the western part of Queen’s Street.

Search our collections at the top of this page to find more fascinating objects and archival records in our collections.