Iron objects by Patrick Ottaway

The objects discussed and catalogued are either from stratified Anglian / Anglo-Scandinavian contexts or are typologically likely to be of these periods. Undiagnostic unstratified or modern objects are not included.



  1. Blade back is straight to a point 33mm from the shoulder and then becomes convex and curves down to the tip which is at half the blade's width. Cutting edge slightly convex. Tang incomplete. L.78; blade: L.56, W.13, T.3mm; COT93, 1004, sf83

  2. Blade back is straight and upward sloping to point 36mm from the shoulder before sloping down at c.14 to the tip. Cutting edge a very slight S-shape. A groove runs along the top of each blade face. Tang incomplete. L.90; blade: L.75, W.14, T.5mm; COT93, unstratified, sf107

  3. Blade back is straight and slopes up to a point 25mm from the shoulder and then slopes down at c.22 to the tip. Cutting edge S-shaped. Tang incomplete. L.73; blade: L.48, W.13, T.3.5mm; COT93, unstratified, sf109

  4. Blade tip. L.33, W.14mm; COT93, 1000, sf115

  5. Blade incomplete, shoulder concave, tang complete. L.70; blade:L.17, W.15, T.5mm; COT95, unstratified, sf3

  6. Blade back slopes up to a point 21mm from shoulder and then curves down to the tip. Cutting edge straight before curving up at the tip. Sloping shoulder. Tang incomplete. L.74; blade:L.54, W.14, T.5mm; COT95, 4002, sf159

For a discussion of the knife classification on which this report is based see Ottaway 1992, 558-82.

Knives 2-3 have the distinctive form in which the back passes through an angle at about the mid-point and then slopes down to the tip. What is often known as the ‘angle-back' occurs in early Anglo-Saxon contexts, but becomes common in the mid - late Anglo- Saxon periods, making up c.20% or more of such assemblages as that of mid ninth - mid eleventh century date from 16-22 Coppergate (Ottaway 1992, 561-5). Knives 2 and 3 both have the variant of the form in which the rear part of the back slopes upwards from the shoulder, as opposed to being horizontal, before the angle. Evison (1969, 332-3) is probably correct in suggesting this is an introduction of the ‘post-pagan period'. The two variants occur in equal numbers in the Middle Saxon period. Knife 3 has a groove near the top of each blade face. Such grooves are common features on Anglo-Saxon knives and most common on those with the angle-back (Ottaway 1992, 579-81). Knife 6 is very similar to 2-3, but the front part of the back is convex rather than straight (back form C2; Ottaway 1992, 570). Knife 1 has a back which is straight and horizontal from the shoulder before becoming convex and curving down to the tip which is at about half the blade's width. Knives of this form are very common throughout the Anglo-Saxon period. Knife 5 has an incomplete blade and no diagnostic features survive.

Pivoting Knife Fragment

  1. One notch and incomplete rivet hole visible. L.70, W.12mm; COT93, 3000, sf116

Probably the fragment of a pivoting knife (see Ottaway 1992, 586-8 for details). The type was current in the eighth - tenth centuries.

Sickle Fragment

  1. Curved blade fragment. L.60, W.22, T.9mm; COT93, 1074, sf75


  1. Object of rectangular cross-section which tapers to a tip now bent and broken. Thick end is rounded. L.70, W.12mm; COT93, unstratified, sf110

A tapering object which is rounded at the thicker end. Its function is difficult to determine and it has no known parallels. It is most likely that the thinner end functioned as a tang set in a wooden handle leaving the thicker end for use - possibly in the chasing or shaping of non-ferrous metalwork.

Wool Comb

  1. Fragmentary, but consists of remains of wooden board in which 16-18 teeth of rounded cross-section are set to a depth of c.15mm alternately in two rows. Teeth: L.85, T.6mm; COT93, 1004, sf61

Comb Teeth

  1. Rectangular cross-section, stepped head. L95mm; COT93, 1003, sf23

  2. Stepped head. L.90mm; COT93, 1003, sf42

  3. Incomplete L.80mm; COT93, 3002, sf24

  4. Rounded cross-section, stepped head. L.86mm; COT93, 1000, sf117

  5. Rounded cross-section, stepped head. L.80mm; COT93, 1000, sf118

  6. Rounded cross-section. L.103, T.5mm; COT93, 3000, sf119

The wool comb, No.10, is in a fragmentary condition, but it was clearly similar to the more complete comb recovered from an Anglo-Scandinavian context from York (Ottaway 1992, 539, fig.212). The teeth, c.85mm long, were set to a depth of c.15mm in a wooden board alternately in two rows. The board was bound with an iron sheet (No.26 may have been a fragment) and would have developed on one side into a handle. The teeth (c.18 in all) have the characteristic stepped head which was formed when they were severed from the parent strip. In addition, the site has produced another six teeth, some probably from this comb and two further pieces of sheet (23, 25) which, like 26, may have been part of the binding.

