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02.02.2021

Cwm Nant Col Hoard

In 1918, a manganese miner worker discovered a remarkable treasure hoard near Llanbedr in Gwynedd.

The treasure was hidden in a depression under a large rock on the uneven ground on the south side of Cwm Nant Col.

What makes the treasure so interesting is not only the wide range of items, from a beautiful deer-shaped vessel (known as an aquamanil , used for pouring water) to bronze pans, a small water jug (known as a water jug.) ) - But also their date. Most hoards of metalwork found in Wales tend to be prehistoric, but this one was late medieval.

One of the earliest items in the hoard is an aquamanil, dating from the late 13th to early 14th centuries. Made of copper alloy, it has a hinged lid on the head of a deer, allowing the hollow vessel to be filled with water. A short spout comes out of the mouth. It was cast in one piece, demonstrating the exceptional skill of its creator. It was used for ceremonial hand washing in church or monastery or at a festive table. Although the stag has lost its antlers, it remains a fine example of this type of vessel.

The copper alloy jug is identical to the one found at Strata Florida Abbey. The shape and alloy composition of both of these vessels suggest parallels with 15th century examples made from tin.

One copper-alloy cauldron, two pans, and a tray from the hoard had a more down-to-earth purpose, being typical 15th-century kitchen items, albeit relatively wealthy. The rest of the hoard was made of iron and included an axe and fragments of firedogs.

The composition of the aquamanil alloy contains more lead than zinc and tin, suggesting that it was made in Germany. The jug may have been made in France or England. The cauldron and pans were made of lead bronze; the proportions of tin, zinc and antimony indicated that they were made in the 14th or 15th centuries.

The variety of items in the hoard and their worn condition suggests that they were collected as scrap metal by an itinerant craftsman, probably in the early 16th century. Why did he bury his goods on the hillside?

The answer may have to do with the poor supply of copper in Britain in the second half of the sixteenth century and the laws that controlled the trade in bronze and brass. These laws were also designed to prevent the export of scrap metal that could be used to make cannons.

Consequently, the tinker could have concealed the treasure he collected illegally, which could have been subject to confiscation. Alternatively, if he had bought the treasure from the market legally, he might have hidden it temporarily while he tried to find more items for it.

As to where he may have hoped to sell his scrap, he may have been headed for Chester or through Welshpool to the West Midlands, one of the most active areas of metal production at the time.

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