PAS Finds

PAS Finds: week ended 27 May 2022

PAS Finds: week ended 27 May 2022

My selection of the finds recorded at the PAS for the week ended 27 May 2022 include a Nationally Important circular mount of Medusa. 

Featured Find

Roman mount depicting Medusa

Photo: Bristol City Council
Object type: Mount
Period: Roman
Primary material: Copper alloy
Date found: 02/05/2022
Location: Stroud, Gloucestershire

A copper alloy circular mount depicting the head of Medusa. The workmanship is of high quality and the condition is outstanding; it has been designated a Find of Note: National Importance.


Medusa was one of three Gorgon sisters. Although her sisters were immortal, she was not. Living snakes formed her hair and her gaze could turn people to stone. In this mount the serpents curl down either side of her face with their heads above and to the sides of Medusa’s eyes. Particular attention has been paid to her eyes; sheet silver has been applied to each eye with the centre cut out to represent a pupil.

Perseus decapitates Medusa

King Polydectes of Seriphus was trying to force Perseus’s mother into marriage. Perseus was in the way and so Polydectes decided to send him on what he thought was an impossible mission “Fetch me the head of Medusa“. However, the gods helped him; a mirrored shield from Athena, winged sandals from Hermes, Hades’s cap of invisibility and a sword from Hephaestus.

Perseus with the head of Medusa and decapitated body below by Cellini.
Photo: Morio, CC By SA3.0

Perseus avoided Medusa’s gaze by using the reflection in Athena’s mirrored shield. He returned to Seriphus with her decapitated head and used it to turn Polydectes to stone.

Medusa’s double edged power

Perseus then gave the head to Athena, who placed it on her shield. Versions of the story with Athena giving out Medusa’s blood and hair to friends and family. These had the power to kill or raise from the dead.

The use of Medusa on Athena’s shield also serves the dual purpose of to protect (from supernatural forces) and to scare off enemies. Continuing to live despite being decapitated also linked her to the idea of continuity and longevity.

These were all very desirable properties in the ancient world and hence Medusa became a popular image in the Roman Empire, adorning a vast array of both military and domestic objects.

Use of this mount

This mount has five small holes on the outside edge. Their size indicates that they were probably used for attaching to a casket or similar, with the intention of invoking Medusa’s powers.

Selection of other finds

Photo: Bristol City Council CC By SA2.0

Medieval purse shaped badge

There are only a few examples on the PAS of badges of a similar design of a bag. Possibly a lucky charm for a merchant or a pilgrims badge.
Photo: The Portable Antiquities Scheme CC By SA2.0

Merovingian tremissis, ‘National Series’ 

A Merovingian tremissis of the “mint and moneyer” or “National Series” type dating to c. AD580-670. It is the first example of its type to be recorded at the PAS and has been designated a Find of Note: Regional Importance.
Photo: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service CC By SA2.0

Anglo-Saxon hand bell

An iron bell dating to 700 – 1000 that may have been used for ecclesiastical purposes or as an animal bell. It is a Find of Note: County Importance.
Photo: The Portable Antiquities Scheme CC By SA2.0

Miniature Axe Head

A miniature axe, probably Roman, with a circular hole drilled after casting. A Find of Note.
Photo: Birmingham Museums Trust CC By SA2.0

Figurine from a pipe tamper

Although the figure of a man with exaggerated genitals can point towards a depiction of Priapus, the wearing of a hat probably indicates that this is from a humorous pipe tamper, dating to 1600 – 1800.
Photo: Surrey County Council CC By SA2.0

Halfpenny token of Thomas Wood

Thomas Wood was an auctioneer in London. This token, dated 1811, has a lot of writing for its size: “THOMAS WOOD. BROKER, AUCTIONEER & GENERAL AGENT. SALES OF ESTATES, HOUSES, MANUFACTURED GOODS, AND MISCELLANEOUS PROPERTY, SPEEDILY EFFECTED WITHOUT RISK. PUBLIC AUCTIONS EVERY DAY AT 12. PRIVATE ORDERS FOR ALL KINDS OF GOODS PUNCTUALLY EXECUTED.” This obviously didn’t drum up as much business as hoped as he was declared bankrupt two years later and his premises burnt down in 1816.
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