Wool combs were used in pairs to prepare wool for spinning by removing short fibres and foreign matter, and causing the remaining fibres to lie parallel (for further discussion see Ottaway 1992, 538-40, and Walton 1989, 315-6).

Teeth of early Anglo-Saxon date have been found at Shakenoak Farm (Brown 1972, 106, fig.51, 296-310; 1973, 134-6), but the earliest complete combs known are, perhaps, a pair from a late seventh century female grave at Lechlade (Miles and Palmer 1986, 17). Other middle Anglo-Saxon combs come from Canterbury (Cakebread Robey site, sf790), Hamwic (Six Dials site, SOU169, sf1975) and Wicken Bonhunt (Goodall and Ottaway, forthcoming, sf379a/b).

It may finally be noted that recent research by P. Walton Rogers suggests that flax could not be processed with these combs, but would require teeth set in a fixed base.


  1. Incomplete head with eye formed by punching. L.34, T.1mm; COT93, 3022, sf120

The punched eye is comparable to many Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Scandinavian examples (Ottaway 1992, 544-8).


  1. Tang has a rectangular cross-section, tip missing, mineralised remains of wooden handle. Working arm develops a diamond-shaped cross-section towards the tip. L.113, W.7mm; COT93, 3002, sf15

The working arm identifies No.18 as a leather worker's awl (Attwater 1961, 28).

Structural Ironwork and Fittings

Pierced strip

  1. Broken over piercing at each end. Notches cut into the edges of one face. Plated. L.29, W.6, T.1mm; COT95, 4000, sf80

Plated Nail

  1. hort with a sub-spherical head. L.27, W.7mm; COT93, unstratified, sf121


  1. L.32; COT93, 1000, sf122

  2. U-shaped. L.40mm; COT93, unstratified, sf123

Broken Fittings

  1. Folded-over plate, broken at one end and rounded at the other, pierced. Plated with tin-lead. L.25, W.17mm; COT93, 1080, sf70

  2. Strip with D-shaped cross-section bent back on itself into a C-shape. Broken at one end and at the other probably formed into a simplified animal head terminal. There are criss-cross grooves cut into the convex face. Plated with tin-lead. L.28, W.16, T.4mm; COT93, 3000, sf111

  3. Pierced plate fragment. Plated. L.22, W.20mm; COT93, 3096, sf84

  4. Plate with one corner suggesting a box fragment - possibly binding from the wool comb no.10. L.50, W.32mm; COT93, 1003, sf45

No.24 is probably a piece of a larger tin-plated fitting which has been broken or bent back on itself. At the unbroken end it has what is probably a very simplified animal head terminal. It has a D-shaped cross-section and on the convex face (originally the upper surface) there are criss-cross grooves. Fittings, either small hinges or mounts, with similar cross-section and decorative treatment including animal head terminals have been found in tenth century contexts at York (Ottaway 1992, 631, 641).

Nos.23, 25, and 19 are probably fragments of mounts from caskets, although 25 might come from a buckle-plate. No.19 has small notches cut into the edges of one face. All three objects are tin-plated.

Hinge Strap

  1. Head of hinge strap with surviving connexion link. L.27, W.20mm; COT93, 3000, sf124

The surviving link fitted into the eye of a second strap to form a chest hinge of standard Anglo-Saxon form (Ottaway 1992, 623-5).

Hinge Fitting

  1. Consists of incomplete loop and head of a strap, broken across the piercing. L.40, W.17, T.5mm; COT95, unstratified, sf23

Either the head a chest hinge strap or part of a hinge with a strap either side of a U-shaped eye (Ottaway 1992, 637-9).

