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Sarre Anglo-Saxon Cemetery - Grave 26

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GRAVE 26 - Eight feet long, three feet three inches deep, two feet six inches wide.
   Finds  An umbo lay near the skull, and to its left a spear-head, the ferule of which was at the feet. 

On the breast a fine buckle brightly plated, and what appears to be the mounting of a purse. 

On the left side some iron keys and an iron lock, with a bronze plate containing a hole for its bolt. The lock has a bolt made to ascend diagonally into the bronze plate, which is rather more than six inches long, and one and a quarter wide, and is very like such a plate on our own door-posts. Part of the original woodwork remained attached to the lock; but the whole is scarcely perfect enough to solve the mystery of the curious hooked Anglo-Saxon keys, and show how they performed their office.

See the Anglo-Saxon plane below

a small bronze balance and scales, with nineteen weights (Plate IV.), lay at the left foot. 
   The balance and scales are quite perfect, and beautiful specimens. The beam is about five inches slightly chased; the end of the thread or silk which suspended the scales still adheres to its ends, and some more was at first adhering to the sca1es themselves ; these are an inch and seven-eighths in diameter. Another such pair was lately found at Ozingell, with weights and coins;1 and another, much mutilated, with eighteen weights, or coins adapted as weights, was taken from a grave at Gilton by Bryan Faussett, more than a century ago. It is possible, as a fragment like the mounting of a purse was found near, that some of our nineteen weights may have been money; most of them, however, are either dotted in various ways, as if to indicate some multiple of weight, or are ground and squared; and out of nine which are distinctly Roman coins five at least have been thus adapted as weights. They vary in weight from 8 grains to 1063 grains. A weight of 248 grains

small bronze balance and scales, with nineteen weights

The grave contained, too, a knife or dirk, coupled with a smaller knife in one double sheath of wood; 

a circular iron plate, a knife,

 and a pair of shears. 

a pair of shears

These are some of the most interesting and at the same time of the most strangely assorted relics ever found in an Anglo-Saxon grave.


The Anglo-Saxon Plane from Sarre. By G.C. Dunning, F.S.A. and W. L. Goodman
   Archaeologia Cantiana -  Vol. 73 - 1959  pages 196 to 201
The plane was found in grave 26 of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Sarre in 1863; it is briefly described and figured in the excavation reports, 1 though its real nature was first recognized by Baldwin Brown.2 The plane was on the left side of the body, together with iron keys. A bronze balance and scale-pans and a set of nineteen weights lay at the left foot, and elsewhere was a shield boss, a spearhead, a bronze buckle and a purse mount. The grave-goods indicate the burial of a man in the sixth century.
   The plane consists of two parts of different materials.
   The base-plate is of bronze, 6.05 in. long and 1.3 in. wide. Near each end is a vertical stop to hold the stock or body-piece of the plane. The front stop is cast in one piece with the base-plate, but the rear stop is folded back over the base-plate, hammered tight against it, and then bent up at right-angles. One-third back from the front edge is a rectangular slot, 0.8 by 0.4 in., bevelled along the rear side for the cutting iron.
   The stock has a cellular structure longitudinally and is denser in the lower part. It is, therefore, bony in nature, and its size suggests that it is too large to be made from a limb bone but was cut from the beam of a large red deer’s antler. The stock is 5.15 in. long, 1.2 in. wide and 1.2 in. high. The underneath surface and the ends are carefully made flat and squared, so that the stock fits tightly into the base-plate.
   The slot for the cutting iron and its wedge, and for the discharge of shavings in front of the iron, is cut to fit accurately over the slot in the base-plate. It is 2.1 in. long at the top, 0.75 in. wide for the cutting iron, narrowing to 0.6 in. wide in front. The difference in width is hardly sufficient to allow for a shoulder on each side to engage the wedge holding the cutting iron in position. Probably this was done by an iron bar fixed across the slot, but, unfortunately, this part of the stock is broken away on both sides.
   The back part of the stock is pierced from side to side by an oval hole, 1.3 in. long and 0.35 in. high, for holding the plane when in use. The hole comfortably takes the end of the thumb on one side and two fingers on the other, enabling the plane to be lightly but firmly held between the finger tips. The back end of the stock is rounded to conform with the end of the hole.
   1 Arch. Cant., VI, 162; VII, p1. XIII.
2 The Arts in Early England, IV, 415, p1. XCVII, 2 (wrongly
          assigned to Bifrons).

