Roman Jet Pendant




Julie Shoemark

This week’s Finds Friday object is an unusual wedge-shaped jet pendant from Healam Bridge. The pendant is highly polished and exhibits two perforations at the apex for suspension. One of the holes is damaged, perhaps through wear and tear or owing to a weakness at that point in the object. The sides and front have a simple oblique notched border, whilst the back is plain. Faint saw marks are visible on the back and base.

There was a thriving jet working industry in York, exploiting the abundance of raw material available at Whitby. Jet was a prestigious material and objects made from Whitby jet have been found in other provinces across the Roman empire. Although jet can also be found in parts of Spain and Southern France, Whitby jet is of much higher quality and would have been a desirable commodity. Where jet was not readily available, shale polished with beeswax was often used to simulate the appearance of jet. When well preserved can it can still be difficult to distinguish shale from jet by visual inspection alone.

Although the use of jet in jewellery has been attested since the Neolithic period, it seems to have fallen in and out of fashion. It became popular in the 3rd and 4th centuries. As well as being visually attractive, when rubbed jet produces an electrostatic charge. The Romans believed it to have magical properties, including healing and the power to ward off evil. For this reason, it was frequently used in the production of amulets and votive figurines. Objects made from jet are often found as grave goods, possibly included to confer protection in the afterlife. Many of them show evidence of having been repeatedly rubbed or polished. As this object was found during fieldwalking we are unable to say exactly how and when it would have been deposited, however, such an attractive object would have been considered a prized possession both in this world and the next.


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