The oldest gay in the Stone Age village

I’d never qualify as an archaeologist. Some seem to be masters in imaginative writing when it comes to the interpretation of archaeological data and that’s a quality I lack. Often their storytelling allows us non-specialists to understand the past, and that’s a good thing is it not? But I do think that a lot of archaeology is based on imagination. Different ‘experts’ can dig the same sites or look at the items we present for appraisal, and reach completely different conclusions.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what people in the past were thinking and believing, especially without having access to substantial written historical records. There is always the bias of their own culture. We don’t have a voice from the past to help us. The archaeologist’s interpretation is all we have to go on at the present time.

Consider the obvious material clues as found in a Saxon grave I witnessed being excavated. The grave goods were of good quality and interpreted as belonging to a person of high status – and that’s a reasonable conclusion, but they could equally have belonged to a thief. What is the current jargon? Thinking outside the box!

The skeleton was found in a Prague suburb with its head pointing eastwards and surrounded by domestic jugs – rituals only previously seen in female graves. Men would normally be buried with weapons, hammers and flint knives. Courtesy of Europics

Where is all this leading you may ask? I came across a story of a late Stone Age man unearthed during excavations in the Czech Republic. According to archaeologists, the way he was buried suggested that he was of a different sexual persuasion. The first known gay caveman! But not everyone is convinced!

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The Imitation Spade Guinea Token, J Sainsbury and General Mite

‘IN MEMORY OF THE GOOD OLD DAYS’ – © UKDFD 53905
PROBABLY THE MOST COMMON OF THE GEORGE III SPADE GUINEA GAMING COUNTERS

There is an extensive series of over 1,000 different Imitation Spade Guineas, issued not in gold but in brass or bronze. Some are gilt which can make it look like gold and this often causes confusion. They were mostly struck during the reign of Queen Victoria, but to avoid the Counterfeit Laws they usually have the bust of King George III on the obverse and sometimes the reverse includes the spade shaped shield – hence the name ‘spade guinea’. The token below is a detecting find by ‘Waspman’, an advertising token recorded on the UKDFD No.30642.

An advertising token of J Sainsbury, possibly from the last issue of its type, which was distributed in 1913 to celebrate the opening of a new branch at Haymarket, Norwich. Sainsbury’s was founded in 1869 by John James and Mary Ann Sainsbury, who opened their first shop in Drury Lane, London. The token is modelled on the popular gaming counters of the late 19th century, which themselves were modelled on the guineas of George III. The tokens were handed out to customers as a means of spreading the word about the store and to remind them to return.

from the UKDFD

The tokens were made by manufacturers in Birmingham, and bought in vast quantities by many retailers to be stamped with their own devices, and given away to customers. Although these tokens had no monetary value and could not be exchanged for goods, customers collected them in large numbers for use as toy money or gaming tokens – and they proved to be a highly successful advertising gimmick for many types of businesses.

Several designs were issued between 1882 and 1913. For example, some tokens (like my example) have the inscription J.SAINSBURY PROVISION MERCHANT OPPOSITE WEST CROYDON STATION on one side and and bust of George III with inscription WHOLESALE DEPOT LONDON N.W on the other.

Others have the inscription J.SAINSBURY DEALER IN POULTRY & GAME SEVEN SISTERS RD, J. SAINSBURY HIGH CLASS PROVISION MERCHANT SEVEN SISTERS RD and J SAINSBURY SPECIAL DELICACIES TABLE SEVEN SISTERS RD N’ on one side and heraldic shield and inscription J.SAINSBURY CHIEF DEPOT BLACKFRIARS on the reverse.

‘Simply Tokens – Pretty and Attractive’

Press cutting from the Newbury Weekly News featuring an article on spade guineas. One of the intentions was to reassure a confused public that the tokens issued by Sainsbury’s were not real guineas. By kind permission of the Sainsbury Archive

One of the interesting and fascinating things about a detecting find of this nature is the research you can do afterwards. It may be a cliche, but we do learn something every day. The Sainsbury token has increased our knowledge of local history, but my second example is perhaps more interesting . . .

One can’t go into so much detail unearthing a Roman brooch or coin . . . the available information is basic. Nevertheless, the majority of detectorists consider these finds are more important and prefer them to a token they erroneously believe is mundane and not worth a Trumpian dance of delight.

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A Ringside Cliffhanger

A Clifton Gorge Ringside Cliffhanger

“Raf’s whole being was shaking, not because of a fear of heights, but for what he was about to do.”

The world stood still as Raphael watched the box containing an engagement ring careering down the side of the cliff. “You can imagine how I felt,” he said, “pretty wretched.”

That Saturday morning Raf Woolf and his girlfriend Amy Colson had set off to climb the Avon Gorge in Bristol, the best city crag in the world. Raf is a romantic. Halfway up the cliff he had intended tying a ribbon around a platinum and diamond engagement ring and hanging it up so Amy could find it … but it didn’t quite work out like that! In mitigation an embarrassed Raf told me that it had been a “pretty scary climb”, and getting rather late in the day.

When they reaching the top they made themselves safe, Raf tying himself to a tree. He was happy and elated; now was the moment! He reached in a pocket for the ring-box lovingly wrapped with that ribbon and began to open it. Somewhat graphically, he described the action as “unfurling a toilet roll.”

Trembling Hands

Raf’s whole being was shaking, not because of a fear of heights, but for what he was about to do. Alas, the small box slipped from his trembling hands, rolled down the hill and disappeared over the cliff. Desperately he donned a head torch and abseiled down, frantically searching for the errant ring.

Above him, Amy could see what was happening, but couldn’t really understand what was going on. “What are you doing?” she screamed. Raf shouted back the first thing that came into his head … that he’d dropped the car keys.

Despite frantic efforts in the near darkness, it was proving to be a hopeless task. “To hell with it. Now was the moment. I went back up, sorted the ropes and sheepishly said to Amy that I had a confession to make. When I told her my intentions and then losing the ring, she sobbed. Will you marry me anyway? I asked, which made her cry even more, and a little noisily, but she managed to say yes!”

Picture © David Talbot

Raf and Amy decided to return early the next morning and retrace their route up the cliff. Raf said, “Quite frankly, as we abseiled down the Gorge, I didn’t hold out much hope in locating the ring. Half way down, and after about two hours searching I DID find the empty box.”

In the meantime Amy’s dad, Bill Colson, was trying to contact help via the Internet. What followed admirably showed what could be achieved with cooperation between detectorists. Via a convoluted route involving Ken Watson, a helpful member of Cardiff Scan Club, Bill found just the man!

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