Vessel Suspension Fitting

  1. Consists of incomplete loop and strap. L.35, W.20, T.2mm; COT95, 4000, sf164

Chain Links

  1. Incomplete, probably oval link. L.43, W.34mm; COT93, 3081, sf58

  2. Incomplete oval link. L.50, W.35mm; COT93, 2000, sf125

  3. Seven incomplete elongated oval links, rounded cross-section. L.42, W.20mm; COT93, 3000, sf126

  4. Oval link. L.30, W.22mm; COT93, unstratified, sf127


  1. Sub-rectangular cross-section (? chain link) D.37mm; COT93, 1002, sf114

  2. Half a ring? (or circular buckle frame). Plated. D.41, T.4mm; COT95, unstratified, sf83

  3. D.12, T.2mm; COT95, 4242, sf154

No.35 is half a ring or circular buckle frame; it is plated. No.36 is a small washer-like object.

Dress Fittings


  1. Sub-spherical head, collar around head of shank which is bent and cracking in places. Plated with tin-lead. L.55, D.3mm; COT93, 3003, sf86

  2. Spherical head, now cracked, collar around the head of the shank. Plated with tin-lead. L.26, T.3; head: D.9mm; COT93, 3000, sf105

  3. Biconical head; in top half six short grooves radiate from the tip. A collar runs around the head of the shank which is incomplete. Plated with tin-lead. L.21, T.3; head: D.8mm; COT93, unstratified, sf104

  4. Spherical head; around the widest part runs a groove and above it a collar with indentations in it. Shank incomplete. Plated with tin-lead. L.32, T.3; head: D.8mm; COT93, 1000, sf106

  5. Spherical head, shank tip broken. Plated with tin-lead. L.30, T.2; head: D.5mm; COT93, unstratified, sf108

  6. Spherical head, shank incomplete. Plated, probably tin-lead. L.27mm; COT93, unstratified, sf128

  7. Sub-spherical head, shank incomplete. L.19mm; COT93, 3014, sf129

There are seven small iron pins. Six have spherical or sub-spherical heads and one (No.39) has a biconical head. Six are plated with tin-lead alloy, the exception being No.43. Cut into the top of the head of No.39 are six short grooves radiating from the tip. Running around the widest part of the head of No.40 is a groove above which is a collar with small indentations in it. Moulded collars can be found at the head of the shanks of Nos.37-39.

Small spherical-headed iron pins, probably for use in dress or hair, appear, like those in non-ferrous metals, to be common in eighth - ninth century contexts. Other examples come from 16-22 Coppergate and Fishergate, York (Ottaway 1992, 693; Rogers 1993, 1367), Wicken Bonhunt (Goodall and Ottaway forthcoming, sf375) and Flixborough which has produced over 100. Tin plating is usual, although some examples have a non-ferrous head. The additional decoration on the heads of pins 39-40 from Cottam has, however, no exact parallel.

Strap End

  1. Badly corroded and broken at each end. It appears to be formed from two tapering plates welded together at their narrower end. The surface of one plate has at its narrower end a field with short diagonal grooves running along the sides (in opposing directions); at the wider end there are one or more fields with a St Andrew's cross flanked by a pair of grooves on each side. It was pierced for attachment at the wider end. Plated with tin-lead. L.45, W.10; COT93, unstratified, sf103

Probably an incomplete strap end formed from two tapering plates welded together at their narrower end. The surface of one has a pattern of grooves cut into it which includes a St Andrew's cross motif at the wider end. The object is plated with tin-lead.

Iron strap ends are not common, but another middle Anglo-Saxon specimen, made in a similar way to No.44 and inlaid with silver, comes from Ramsbury (Evison, 1980, fig.20, 6). Five Anglo-Scandinavian examples, including two which taper towards the tip, come from 16-22 Coppergate, York (Ottaway 1992, 690-1).

Horse Equipment

Snaffle Bit Link

  1. Snaffle bit link. Shank has sub-rectangular cross-section and expands slightly in the centre. L.95mm; COT93, 1000, sf130

No.45 could be Anglo-Saxon. Examples of snaffle bits with two joined links very similar to No.45 and ring cheek pieces come from middle Anglo-Saxon contexts at Thwing and Wicken Bonhunt. It should be noted, however, that very similar bits were used throughout medieval and post-medieval times.

In addition a number of nails of various types, and other fragments were recovered.


The small group of ironwork from COT93 appears to be typical of what might be expected from an occupation site of Anglian / Middle Saxon date. Particularly diagnostic, perhaps, are the seven pins and, as far as a terminus post quem is concerned, the presence of objects, including the pins, which bear tin-lead plating. This method of treating objects for decorative and anti-corrosive purposes can not, at present, be dated before c.700 AD

The ironwork from COT95 contains no diagnostic objects apart from the knife No.6 which cannot be more closely dated than to the Anglian or Anglo-Scandinavian periods.