The bridle-bit and the river

B&W bridle

One of the objects going into the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition at Segedunum is a late Iron Age bridle-bit from the Laing Art Gallery. It is a beautiful object, complete and in good condition. It was ‘found in the River Tyne, near Kay’s Meadows’. This is presumably a mistake for King’s Meadows (unless anyone knows of a Kay’s Meadows anywhere?), which was a large island in the river between Dunston and Elswick. It was ‘large’ in the sense that it was about 1500m long (nearly a mile) and had trees, hayfields and even a pub on it. It was removed during dredging of the river in 1884 to make the river more navigable for large ships. The bridle-bit may have ended up in the river as a votive offering, as it has been suggested that the length of the river between the Island and the current position of the Swing Bridge was used for ritual ceremonies from c.1000 BC.

Late iron Age bridle-bit

Late iron Age bridle-bit

The bit is made up of three copper alloy pieces, each cast in one solid piece. It would have required skill and time to produce, probably using a process called ‘casting on’. First one side-ring was cast, then a wax link, attached to the ring, was made and covered in clay to form a mould, the wax then melted and the bronze poured in. The process was then repeated, with a wax version of the second side-ring made, threaded through the central link. A lot of effort, but a beautiful end product!

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