Object of the month – Went with a bang!

Corfe Castle Dorset

Corfe Castle Dorset

For most archaeologists, archaeology starts yesterday, so we end up having to have a broad knowledge on at least 40,000 years of archaeology and history! Also objects are traded around Europe and wider, so apart from British finds we need to know about parts of  Europe at well. This is why we send objects to specialists who immerse themselves in specific types of finds and  subjects. The object this month is a good illustration of this.

Corfe Castle three handled pot excavated in 1986

Corfe Castle three handled pot excavated in 1986

This  three-handled pot was excavated in 1986, just below what was left of a window, in the outer gatehouse guard chamber. During post excavation work I stuck the pieces back together  and realised it was quite unusual, as it had three handles!  We were not sure what it had been used for, but our best guess was probably table ware, maybe to hold oil. The initial finds report identified it as being early 17th Century and coming from the continent, maybe the Low Countries, but its use still remained a mystery. Then after 25 years we finally got enough funds to get a more detailed report done on the pot by Wessex Archaeology. Lorraine, the finds specialist was also puzzled by the pot and could not find any parallels in Britain. She is a member of the Medieval Pottery Research Group, a good group to share information and help identify odd pottery, and decided to  post a picture of the pot on their Facebook site, in the hope someone would be able to help. It worked and a Dutch archaeologist recognised it as  “stankpot”  a smoke bomb or grenade from Vlissingen in the Netherlands. Our oil pot had turned into a granade!

Dutch illustration 17th Century

Dutch illustration 17th Century

 The way it worked was that a fuse would be suspended from each of  the three handles and then the pot filled with an explosive or smoke producing mixture, including pepper seeds, charcoal, camphor, sulphur and pitch. The fuses would have been lit, the pot thrown through a window or over a wall, where it would break and the fuses would ignite the mixture inside. This would have caused panic and so make people vunerable to attack, as they ran from the room.

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