Jet 'Napkin' Ring

Marsh House Farm, Greatham




Greg Speed

We haven’t looked at any jet objects recently, and none from pre-Roman times, so here is a find from NAA’s excavation at Marsh House Farm, Greatham, in Teesside. The object, found in the ring-gully of a Middle Bronze Age roundhouse, is high-quality hard jet. It is about one-third of a concave-sided ring with one edge flared more than the other. The ring is 17mm high and would have had a diameter of about 58mm. There is a single surviving perforation through the wider flare. It retains a fine polish on the narrower lip and that half of the interior, with a duller finish elsewhere, and numerous small cuts or scratches on the exterior waist, which have only been partially polished out.


These so-called ‘napkin rings’ are thought to have been used as giant eyelets set into the corners of a cloak or similar garment so that it could be tied at the neck. A pair found in a burial at Camps Reservoir, Lanarkshire lay the at the throat with the wider flare towards the body. This use explains the reduced finish on the waist of the ring, which would have been concealed by cloth.


The objects have a limited geographic distribution, with most found in south-west Scotland. The Scottish examples are made from cannel coal or oil shale. In contrast, jet was the preferred material for a small outlying group of ‘napkin rings’ found in north-east England. This doubtless reflects the availability of jet from the North York Moors; more recently, jet mining occurred a short distance across the Tees estuary, so the Greatham example might be a local product. Apart from the Greatham find, English examples are limited to a pair from Lockton Pastures and a fragment from Fylingdales Moor, both in North Yorkshire, and a possible fragment from Hepburn Moor in Northumberland.


The dating of these objects has been subject to discussion, although they are now generally considered to date from the Early–Middle Bronze Age. The Greatham example was found in a well-dated context with associated pottery and other domestic debris, and is therefore a significant addition to the corpus of ‘napkin rings’.    



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