The two parts of the plane are fastened together by three iron rivets, one in front of the slot and two behind it. The rivets pass through holes drilled in the stock and are hammered over bronze plates on its top surface. The front plate is square, and those behind the slot are triangular, with the points facing inwards.
   The front right corner of the base-plate is rounded and burred on the upper surface, showing that the plane had considerable use before being buried in the grave.
   This small and delicately-made plane is clearly a craftsman’s tool, intended for squaring or bevelling the edges of small pieces of wood rather than for planing surfaces. The width of the cutting iron would allow for wood up to ¼ in. thick to be planed. It is, therefore, suggested that the plane was used in finishing strips of wood that were fitted accurately together, such as the sides of work-boxes or caskets, 1 and the staves of buckets.
   Examples of ancient planes are exceedingly rare, and according to Flinders Petrie 2 the plane was a Roman invention. Roman planes are known from Pompeii, Silchester, and the Rhineland, but these are larger than the Sarre plane and were joiner’s tools. In fact the Sarre plane appears to be unique for the Anglo-Saxon period. In lightness of make a closer parallel is provided by the wooden plane in the third-century hoard from Vimose, on the island of Fyen, Denmark.3 This is 10 in. long and canoe-shaped, with each end turned inwards in the shape of a bird’s head.
   Planes closer in construction to the Sarre plane are known from the terps of Friesland, and belong to the late Roman and to the late Frankish periods.4 One from Finkum is 6.6 in. long, with a bronze base-plate and a bone stock, and provides a remarkably exact parallel to the Sarre plane. Another plane, from Aalsum, is similar in shape but slightly larger, and is made entirely of wood. These planes, have a hole through the stock as on the Sarre plane. These parallels in Holland suggest that small and delicately-made planes, based on Roman models, were developed in the Teutonic lands at a time when the making of articles from composite strips of wood was particularly in vogue.
   The Sarre plane is in the collection of the Kent Archaeological Society at Maidstone; grateful thanks are due to the Curator, Mr. L. R. A. Grove, F.S.A., for permission to publish it here.
   2  For the reconstruction of a Frankish casket see Germania 31
           (1953), 44.
3  Tools and Weapons (1917), 39.
4  C. Engelhardt, Vimose Eundet (1869), p. 29, Fig. 31.
5  P J. A. Boeles, Friesland tot de elfde eeuw (1951), pp. 202, 
          535,  pls. XXX, 20 and XXXIa, 1.

   Surviving woodworkers’ tools from the Dark Ages are so rare that it was hardly surprising that the small object found in Sarre grave No. 26, when first published in Archaeologia Cantiana, VI, p. 161, was described as an "iron lock, with bronze plate containing a hole for its bolt", and later in George Payne’s Catalogue of the Kent Archaeological Society’s Collections, p. 19, No. 775, as "lock-plate, bronze, attached to wood". Closer examination has since revealed that this is indeed a small plane, with features relating it to roughly contemporary Frisian examples, and to their similar, but somewhat larger, Roman predecessors. It may be dated to about A.D. 600.
   The body is of horn, 53/8 in. long, 1¼ in. wide and 1¼ in. high, with a bronze sole 1/8 in. thick projecting at both ends to make the total length exactly 6 in. The turn-up at the front appears to have been cast, while that at the back has clearly been folded to shape, probably to accommodate it to the piece of horn used for the stock. The sole is fixed with three iron rivets passing through the stock and fastened at the top to small bronze plates, of which the middle one, immediately behind the iron, has disappeared. The plate at the back is roughly heart-shaped, while the front one is square with rounded corners. A finger grip is hollowed out behind the iron, which was probably about ¾ in. wide, with a slope of 43 degrees. With the help of detailed drawings (Fig. 1) made by Mr. L. R. A. Grove, Curator of the Maidstone Museum, the writer has made a suggested reconstruction, in wood and brass, of the original tool (Plate 1). The rivet across the mouth is the only conjectural feature, but is well-vouched for by the Frisian and Roman examples previously referred to.
   This little plane is remarkably easy to use, and although the setting of the iron is rather tricky, it takes off quite a respectable shaving. The nearest modern equivalent would be the so-called "thumb planes" used by coachbuilders, or the small "violin planes" still listed in the specialised catalogues. This has prompted the suggestion that some such tool as this may have formed part of the kit of the craftsman who made the famous Sutton Hoo harp.
Most of the known Roman planes1 are about the size of a modern jack plane, but with one exception built entirely of wood, they all have a wooden stock with an iron sole attached to it by four rivets. Usually the stock was hollowed out between the rivets to form two handles, one at each end, but it is curious that the nearest both in space and time to the Sarre plane, the well-known tool from Silchester, dated to about
   1 History of Woodworking Tools, Practical Education,
            February-May, 1957.

Anglo-Saxon Plane

drawing of Anglo-Saxon plane

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