Anglo-Saxon Hanging Bowl

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Anglo-Saxon Hanging Bowl

British Isles
550-700 A.D.
H: 3.6 cm, Diam: 20 cm



A very rare and near-complete copper-alloy hanging bowl and associated fittings. Crafted from a single sheet of bronze, the body of the bowl is curved, with a slightly recessed lip. The bowl features three matching hooked escutcheons and suspension rings, evenly dispersed around the circumference and adorned with patterns of incised lines and raised zigzags, and with a curlicued vegetal motif in the centre of the raised escutcheon. The basal disc features a delicate circular design of raised curls around a central point.

Hanging bowls are a distinct class of object associated with the period between the end of Roman rule in Britain around 410 A.D. and the emergence of the Christian Anglo-Saxon kingdoms during the seventh century. Most have been found in Anglo-Saxon graves, dating them between the sixth and late seventh century. However, the style of decoration seen across the bowls can be viewed as Celtic in origin, suggesting they may have been manufactured well before they were interred. Most are known from East Anglia, with some examples known from Pictish and Irish contexts. If the bowls did originate from Celtic hubs in Wales or Scotland, then they would have travelled far over the course of their lifetime.

The use of these bowls remains a mystery to scholars, with one theory that they were used during religious ceremonies or to hold holy water. Some bowls have been found with deliberate knife marks prior to their burial, perhaps intended to remove their power. Another theory is that they served as gifts or tribute to accompany peace, marriage, or trade deals, or that they may have been used for the Roman custom of mixing wine and water at the dining table. It is also unclear whether the bowls were suspended from threads extending from a central fulcrum, or whether they hung from hooks on a tripod. A tripod would allow easier access to liquids in the bowl for ritual or liturgical purposes. One possible parallel can be found in images of the Oracular Cortina, or Delphic Tripod, a three-hooked bowl suspended from a tripod used by the oracle of Delphi and high priestess of Apollo in Ancient Greece.


Frieze Masters, London, October 2023


Discovered 5th February 2023 by Chris Ulliott, in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, UK.
Portable Antiquities Scheme No. YORYM-59523A.
ALR: S00236559, with IADAA Certificate, this item has been checked against the Interpol database. 

Note on the Provenance

The bowl was found by professional photographer and amateur metal detectorist, Chris Ulliot, while on a metal detecting trip in Ryedale in February 2023. UThe bowl was buried about 0.6 m below the surface of a farmer’s field, and Ulliot initially expected to find a ‘rusty old bucket’ or coin. After digging for a few hours and contemplating giving up, Ulliot found the rim of the bowl, intact with all three moving rings. After some more careful digging Ulliot was able to remove the bowl and discovered its contents of the basal disc, other bronze fragments, and a few bones with a pin. The dig organiser sent photographs of the object to an archaeologist friend who was able to confirm the Anglo-Saxon dating and the discovery of a very special object. Its remarkable preservation means the soil conditions where either perfect or the workmanship was of an exceptionally high quality. Of his experience, Ulliot, who had taken up metal detecting in 2020 to add some excitement to his COVID exercise walks, said, ‘I feel very lucky to have found such a significant piece of history which could have been lost foreever. The bowl stood proudly in my finds cabinet for the short time I owned it and it is a time of my life that I will never forget!’.

The location of Ryedale, in the north-east of the UK is also where the now famous ‘Rydale Roaman Hoard’ was discovered, exhibited by David Aaron at Frieze in 2021, and is now part of the permanent collection of the Yorkshire Museum. The hoard consisted of a bronze bust of Lucius Veres, a plumb bob, a finial and a horse and rider ornament.